Societies of intimates

The journal Narrative Inquiry has a special issue of papers about narrative in Australian languages. From the introduction:

When the Australian writer Richard Flanagan accepted the 2014 Man Booker Prize for fiction, he said that “As a species it is story that distinguishes us”. While the prize was given for a literary work written in English, Australia and the surrounding regions are replete with a rich diversity of oral traditions, and with stories remembered and told over countless generations and in many languages. In this article we consider both the universality and the cross-cultural and cross-linguistic diversity of various forms of narrative. We explore the question of what a linguistic typology of narrative might look like, and survey some of the literature relevant to this issue. Most specifically, we ask whether some observed differences in narrative style, structure, or delivery could derive from social features of the communities which produce them: their social density, informational homogeneity, and the high degree of common ground they share.

Edible insect larvae in Kaytetye

Journal of Ethnobiology 37(1):120-140. 2017

Edible Insect Larvae in Kaytetye: Their Nomenclature and Significance
No Access

Insects have traditionally constituted an important source of food in many cultures, but changes in dietary practices and other lifestyle traits are threatening the transmission of insect-related knowledge and vocabulary to younger generations of Indigenous Australians. This paper describes the rich cultural and culinary traditions surrounding an important insect group, namely a class of edible insect larvae consumed by a desert community in central Australia. Twenty-nine different edible insect larvae are named in the Kaytetye language, with the names encoding the identity of the host plant on which the larvae are found. We describe the complexities involved in the naming system, paying special attention to cultural and linguistic factors. The difficulties in the scientific identification of these ethnotaxa are discussed, as are the significance of our data to (1) questions of universal patterns in ethnoclassification and nomenclature and (2) the purported lack of binomially-labeled folk species in the languages of hunter-gatherer societies.

A Preliminary Study of Pitch and Rhythm in Pitjantjatjara

by Marija Tabain, Janet Fletcher, and Christian Heinrich

Pitjantjatjara is a dialect of the greater Western Desert language, spoken mainly in the northwest of South Australia, but extending north into the Northern Territory, and west into Western Australia (Douglas 1964). Like most Australian languages, Pitjantjatjara has been analysed as a stress language (trochaic); however relatively little is known about the intonational system of this language. We present a preliminary analysis of the prosodic structure of Pitjantjatjara based on three female speakers reading two different texts – the Walpa Ulpariranya munu Tjintunya (South Wind and the Sun) passage, and the Nanikuta (Three Billy Goats) text.

Stress in Kaytetye

by Myfany Turpin and Katherine Demuth

Kaytetye is an Aboriginal language of central Australia. It has an estimated 250 speakers, including the younger people whose variety differs significantly (Turpin and Ross 2012). Kaytetye belongs to the Arandic subgroup, which is part of the larger Pama-Nyungan family that once covered some 90% of Australia. It is bordered by two Arandic languages to the south and the east; and two languages from other subgroups in the north and west. Kaytetye is not mutually intelligible with its neighbouring languages and whilst traditionally multilingualism was the norm, language shift is now taking place to an English based creole.

Loanwords between the Arandic languages and their western neighbours: principles of identification and phonological adaptation

Loanwords between the Arandic languages and their western neighbours: principles of identification and phonological adaptation

By Harold Koch

This paper summarises the characteristics of loanwords, especially the ways in which they are adapted to the structure of the borrowing language, and surveys the various tests that have been provided in both the general historical linguistics literature and Australianist literature for identifying the fact and direction of borrowing. It then provides a case study of loanwords out of and into the Arandic languages; the other languages involved are especially Warlpiri but to some extent dialects of the Western Desert language. The primary focus is on the phonological adaptation of loanwords between languages whose phonological structure differs especially in the presence vs. absence of initial consonants, in consequence of earlier changes whereby Arandic languages lost all initial consonants. While loanwords out of Arandic add a consonant, it is claimed that loanwords into Arandic include two chronological strata: in one the source consonant was preserved but the other (older) pattern involved truncation of the source consonant. Reasons for this twofold behaviour are presented (in terms of diachronic and contrastive phonology), and the examples of the more radical (older) pattern are individually justified as loanwords, using the criteria discussed earlier in the article.


Title: Enindhilyakwa phonology, morphosyntax and genetic position
Authors: van Egmond, Marie-Elaine
Keywords: Aboriginal languages, grammar, phonology, morphosyntax, comparative method, genetic position
Issue Date: Mar-2012
Publisher: University of Sydney
Arts. School of Letters, Arts and Media / Linguistics
Abstract: This thesis is a grammatical description of Enindhilyakwa, a non-Pama-Nyungan language spoken by over 1200 people living in the Groote Eylandt archipelago in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Northern Territory, Australia. The language is classified as an isolate in O’Grady et al. (1966), and as “perhaps the most difficult of all Australian languages, with a very complex grammar” (Dixon 1980: 84; Capell 1942: 376). The aim of this thesis is to unravel this complex grammar, morphosyntax and phonology, and to place the language in the context of the neighbouring Arnhem Land languages. I propose that, although highly intricate, Enindhilyakwa morphology is also fairly regular and transparent, and, in fact, patterns much like the Gunwinyguan family of languages to its west. The areas of grammar covered in this thesis are: phonology (Chapter 2), nouns and adjectives (Chapter 3), verbal prefixes (Chapter 4), verb stem structures (Chapter 5), tense, aspect and mood marking on the verb (Chapter 6), the incorporation of body part and generic nominals into verbs and adjectives (Chapter 7), case marking (Chapter 8), and the genetic affiliation (Chapter 9). Enindhilyakwa phonology displays some radical departures from the typical Australian pattern, as well as from the typical Gunwinyguan pattern. However, the innovations can be traced back to an original proto-Gunwinyguan stock. Other grammatical features of this language are: (i) an elaborate noun classification system, involving noun classes, gender and generics incorporated into verbs and adjectives; (ii) an extensive degree of nominal derivation, including inalienable possession, alienable possession and deverbalising prefixes; (iii) four distinct pronominal prefix series on the verb to mark an equal number of moods; (iv) the possibility of most nominal case markers to be used as complementising cases on verbs; and (v) the pervasive use of body parts, which play a major role in naming and classifying inanimate objects.

Kaytetye Flora and Fauna

Myf Turpin: Semantic extension in Kaytetye flora and fauna terms. AJL 33/4

Flora and fauna play a vital role in Indigenous cultures and their nomenclature reveals much about the society from which they belong. This article identifies the lexical structures and types of metaphor and metonymy that are used for naming plants and animals in Kaytetye, a language of central Australia. By linking semantic analysis to detailed ethnography this paper elucidates the cultural connections that underlie polysemous biota terms. Various types of semantic extension are found, including ‘sign metonymy’, where two or more species share a name because one signals the availability of the other. A subtype of this is what I call ‘meaningful call’ metonymy. This is where an onomatopoeic bird name has lexical content, and thus the bird ‘says’ the signalled phenomena. The paper also finds that alternate register terms turn up in everyday words for biota. The aim of this paper is thus twofold: to demonstrate the importance of investigating socio-cultural practices, multiple speech registers and ecological phenomena for understanding patterns of polysemy and diachronic semantics; and to identify the range of semantic extensions that give rise to biota nomenclature in Kaytetye, where we find the previously undescribed ‘meaningful call’ metonymy.