Prehistory of the Boab

Patrick McConvell, Thomas Saunders and Stef Spronck: Linguistic Prehistory of the Australian boab.

Boabs, a close relation of the African baobabs, are found only in the Kimberley region of Western Australia and a region close by in the Northern Territory. Here several of the words for the boab tree and its parts are examined with special emphasis on loanwords which cross language family boundaries going in a west-east direction. It is proposed that this linguistic diffusion may reflect dispersal of the tree into new areas on the east, in relatively recent times. On the other hand another recent diffusion from the west of new salient functions of the boab fruit spread a new term to central Kimberley where boabs are known to have been present and used by humans for many thousands of years

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.

Amazonian linguistic diversity and its sociocultural correlates

by Patience Epps.

Read her chapter here. Despite its focus on non-Australian languages, those interested in Australian topics might find some of what Dr. Epps has to say very interesting. The following is a selection from its first section:

The Amazon basin is one of the most linguistically diverse regions on earth. With some 300 indigenous languages corresponding to over 50 distinct lineages, the diversity of language families in Amazonia is some ten times higher than that of Eurasia and Africa, and is rivalled only by New Guinea.

Explaining these variable patterns of diversity poses a major challenge to scholars of human prehistory. Since South America was the last continent to have undergone extensive human settlement, its linguistic diversity cannot be linked straightforwardly to time-depth of habitation (cf. Nichols 1990, Nettle 1999). Geographic factors are also not an obvious explanation, since South American diversity is concentrated in the lowlands, where natural obstacles are few (both rivers and interfluvial zones are as likely to serve as conduits as they are barriers; cf. Nichols 1992). Nor does an appeal to agriculture as a major reason for language spread provide a clear solution; a comparison of the Amazonian linguistic patchwork (where virtually all groups practice at least small-scale agriculture) to the far-reaching spread of Pama-Nyungan hunter-gatherers in Australia indicates that agriculture is in itself neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for language spread, although it may be implicated in some cases (cf. Bellwood 2001, Heggarty & Beresford-Jones 2010). Continent-internal linguistic distributions present additional puzzles, most notably relating to the concentration of diversity in the west (see e.g. Dahl et al. 2011, who suggests a correlation with initial migration routes), and the non-contiguous distributions of the few language families that are geographically widespread (see e.g. Hornborg 2005 and the papers by Walker and Heckenberger, this volume, on the Arawak diaspora).


Refracting views: How to construct complex perspective in reported speech and thought in Ungarinyin

by Stef Spronck

Read the paper here. Below is the abstract:

This paper analyses reported speech, thought and epistemic modality in the North Western Australian Aboriginal language Ungarinyin. It demonstrates how these grammatical domains interact in the language to encode multiple perspective meanings. The paper concludes by discussing some implications of the Ungarinyin patterns for expressions of complex perspective elsewhere.

Nominal Subclasses in Dalabon (South-western Arnhem Land)

Nominal Subclasses in Dalabon (South-western Arnhem Land)

By Maïa Ponsonnet

This paper describes a distinctive system of nominal subclasses observed in Dalabon, a non-Pama-Nyungan, Gunwinyguan language of south-western Arnhem Land, Australia. These subclasses differ from what is usually called ‘noun classes’ in Australian languages, and no such system has been described for an Australian language so far. While most Gunwinyguan languages use noun class prefixes offering an overt categorization of noun classes, Dalabon has no such prefixes. On the other hand, six semantically coherent nominal subclasses can be delineated based on four inter-related criteria—noun incorporation, boundness, obligatory possession and possessor raising. These subclasses are animate-part nouns (incorporable, strictly bound, obligatorily possessed, raising their possessors freely), kin-terms (incorporable, strictly bound, obligatorily possessed, raising their possessor when incorporated), inanimate-part nouns (incorporable, strictly bound, not obligatorily possessed), features of the landscape (incorporable, semi-bound, not obligatorily possessed), natural-kind nouns (non-incorporable) and generic nouns (incorporable free nouns). Some of the subclasses qualify as more or less inalienable. Along the way, the article discusses various aspects of Dalabon grammar such as word classes, noun incorporation and possessive constructions. The nominal subclass divisions also shed light upon some the distribution and semantics of the ubiquitous -no suffix, which remained obscure hitherto.

‘Up dere la’: Final Particle la in a Queensland Aboriginal Vernacular

Up dere la’: Final Particle la in a Queensland Aboriginal Vernacular

By Claire Gourlay and Ilana Mushin

This paper presents an analysis of the discourse particle la as it is used in an English-based Aboriginal vernacular language spoken in an ex-government reserve in Queensland. Using unelicited conversational data recorded in primary school classrooms, we present an analysis of the formal and functional properties of la. In terms of formal properties, we classify la as a final particle and observe that it frequently collocates with the deictic demonstratives ere (here) and dere (dere) and the visual perception verbs look and see. In our functional analysis we show that la is employed when the speaker is directing an interlocutor to jointly attend with the speaker to a specific object or action within the here-and-now environment—a function that is rare among discourse particles. We also discuss the possible origins of this particle in terms of substrate influences from traditional Australian languages or borrowing from other contact varieties. Our analysis of the particle la thus contributes both to our understanding of Queensland Aboriginal vernaculars and of discourse particles as linguistic objects that illustrate the inherently intersubjective nature of language.


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.