Documenting sociolinguistic variation

James Stanford and John Mansfield have a new paper out about documenting sociolinguistic variation as a core part of language documentation: required reading!


Redressing the Balance on Australian Stop Contrasts: Comments on Austin’s (1988) “Phonological Voicing Contrasts in Australian Aboriginal Languages”

by Andrew Butcher and Nicholas Reid.

Read the paper here. Below is the introduction:

Although the above article has appeared in a volume of Working Papers, rather than in an established journal, it is nevertheless widely available in Australian linguistic circles and, since it claims to be an “Australia-wide survey”, the result of twelve years of research (title footnote), it is likely to be recommended reading for many students of Australian linguistics. It is for these reasons – the claimed scope and the likely readership – that we feel it appropriate to express a number of criticisms we have of this work. These criticisms fall under two major headings: (1) The comparatively scanty treatment of the area of Australia which has the highest concentration of languages with two stop series, namely the ‘Top End’ of the Northern territory; (2) The failure to distinguish adequately between the level of phonological contrast and the level of phonetic parameters underlying the contrast.

Variation in Indigenous Minority Languages

[includes paper by Carmel O’Shannessy on change in Warlpiri]

Edited by James N. Stanford and Dennis R. Preston

Dartmouth College / Oklahoma State University

Indigenous minority languages have played crucial roles in many areas of linguistics – phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, typology, and the ethnography of communication. Such languages have, however, received comparatively little attention from quantitative or variationist sociolinguistics. Without the diverse perspectives that underrepresented language communities can provide, our understanding of language variation and change will be incomplete. To help fill this gap and develop broader viewpoints, this anthology presents 21 original, fieldwork-based studies of a wide range of indigenous languages in the framework of quantitative sociolinguistics. The studies illustrate how such understudied communities can provide new insights into language variation and change with respect to socioeconomic status, gender, age, clan, lack of a standard, exogamy, contact with dominant majority languages, internal linguistic factors, and many other topics.

Big words, small phrase


Big words, small phrases: Mismatches between pause units and the polysynthetic word in Dalabon

Nicholas Evans, 1*

1University of Melbourne.

Janet Fletcher, 2

2University of Melbourne.

Belinda Ross3

3University of Melbourne.

*Correspondence address: Prof. Nick Evans,

Linguistics and Applied Linguistics, School of Languages and Linguistics, University of Melbourne, Parkville, VIC 3010, Australia.

Citation Information. Linguistics. Volume 46, Issue 1, Pages 89–129, ISSN (Online) 1613-396X, ISSN (Print) 0024-3949, DOI: 10.1515/LING.2008.004, January 2008

Publication history: 30 07 2004 09 05 2005


This article uses instrumental data from natural speech to examine the phenomenon of pause placement within the verbal word in Dalabon, a polysynthetic Australian language of Arnhem Land. Though the phenomenon is incipient and in two sample texts occurs in only around 4% of verbs, there are clear possibilities for interrupting the grammatical word by pause after the pronominal prefix and some associated material at the left edge, though these within-word pauses are significantly shorter, on average, than those between words. Within-word pause placement is not random, but is restricted to certain affix boundaries; it requires that the paused-after material be at least dimoraic, and that the remaining material in the verbal word be at least disyllabic. Bininj Gun-wok, another polysynthetic language closely related to Dalabon, does not allow pauses to interrupt the verbal word, and the Dalabon development appears to be tied up with certain morphological innovations that have increased the proportion of closed syllables in the pronominal prefix zone of the verb. Though only incipient and not yet phonologized, pause placement in Dalabon verbs suggests a phonology-driven route by which polysynthetic languages may ultimately become less morphologically complex by fracturing into smaller units.