Grammatical diffusion in Australia: free and bound pronouns

Dixon, R.M.W. (2007) Grammatical diffusion in Australia: free and bound pronouns. In: Aikhenvald, Alexandra Y., and Dixon, R.M.W., (eds.) Grammars In Contact: a cross-linguistic typology. Explorations In Linguistic Typology, 4 . Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, pp. 67-93.

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[Extract] Aboriginal people and their languages have been in Australia for at least 40,000 years. The first settlers, speaking one or more languages, would within a few thousand years have spread out over the whole continent; at that time, a 'family tree' model of relationships would probably have been retrievable. This initial phase was then followed by tens of millennia of an 'equilibrium situation' (see Dixon 1997: 67– 96), during which the overall number of languages would have remained roughly constant; the number might from time to time have doubled or halved, as water resources waxed and waned, but would not have changed in any more extreme fashion. The people were typically multilingual and there was constant social interaction, so that grammatical and phonological features - and lexemes - underwent steady geographical diffusion.

At the time of European invasion (a couple of centuries ago) there were around 250 distinct languages in Australia. By application of the standard methodology of comparative linguistics, about forty low-level genetic groups can be recognized (most with just two or three members, none with more than fifteen), plus scores of isolates. It is not feasible to set up an all encompassing 'family tree' of Australian languages. (The much-vaunted 'Pama-Nyungan' idea - founded on lexicostatistics, and later reinterpreted in other terms - is not defensible scientifically. A lengthy discussion of the history of the idea, and its insufficiency, is in Dixon 2001: 89– 98; 2002: 44– 54.)

Item ID: 16802
Item Type: Book Chapter (Research - B1)
ISBN: 978-0-19-920783-1
Date Deposited: 11 Oct 2011 01:01
FoR Codes: 20 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 2004 Linguistics > 200407 Lexicography @ 100%
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