The Ancestry of Australian Indigenous Languages

When I discovered a few weeks ago the unique nature of Aboriginal languages, and how there apparently is no “evidence to demonstrate a historical relationship between Australian Aboriginal languages and languages outside Australia” (Walsh and Yallop, 2012). I began an investigation into this statement.

From what I have discovered, this is a popular consensus; Australian Languages, just like most other environments of our isolated country, animals, cultures, etc, split away from its most common ancestor, the Papuan languages, to develop quite separately for many hundreds of years.

This is proving quite the challenge for linguists. As Walsh and Yallop (2012), and Goddard (2005), describe in their respective texts. The further removed from its common ancestor, the more difficult it becomes to prove that two languages are related (Goddard, 2005), as is the case of Australian languages.

Although Indigenous Australian languages show similarities between themselves, and other languages of the region, the closest being some outlets of Austronesian, and isolated pockets of Papuan languages (although only in some varieties, and no evidence of similarities exist in the way these languages are actually constructed. There is evidence of them developing closely for a period, and then once again, the languages separate and deviate, creating grammars which have no, or very little common features), it does appear as though these languages, have become quite “unique”.

The most highlighted challenge in discovering the ancestry of Australian languages is that, without too fine a point to it, those languages have been decimated through colonisation; an argument which Walsh and Yallop describe in detail in their text (2012). As there are no comprehensive records of languages in Australia, it makes it that more difficult to investigate.

Below, I have compiled a few websites for your viewing pleasure which will hopefully help you in your own investigation into this fascinating and intriguing subject. I wasn’t able to definitively draw any conclusions about the Australian Language lineage, but these websites may be useful.

Eliza Dorloff.

Our Languages

Australian Bureau of Statistics

Google Books – Aboriginal Language Family

Ethnologue – Aboriginal Language Families

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