By Claire Bowern
This booklet addresses debatable matters within the program of the comparative strategy to the languages of Australia that have lately come to overseas prominence. Are those languages 'different' in ways in which problem the basic assumptions of ancient linguistics? Can subgrouping be effectively undertaken utilizing the Comparative process? Is the genetic build of a far-flung 'Pama-Nyungan' language kin supportable via vintage tools of reconstruction? opposite to more and more tested perspectives of the Australian scene, this publication makes an important contribution to the demonstration that conventional tools can certainly be utilized to those languages. those reports, brought by means of chapters on subgrouping method and the historical past of Australian linguistic type, conscientiously observe the comparative technique to developing subgroups between Australian languages and justifying the phonology of Proto-Pama-Nyungan. person chapters can profitably be learn both for his or her contribution to Australian linguistic prehistory or as case reviews within the software of the comparative technique.
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Additional resources for Australian Languages: Classification and the Comparative Method
When Capell discusses the phonology of CA (Capell 1956:ch. 2), this is not extracted from the proto-forms reconstructed by the comparative method. Rather, he begins with typological generalisations regarding the vowels and consonants of the Australian languages, then proceeds to “establish a probable CA vowel system” (Capell 1956:4), a probable consonant system, and probable phonotactics. He posits for CA what is common to most of the languages, and ends up with a system of just three consonant series (labial, alveolar, velar), “a system even simpler than the modern” (Capell 1956:6) — since all attested systems contain four to six series, as we now know.
Many of the reclassified languages were discussed in Dixon (1970a). Dixon’s lexical scores are based on a 221-word list, from which at least 180 items were used for each pair of languages (ibid. 657); the actual cognates are not given. Dixon actually puts more reliance on the relative amount of shared grammar (both categories and forms) in deciding relative degree of genetic relationship, and within vocabulary finds the percentage of cognate verbs to be a better indicator than cognate nouns. In Walsh’s revision (Walsh and Wurm 1981), the Pama-Maric Group is whittled away.
Although he considered the establishment of sound laws as desirable, he admitted that it had not yet been done, and claimed that it was not necessary at the stage of establishing cognates. A methodological history of Australian linguistic classification 29 Usually in the Australian field words are either fairly obviously cognate as between languages, or equally obviously non-cognate. The establishment of sound laws in Australia is not so much to be used to determine relationships of words as to fit related words into sub-groups not to decide whether a word is CA or not.