Nominal Classification in Aboriginal Australia

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Bowern for a counter-example. Placenames have been a prominent focus, with two recent books assembling papers that detail: i the hierarchical relationships between names of different sized tracts of land; ii the etymology and spiritual meaning behind traditional placenames; and iii how those placenames have been appropriated, interpreted and restored in post-colonial Australia cf. But in addition to the lexicon of named places, all societies employ some number of more general terms that allow them to navigate the surrounding terrain and to locate the relative position of people, places and things in space.

Sydney is to the north of Melbourne and to locate objects on a small scale e. Pedersen et al. Australian Aboriginal languages by and large privilege the absolute frame of reference, and have been instrumental in developing the typology of spatial reference. Though such terms may also include relative frame of reference information e. Indeed, people who speak languages with a dominant absolute frame of spatial reference have been shown to draw on this absolute system in both experimental memory tasks and spontaneous co- speech gesture Haviland , Levinson , Though there are Australian languages that privilege a relative — rather than absolute — spatial frame of reference e.

Murrinh-Patha , there is very little research detailing the use and cognitive consequences of these systems. This is an obvious avenue for future research. Like the body, physical space is commonly drawn on as a concrete source domain for more abstract metaphorical targets. We might therefore expect differences in the ways in which target domains such as time are conceptualised by speakers of languages with dominant absolute and relative spatial systems respectively.

Though research in this domain is still in its infancy, initial results would seem to bear out this expectation. For instance, Boroditsky and Gaby find Kuuk Thaayorre speakers represent time as flowing from east-to-west when asked to arrange photo cards depicting stages in a temporal sequence e.

Gaby The semantics and pragmatics of grammar This section looks at three examples of the insights that semantics and pragmatics can provide in analysing aspects of morphosyntax. The first two subsections look at sublexical semantics: case systems and verbal inflections.

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It is worth noting, however, that not all semantic phenomena respect a neat division of syntax, morphology and the lexicon. If we begin with a functional — rather than formal — definition of the domain of investigation, we find quite different structures encoding a more or less similar semantic range. For instance, Australian languages are found to mark reciprocity by means of verbal morphology e. Mawng, Singer ; and Iwaidja, Majid et al. Another area that is not neatly divided between verbal morphology and syntactic constructions is quantification.

Australian languages may express quantification through verbal morphology or through free quantifiers Bittner and Hale ; Evans For example, ergative case marking — prototypically used to mark the subject of a transitive clause — is optional in a range of Australian languages.

Optional ergativity may be sensitive to semantic factors such as animacy and pragmatic factors such as topicality Verstraete The non-syntactic functions of case are sometimes considered as evidence of grammaticalisation in progress.

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But, as the level of detail in descriptions of Australian languages improves, it may turn out to be the norm for cases to combine a range of syntactic, semantic and pragmatic functions. There may be multiple pathways leading to this polyfunctionality in ergative case markers. These examples come from distant parts of the continent illustrating that optional ergative marking is not restricted to any one area or family and is not necessarily the result of contact between traditional Australian languages and English.

The prevalence of case among Australian languages, particularly among the Pama-Nyungan languages and their neighbours, has led to many unusual developments, not frequently attested elsewhere. See Nordlinger Chapter 5 of this volume for a discussion of the re-purposing of case morphology to mark different types of subordinate clause. This section focuses on the expression of tense, aspect and mood in the verb.

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The meaning of TAM inflections can be notoriously difficult for non-native speaker linguists to pin down. One way to deal with the insecurity of being a non-native speaker working on such subtle semantics is to look at what is common across a number of languages.

Taking this path, Verstraete , applies his substantial insight into the semantics and pragmatics of mood to the task of understanding the expression of mood in non-Pama-Nyungan languages. Initial work, published as a special edition of the Australian Journal of Linguistics 32 1 takes the first steps: identifying new semantic categories and new combinations of known categories in order to incorporate the TAME inflections of Australian languages into what we understand about those categories elsewhere Stirling and Dench Let us close this section by pointing out that the separation between case- marking and verbal morphology is not always as clear-cut as one might expect.

Dench shows how the past tense verb suffix in a number of Pilbara languages has developed from a suffix which marked a verb as being the head of a nominal 8 Counterfactual type meanings are expressed in two places in Warlpiri too. The past tense marking is found in the auxiliary and the mood marking on the verb Legate He explains how these suffixes developed from case suffixes to verbal TAM suffixes. Blake likewise traces the source of present day verbal suffixes to originally nominal case-markers. Semantic change Australianist linguists have discussed a wealth of examples of semantic change, lexicalisation and grammaticalisation of all kinds.

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In many cases, evidence from Australian languages has provided counterexamples to universalist claims. It is clear that the uniqueness of Australian Aboriginal cultures has often led to characteristic ways of seeing the world Evans a. Despite the lack of a written record of Australian languages there is ample evidence that similar semantic changes happen again and again in diverse languages Evans Evans and Wilkins suggest a rigorous method for studying semantic change using cross-linguistic data; a change from meaning A to meaning B is only postulated where there is an example in another language of an intermediary word that is polysemous for both meanings A and B.

This method highlights the role of culture and pragmatics in language change, while also revealing how Australia as a whole forms a Sprachbund in which the same types of semantic change recur across diverse lexemes and pathways. Pragmatics and interaction Given the close relation between research on semantics and pragmatics it is worth briefly mentioning some of the important work on pragmatics in Australian languages.

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There has been a recent blossoming of work on interaction, looking at both natural conversation and multi-modal communication. An entire chapter could be devoted to research on these topics, but this short section will give a few pointers to recent literature. Walsh Chapter 8 of this volume and Eades Chapter 10 also discuss the documentation of conversation and interactional norms. David Wilkins and Nicholas Evans have been responsible for a large proportion of the work on the pragmatics of Austalian languages.

Evans b is an account of some pragmatic particles in the Mayali Bininj Gun-wok while Wilkins looks at some pragmatic particles in Mparntwe Arrernte. Evans focusses on the role of inference in dealing with indeterminacy in grammar.

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Wilkins pioneered work on multi-modal interaction in central Australia. The most detailed work on sign and gesture in Australian languages is Kendon Work on multi-modal communication has expanded its field of vision with Green , which integrates an analysis of central Australian sand drawings with the narratives they accompany and the signs and gestures used by speakers.

Murray Garde has detailed how to refer to people in Bininj Gun-wok from an anthropological perspective ; a. Like Garde, Blythe also looks at on how people are referred to in conversation but draws more on Conversation Analysis methodology Blythe a, b, Together, their work shows how kin relations form the basis for a highly developed creative art in referring to people, sometimes motivated by taboos on referring to certain kin, at other times motivated by humour.

Ilana Mushin draws on the Conversation Analysis tradition in her work on multilingual conversations in which Kriol, Aboriginal English and Garrwa are used, looking at turn-taking, silence and code-switching see Gardner and Mushin ; Mushin and Gardner and many others. The choice of a spatial orientation system in language is even reflected in non-verbal tasks, revealing the strength of the link between semantic structure in language and cognition.

The constant sensitivity to the landscape in everyday talk is a feature of all Aboriginal languages, regardless of what system of spatial orientation is used. This clearly relates to the way Aboriginal people interacted with their environment right across Australia. The hunter-gatherer way of life entails reliance on a wide range of flora and fauna as well as movement between varied ecosystems over the course of a year. There is much work on pragmatics and interaction in Aboriginal Languages in Baker et al eds A special issue of the Australian Journal of Linguistics volume 30, number 4, is dedicated to Studies in Australian Indigenous Conversation and brings together work on a number of Aboriginal languages from a predominantly Conversation Analysis approach.

Semantic analysis not only draws on our understanding of culture, cognition and the natural world but is also an invaluable tool for improving our understanding of these fields. Efforts to understand social relations in Aboriginal society are greatly improved by analyses of the complex systems of kinship terms, and by combining linguistic analyses of emotion terms with insights from anthropology Ponsonnet The recurrence of similar patterns of semantic structure right across the Australian continent suggests widespread social networks that lessened the effects of large distances and low population density.

The lack of lingua francas prior to White contact provides evidence that widespread multilingualism enabled communication between groups and this multilingualism would have also enabled the spread of semantic structures between languages Harvey The field of semantics is so vast and work on the semantics of Australian languages has begun so recently that there is still much to do both at the language particular level and the cross-linguistic level.

Recent blooming of work on some topics discussed earlier is likely to bear much fruit in time to come.

There are many topics that have barely been discussed in relation to Australian languages. We will canvass here just a few examples chosen more or less at random. Firstly, there is the question of semantic variation. Most Australian languages have quite a large degree of sociolinguistic variation, be it between dialects, clanlects or generations, and there has been little work on semantic variation between speech varieties.

There is also plenty of room for work on semantic typology, comparing similar categories across languages in a rigorous and systemic way. For example, many Australian languages have semantic case. To what extent is a case with the same label, such as locative case, used in the same way across languages? In a similar vein we could compare the systems of nominal classification across Australian languages. Does a common set of semantic principles form the basis for most nominal classification systems in Australia? In a very different domain, work on intonation and meaning in Australian languages is also still at an early stage.

The importance of intonation in discourse has been vastly underestimated, due to an assumption that languages with free word order do not need to use intonation to package information.

Nominal Classification in Aboriginal Australia Nominal Classification in Aboriginal Australia
Nominal Classification in Aboriginal Australia Nominal Classification in Aboriginal Australia
Nominal Classification in Aboriginal Australia Nominal Classification in Aboriginal Australia
Nominal Classification in Aboriginal Australia Nominal Classification in Aboriginal Australia
Nominal Classification in Aboriginal Australia Nominal Classification in Aboriginal Australia

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