Australian Aboriginal Languages

  • November 5, 2018

If you were to ask me two years ago what my favorite language family was, I would have said that I couldn’t pick one. I would say that because I believe that every language family is interesting in its own way.

Last year, I learned about the Australian Aboriginal and Avoidance language families, and my answer completely changed. These language families quickly became my favorites because of their unique features and the diverse languages within them.

The Avoidance languages are created by different tribes’ members for the cultural reason of having family members that they are not permitted to speak to, such as mothers-in-law. This is a deeply rooted aspect of many tribes’ cultures. To work around this, these Avoidance languages are created, and what is even more interesting is that some of them even include rules about which types of body language can be used with certain relatives. For example, in one language, you must turn away from a forbidden relative when you are talking so you can not see them.

The Aboriginal language family is the family to which the Avoidance languages belong. This means that an Avoidance language is also an Aboriginal language, but not every Aboriginal language will be an Avoidance language.

The Australian Avoidance languages are all Aboriginal languages, but they belong to their own sub-family in their own right because of this common trait that they share.

The Avoidance languages are especially interesting for another reason. Some of them have the same vocabulary, but the grammars are all different (some more than others,) and the words have different definitions in different languages.

In my opinion, one of the most fascinating things about this language family is how various branches of linguistics can be applied to study it. These branches are Historical Linguistics, Glottochronology, and Lexicostatistics. While these different branches can be quite complex, and two of them are still not the most popular branches of linguistics, it is wonderful to see them being used to benefit the field of linguistics as a whole. I will be explaining these terms in some detail in my future articles.

If you are obsessed with sign languages, you should definitely check out some of the sign languages in the Aboriginal family. They are intriguing because of how they work together within the language family.

I feel obliged to also point out that some names of the languages are so incredibly fun to say, such as Dyirbal (pronounced as gerbil,) Jingulu (pronounced as jingle-ooh,) Pitjanjatjara (this pronunciation is fairly straightforward,) and last, but certainly not least, Pintupi (pronounced as pin-tooh-pee.)

These languages are interesting for many reasons, and my beat will focus on this family to cover more aspects of these languages in depth. This series will include features about languages that I am extremely fond of for different reasons. For example, I will be exploring how Glottochronology has been applied and continues to be applied to one language, and the various phonological patterns of others, to name two.


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