Australian Aboriginal languages

From Academic Kids

The Australian Aboriginal languages comprise several language families and isolates native to Australia and a few nearby islands, but by convention excluding Tasmania. The relationships of these languages is not clear at present, although substantial progress has been made to our understanding in recent decades.

The Tasmanian people were nearly exterminated early in Australia's colonial history, and their languages went extinct before much was recorded. They were separated from the mainland at the end of the last ice age, and apparently went without contact with the outside world for 10,000 years. Too little is known of their languages to be able to classify them, although they seem to have had some phonological similarities with languages of the mainland.


Common features

The Australian languages form a language area or Sprachbund, sharing much of their vocabulary and having similarly unusual phonologies (usually with only three vowels, no voicing contrasts, and no fricatives, but with several kinds of r, and with plosives, nasals, and laterals at each of several points of articulationlabial p, m, dental th, nh, lh, alveolar t, n, l, retroflex rt, rn, rl, palatal ty, ny, ly, velar k, ng).

Another common feature of many Australian languages is that they display so called mother-in-law languages, special avoidance languages used only in the presence of certain close relatives. These languages share the phonology and grammar of the standard language, but the lexicon is different and usually very restricted.


Most Australian languages are commonly held to belong to the Pama-Nyungan family, a family by no means unproblematic but still accepted by most linguists (with RMW Dixon as a noted exception). For convenience, the rest of the languages, all spoken in the far north, are commonly lumped together as "Non-Pama Nyungan", although they do not constitute a genetic family. Dixon has argued that after perhaps 40,000 years of mutual influence, it's no longer possible to distinguish deep genealogical relationships from areal features in Australia, and that not even Pama-Nyungan is a valid language family.

Traditionally, Australian languages have been divided into about two dozen families. What follows is a tentative classification of genealogical relationships among the Australian families, following the work of Nick Evans and associates at the University of Melbourne. Although not all subgroupings are mentioned, there is enough detail for the reader to fill in the rest using a standard reference such as Ethnologue. Note when cross-referencing that most language names have multiple spellings: rr=r, b=p, d=t, g=k, dj=j=tj=c, j=y, y=i, w=u, u=oo, e=a, etc. A range is given for the number of languages in each family, as sources count languages differently.

Language Isolates:

  • Enindhilyagwa (Andilyaugwa)
  • Limilngan
  • Minkin [extinct; perhaps a member of Yiwaidjan or Tankic]
  • Ngurmbur (Gunavidji/Gombudj) [perhaps a member of Macro-Pama-Nyungan]
  • Tiwi [spoken on the Melville and Bathurst Islands, long recognized as isolate]

Established Families:

  • Bunaban (2 languages in two subfamilies)
  • Daly (11-19 languages, now including Murinbata [Murrinh-Patha], in four subfamilies)
  • Djeragan (3-5 languages in two subfamilies)
  • Larakian (2 languages)
  • Nyulnyulan (4-8 languages)
  • Wororan (7-12 languages in three subfamilies)

Newly Proposed Families:

  • Minti, consisting of
Djamindjungan (2-4 languages)
West Barkly (3 languages in two subfamilies)
Burarran (4 languages, now including [N]djeebbana and Nakkara, in three subfamilies)
Yiwaidjan (4-8 languages in three-four subfamilies, plus perhaps the Minkin isolate)
Mangerrian (2-3 languages in two subfamilies)
the Kakadju (Gaagudu) isolate
the Umbugarla isolate
  • macro-Pama Nyungan, consisting of
Gunwiñguan (15-17 languages in six subfamilies, now including the Maran languages and the Kungarakany isolate)
Tankic (4 languages, plus perhaps the Minkin isolate)
the Garawa (Karawa) isolate
Pama-Nyungan proper (approximately 175 languages in 14 extant and numerous extinct subfamilies)
plus perhaps the Ngurmbur (Gunavidji/Gombudj) isolate


See also

External links

es:Lenguas aborígenes australianas pl:Języki australijskie


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