European Australianists Workshop 2007

On Saturday 27th October the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics Nijmegen hosted a European Australianists workshop, organised by Ruth Singer, post-doctoral fellow at the Radboud University. The workshop was attended by about 15 people and had a packed programme of nine talks from 9am to 6pm. Unfortunately, I had to leave in the early afternoon to catch a flight back to London and missed some of the later presentations.

The day began with Ruth Singer presenting on behalf of herself, Michael Dunn, Nick Evans and Ger Resink a talk entitled Family or just friends? Looking at inter-family relations among Australian languages using typological features. This paper discussed work in progress on the application of a typological feature based model of comparative research to data from 12 languages from northern Australia, both Pama-Nyungan and non-Pama-Nyungan, and corresponding data from 34 Papuan languages being examined in the Language Area of the Sahul Project. Ruth showed the results of applying analytical techniques developed within evolutionary biology to the Australian data, namely structure analysis and neighbournet analysis. Structure analysis suggests there are two major groupings of northern Australian languages based on typological features (a western group of Kimberley-Daly-Western Arnhemland languages and an eastern group of Eastern Arnhemland-Cape York languages), with Gooniyandi showing characteristics of both groups. ‘Neighbournet’ analysis generates a tree network that again shows two major divisions with Gooniyandi sitting between them. Further data and more detailed analysis of languages in the Kimberley region is needed to explore the significance of these preliminary results in more detail.
Jean-Christophe Verstraete’s paper Umpithamu in contact with the Lamalamic languages (Cape York Peninsula) was a fascinating study of the until now poorly known languages of the Princess Charlotte Bay. He showed that Umpithamu (classified in Dixon’s 2002 book as an isolate) groups genetically with Middle Paman languages to its north and west although it shares a number of remarkable characteristics (which it apparently borrowed) with its immediate neighbours that belong to the Lamalama group. These borrowed features include a post-verbal clitic complex of pronominals agreeing with subject and object. The close social networks between Umpithamu people and their Lalalamic neighbours appears to have created the conditions for this grammatical borrowing.
Bill McGregor’s talk The semantics of buru and the concept of place in Nyulnyulan languages looked at the many meanings of this term (centered around ‘camp, place’) including metaphorical and idiomatic extensions, with comparative remarks on Gooniyandi, Arandic and other languages. Bill was careful to stress that he was doing a semantic rather than cognitive/conceptual study. The topic then shifted to phonology with Erich Round presenting on Entrenched cluster phonotactics and Australian phonological homogeneity: a case of diachronic cause and effect?. Erich began from the observation that the Australian continent is strikingly unique in that the phonologies of the languages spoken there show so many similarities in both inventories and phonotactics. He presented a historical scenario involving borrowing between languages in a ‘metastable state’ that results in phonotactic homogeneity over time. He also showed how a hypothesised word level sandhi process could impact on Kayardild to give rise to the currently observed phonotactics of that language.
After lunch Eva Schultze-Berndt discussed The many ways for a frog to leave jumping out: evidence from an Australian language for extending Talmy’s typology of motion events. She showed that lexical typological contrast between ‘satellite-framed languages’ and ‘verb-framed languages’ (and the ‘equipollently-framed languages’ type later added by Slobin) runs into difficulties when confronted with data from Jaminjung from the Kimberley. Here multiple uninflecting verbs can combine with an inflecting verb to express motion semantics, so it is unclear what is ‘verb’ and what is ‘satellite’. She also looked at the discourse distribution of motion expressions in Frog Story narratives, and concluded that there were “tendencies of a ‘verb-framed’ lexicalisation pattern and narrative style”.
At this point I had to leave the workshop and missed the subsequent papers:
Felicity Meakins Moving targets: variation and convergence in the expression of goal marking in Gurindji Kriol
Clair Hill Collaborative narrative and cross-speaker repetition in Umpila and Kuuku Ya’u
Jenny Green Drawing lines in the sand – co-speech graphics, gesture and sign in Arandic sand-drawing narratives
Kristina Henschke Expressing topological relations in Ngarinyman
What was remarkable to me about the workshop was the range of topics covered and the move away from ‘traditional’ Australianist issues like case-marking, non-configurationality and morpho-syntax, along with the development with new ways of thinking about phonology, semantics and language history and contact. Also remarkable was the range of countries represented among the presenters and audience: Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, UK, US and Australia. There has been a fairly recent (re-)emergence of a strong Austronesianist community in Europe (the ALL3 conference held at SOAS last month attracted 35 participants and required parallel sessions), and this workshop shows how healthy the interest also is here in Australian languages.