On Thursday I had a most pleasurable time launching a new book on Australian languages and linguistics at the terrific annual conference of the Australian Linguistics Society in Newcastle (thanks Newcastle organisers!). Here goes for ALS’s first ever dry-dock launch… for Harold Koch and Rachel Nordlinger’s co-edited book (2014) The languages and linguistics of Australia: a comprehensive guide.
Australia has a long and interesting history of developing new kinds of books about language areas. In the nineteenth century we had compendia of vocabularies across Australia or parts – by Edward Curr (Curr, 1887), George Taplin (Taplin, 1879) and Robert Brough-Smyth (Smyth, 1876). This was followed in the early twentieth century by Wilhelm Schmidt’s pan-Australia classificatory work (Schmidt, 1919), and later Arthur Capell’s new approach to Australian linguistics (Capell, 1956). Then Norman Tindale produced his map and bibliography in 1974 (Tindale, 1974). In 1976 Dixon edited a collection of papers by lots of different linguists addressing the same grammatical topics (Robert M.W. Dixon, 1976). A flurry of different types of books appeared in the 1980s—from R M W Dixon and Barry Blake’s editing of short grammar handbook series (e.g. Dixon and Blake, 1983), the handbook series for geographic areas with vocabularies and bibliographies which Jim Wafer initiated (e.g. Menning and Nash, 1981). Then there were overview books (Blake, 1987; Dixon, 1980; Yallop, 1982). In 1993 Michael Walsh and Colin Yallop produced their edited collection of chapters on different topics in Indigenous languages (Walsh and Yallop, 1993). That book became the mainstay of courses on Aboriginal languages and was affectionately known as ‘Wallop’.
Koch and Nordlinger’s recently published book is a new kind of book in the great tradition. They have brought together a group of fine linguists to write survey articles on many areas in the study of Indigenous languages. And for the first time, the new languages, acrolectal and basilectal creoles get good coverage—in 3 papers organised along a continuum, from Felicity Meakins’ paper on creoles and their genesis (Meakins, 2014), to Diana Eades on Aboriginal English (Eades, 2014), and in Peter Collins’ paper on Australian English (Collins, 2014).
Each of the articles in this book is a great resource, clearly laying out the issues and providing great bibliographies. Most articles set the study of the area in its historical context, most set directions for future research, some introduce new research, some introduce the new typological and quantitative methods, some put the research in the world context, and all are clearly written.
Starting from sounds we have Janet Fletcher’s and Andy Butcher’s paper on the sound patterns of Australian language (Fletcher and Butcher, 2014). It’s dedicated to the memory of Colin Yallop—and I am sure he would have loved it as much as I do. It builds on Peter Busby’s 1980 survey (Busby, 1980), sets the vowel and consonant systems in the perspective of the sound systems of the world, does quantitative work and introduces new research . For those of us who have been happily phonologising away with a three vowel system, /i/ /u/ /a/, we now have much richer data on the phonetic realisation of vowels, which in turn will make more sense of historical changes across Australia.
Brett Baker’s paper on word-structure is a blockbuster—twice the length of most other papers—but that’s because he’s really dealing with two topics, packing in a survey of morpho-phonology and word structure across both dependent marking and head marking languages (Baker, 2014). Rachel Nordlinger gives us a trim, taut and terrific survey of the main syntactic properties of Australian languages that have attracted world attention—from ergativity to adjoined relative clauses (Nordlinger, 2014).
Claire Bowern gives us a lovely typological survey of work on complex predicates – making the most of her incomparable database. From the reconstruction of the parts of complex predicates, she moves forward to discussing what happens in language contact systems, thinking about how change might happen (Bowern, 2014). Her paper links beautifully both to Harold Koch’s magisterial survey of historical linguistics in the Australian linguistic area (Koch, 2014) (another blockbuster), and to the survey of the new languages arising from contact by Felicity Meakins (Meakins, 2014).
Semantics is not forgotten: Alice Gaby and Ruth Singer give an interesting survey of work done on different domains of semantics, linking also into the semantics of grammar (Gaby and Singer, 2014).
Then we have the social dimension: Michael Walsh gives us a great chronological survey of language revival and education work—pointing out for example that language reclamation work in schools began in the late 1970s in the Newcastle and the Hunter region (Walsh, 2014). Diana Eades addresses the place of speakers of new languages in institutional contexts – illustrating this from education and in the legal system—and raises the need for considering interaction in other institutional contexts (Eades, 2014). Felicity Meakins surveys new languages and gives a new account of their genesis in Australia – an important area for sociolinguistic and socio-historical investigation (Meakins, 2014). Peter Collins’ survey includes useful references on changing language attitudes towards Australian English.
This book I predict will become as essential to the lecturer of Aboriginal languages courses as Wallop has been to the students. So I urge you all to order it for your libraries—it’s a fabulous resource. And with that: I name this book ‘Kochlinger’, and declare it well and truly launched!
Baker, Brett (2014). Word structure in Australian languages. In Harold Koch and Rachel Nordlinger (eds) (139-213).
Blake, Barry J. (1987). Australian Aboriginal Grammar. London: Croom Helm.
Bowern, Claire (2014). Complex predicates in Australian languages. In Harold Koch and Rachel Nordlinger (eds.) (263-94).
Busby, Peter A. (1980). The Distribution of Phonemes in Australian Aboriginal Languages. Papers in Australian Linguistics (73-139). Series A: Occasional Papers, 14; Canberra.
Capell, Arthur (1956). A new approach to Australian linguistics: handbook of Australian languages, part 1, Oceania Linguistic Monographs. Sydney: University of Sydney.
Collins, Peter (2014). Australian English. In Harold Koch and Rachel Nordlinger (eds.), (449-84).
Curr, Edward M. (1887). The Australian Race: its origin, languages, customs, place of landing in Australia, and the routes by which it spread itself over that continent, 4 (3) vols. Melbourne: John Ferres, Government Printer.
Dixon, Robert M. W. (1980). The languages of Australia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dixon, Robert M. W. and Blake, Barry J. (eds.) (1983). Handbook of Australian Languages (Canberra: The Australian National University Press).
Dixon, Robert M.W. (ed.), (1976). Grammatical categories in Australian languages (Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies).
Eades, Diana (2014). Aboriginal English. In Harold Koch and Rachel Nordlinger (eds.), (417-47).
Fletcher, Janet and Butcher, Andrew (2014). Sound patterns of Australian languages. In Harold Koch and Rachel Nordlinger (eds.), (91-138).
Gaby, Alice and Singer, Ruth (2014). Semantics of Australian languages. In Harold Koch and Rachel Nordlinger (eds.), (295-327).
Koch, Harold (2014). Historical relations among the Australia languages: genetic classification and contact-based diffiusion. In Harold Koch and Rachel Nordlinger (eds.), (23-89).
Koch, Harold and Nordlinger, Rachel (2014). The languages and linguistics of Australia: a comprehensive guide, The world of linguistics. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.
Meakins, Felicity (2014). Language contact varieties. In Harold Koch and Rachel Nordlinger (eds.), (365-416).
Menning, Kathy and Nash, David (eds.) (1981). Sourcebook for Central Australian languages (Alice Springs: Institute for Aboriginal Development).
Nordlinger, Rachel (2014). Constituency and grammatical relations in Australian languages. In Harold Koch and Rachel Nordlinger (eds.), (215-61).
Schmidt, Wilhelm (1919). Die Gliederung der australischen Sprachen. Vienna: Mechitaristen-Buchdrückerei.
Smyth, Robert Brough (1876). The Aborigines of Victoria: with notes relating to the habits of the Natives of other Parts of Australia and Tasmania, 2 vols. Melbourne: John Currey, O’Neil.
Taplin, George (1879). The Folklore, manners, customs, and languages of the South Australian Aborigines. Adelaide: E. Spiller, Acting Govt. Printer viii, 174, 24, xii, 28 p.,  leaves of plates.
Tindale, Norman B. (1974). Aboriginal tribes of Australia: their terrain, environmental controls, distribution, limits and proper names. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press.
Walsh, Michael (2014). Indigenous language maintenance and revitalisation. In Harold Koch and Rachel Nordlinger (eds.), (329-62).
Walsh, Michael and Yallop, Colin (1993). Language and culture in Aboriginal Australia. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.
Yallop, Colin (1982). Australian Aboriginal languages. London: Andre Deutsch.