"A Preliminary Report on the Languages of Australia"
by Gerhardt Laves

The writer has spent two years in Australia studying aboriginal languages under the auspices of the Australian National Research Council. In addition to extensive survey work, he has made an intensive study of six languages in selected areas. On the basis of this work, it is found that all the Australian languages belong to a single language family or stock. They have in common a phonetic system in which variations are ascribable only to local development. Comparative studies in vocabulary and word-elements have progressed far enough to surmise widespread affinities, notably in the words for certain parts of the body and in the pronouns. The languages are tentatively grouped into three divisions,- the North-western Languages of northern Western Australia and western Northern Territory; the Cape York Languages which appear only in the Cape York Peninsula of northern Queensland; and the Transcontinental Languages which appear over the entire remaining area. The Northwestern Languages are distinct from the other two groups in that they use prefixes with the verbs and with certain classes of nouns. The Cape York Languages, only cursorily studied by the writer, appear to differ sufficiently from the others in phonetics and vocabulary to justify classing them as a separate group. Although there is some criss-crossing in the lines of division on the basis of phonetics, each of the three groups has enough distinctive features to necessitate the present preliminary grouping.

draft Introduction to Report

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© 1998