Up to the present date, a fairly large body of material on Australian languages has appeared in print. Unfortunately, however, the greatest part of this literature is so fragmentary and phonetically inaccurate as to be of little use for either specific or for comparative studies. [...]
Professor Radcliffe-Brown, who directed my research in Australia,
suggested my studying only one or two languages. However, in view
of the similarities I discovered between Kumbaingeri of New South Wales
and Karadjeri of Western Australia, he advised my investigating other
positions whose significance he had suspected on the basis of his own
and the preliminary reports of his field workers in ethnology as well
the earlier literature. [...]
[...] Pitch and accent, generally speaking, have no grammatical
value. Aspiration is rare and the glottal stop is restricted
almost entirely to a small area in Northern Queensland. The
distinction between voiced and unvoiced consonants is not, for the most
part, phonemic, being determined by the position in the word and by
adjacent sounds. The following table offers a generalized
phonemic scheme of the consonants of all the Australian languages;
parentheses indicate sporadic occurrence: [table of symbols, with rows
for alveolar, alv. palatal, alv cerebral, etc]
Phonetically, I have been able, on the basis of my material, to group together all of the Australian languages. With respect to morphology, however, it is necessary to separate them into three major groups. The first and by far the largest in area, would seem to occupy the entire south of the continent, project to the north coast in the eastern Northern Territory and cover all of the continent to the eastward except for a few languages in northern Cape York Peninsula of northern Queensland. This large group I propose to name the Transcontinental Languages. The second is to be found in northern Western Australia to the north of Broome and extends over into the north- western part of the Northern Territory including the lower reaches of the Victoria, the Fitzmaurice and the Daly Rivers. This group I shall designate as the Northwestern Languages. The third, and smallest, group embraces a few languages in the northern extremity of Cape York Peninsula, northern Queensland; I shall call them the Cape York Languages despite the fact that there are also Transcontinental languages in the peninsula...
[...] It is very possible that an etymological relationship between
certain verbal suffixes and the stems of certain of the auxiliary verbs
can later be established. It is very likely that there will be
found such a relationship between these stems and nouns, especially
those referring to parts of the body. Examples illustrating one
of these series are as follows: the generalized east-coast word for
'hand' (mala); the Kumbaingeri (also east-coast) word for 'hand'
(man<underdot>a), the verb meaning 'to handle' or 'to take'
(mana-), the verbal causative (-m-); the Karadjeri (west-coast) verb
meaning 'to handle' (mara-); the Barda (west-coast) word for 'his hand'
(nimal<underdot>a) and the verb meaning 'I put', 'I effected
Reduplication is of frequent occurrence in all the languages. [...]
It remains to be seen how these genetically related groups are to be further subdivided and whether the criss-crossing of the lines of division will materially alter the present grouping."
--From 'A Preliminary Report on the Languages of Australia' by Gerhardt Laves (To be presented before Section L of the A.A.A.S. at Atlantic City, the morning of December 31, 1932), which appears in draft as Section 7.2.1 (Series 8, Box 8) of the Laves Papers.An appended note (p.7407), dated (by hand) October 20, 1931, reads:
"It is the purpose of the attached paper to prepare for myself a bird's-eye view of the entire Australian linguistic situation before proceeding to a detailed consideration of the individual languages. In view of the fact that I have written almost entirely from memory and from brief preliminary sketches, there will, no doubt, appear a good deal of misplaced emphasis and, perhaps, certain errors. I have, however, followed this course in order to retain the fresh images of recent field work."Abstract of Report
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