Bowern, Claire: The origins of Pama-Nyungan, Australia’s largest family of Aboriginal languages

Claire Bowern

The origins of Pama-Nyungan, Australia’s largest family of Aboriginal languages‘, The Conversation, 13 March 2018

The approximately 400 languages of Aboriginal Australia can be grouped into 27 different families. To put that diversity in context, Europe has just four language families, Indo-European, Basque, Finno-Ugric and Semitic, with Indo-European encompassing such languages as English, Spanish, Russian and Hindi.

Australia’s largest language family is Pama-Nyungan. Before 1788 it covered 90% of the country and comprised about 300 languages. The territories on which Canberra (Ngunnawal), Perth (Noongar), Sydney (Daruk, Iyora), Brisbane (Turubal) and Melbourne (Woiwurrung) are built were all once owned by speakers of Pama-Nyungan languages.

All the languages from the Torres Strait to Bunbury, from the Pilbara to the Grampians, are descended from a single ancestor language that spread across the continent to all but the Kimberley and the Top End.

The article summarises a longer piece just published in Nature Ecology and Evolution (paywall). For related material, scroll down the items in our archived First Peoples collection.

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