Tasmanian languages

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Tasmanian
(geographic)
Ethnicity Tasmanian Aborigines
Geographic
distribution
Tasmania
Extinct 1905, with the extinction of the Flinders Islands Lingua franca at the death of Fanny Cochrane Smith [1]
Linguistic classification at least three language families:
Northeastern
Oyster Bay Southeastern
NorthernWestern?
Glottolog None
Fanny Cochrane Smith.jpg
Fanny Cochrane Smith, last speaker of the Flinders Islands Lingua franca, a Tasmanian Aboriginal language. [2]
Tasmanian tribes.JPG
Approximate ethnic divisions in pre-European Tasmania

The Tasmanian languages were the languages indigenous to the island of Tasmania, used by Aboriginal Tasmanians. The languages were last used for daily communication in the 1830s, although the terminal speaker, Fanny Cochrane Smith, survived until 1905.

Contents

Tasmanian languages are attested by three dozen word lists, the most extensive being those of Joseph Milligan [3] and George Augustus Robinson. All these show a poor grasp of the sounds of Tasmanian, which appear to have been fairly typical of Australian languages in this parameter. Plomley (1976) presents all the lexical data available to him in 1976. Crowley and Dixon (1981) summarise what little is known of Tasmanian phonology and grammar. Bowern (2012) teases apart the mixture of languages in many of the lists and attempts to classify them into language families.

Little is known of the languages and no relationship to other languages is demonstrable. It appears that there were several language families on Tasmania, which would be in keeping with the long period of human habitation on the island. In the 1970s Joseph Greenberg proposed an Indo-Pacific superfamily which includes Tasmanian along with Andamanese and Papuan (but not Australian). However, this superfamily proposal is rejected by the vast majority of historical linguists. [4] [5]

Fanny Cochrane Smith recorded a series of wax cylinder recordings of Aboriginal songs, the only existing audio recording of a Tasmanian language, though they are of extremely poor quality. In 1972, her granddaughters still remembered some words and a song. Robert M. W. Dixon, who interviewed them as part of his research with Terry Crowley, concluded that "there is virtually no data on the grammar and no running text so that it is impossible to say very much of linguistic interest about the Tasmanian languages". [6] However, from the scant sources that are available, Tasmanian people are seeking to recover their lost languages and traditions. The largest language revival project to date is the Palawa kani project. [7]

Languages and language families

Based on short wordlists, it appears that there were anywhere from five to sixteen languages on Tasmania, [8] related to each other in perhaps four language families. [9] There are historical records as well that indicate the languages were not mutually intelligible, and that a lingua franca was necessary for communication after resettlement on Flinders' Island. J.B. Walker, who visited the island in 1832 and 1834, reported that,

Robert Clark, the catechist, states that on his arrival at the Flinders' Settlement in 1834, eight or ten different languages or dialects were spoken amongst the 200 natives then at the establishment, and that the blacks were 'instructing each other to speak their respective tongues'.

JB Walker (1898:179) [10]

Reports from the subsequent settlement at Oyster Cove were similar:

The Aboriginal dialects made it difficult for the members of one family to understand that of another; "now however they all seem to have merged into one"

Lennox (1984:60) [11]

Schmidt (1952) [12] distinguished five languages in the word lists:

The Eastern languages seem to share a common vocabulary, and use the nominal particle na. The Western languages use leā instead of na.

Dixon & Crowley (1981)

Tasmanian languages according to Dixon & Crowley (1981). Grey was uninhabited at time of contact. Tasmanian languages.gif
Tasmanian languages according to Dixon & Crowley (1981). Grey was uninhabited at time of contact.

Dixon and Crowley (1981) reviewed the data. They evaluate 13 local varieties, and find 6 to 8 languages, with no conclusion on two additional varieties (those of the west coast) due to lack of data. Listed here (clockwise from the northwest) with their Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) codes, [13] they are:

The two western varieties are South-western (T10*) and Macquarie Harbour (T6) [southern and northern ends of SW region on map]

Bowern (2012)

Tasmanian language families per Bowern (2012). Oyster Bay and SE are clearly related. Northern and Western may be as well. Tasmanian (Bowern 2012).png
Tasmanian language families per Bowern (2012). Oyster Bay and SE are clearly related. Northern and Western may be as well.

One of the difficulties in interpreting Tasmanian data is the fact that some of the 35 word lists mix data from various locations, and even for the rest, in some cases the location is not recorded. Bowern (2012) used a clustering algorithm to identify language admixture, and further techniques to conclude that the 26 unmixed lists with more than 100 words record twelve Tasmanian varieties (at p < 0.15) that may be assumed to be distinct languages. [14] Due to the poor attestation, these varieties have no names apart from the names of the wordlists they are recorded in. They fall into five clusters; Bayesian phylogenetic methods demonstrate that two of these are clearly related, but that the others cannot be related to each other (that is, they are separate language families) based on existing evidence. Given the length of human habitation on Tasmania, it should not be expected for the languages to be demonstrably related to each other. The families, and the number of attested languages, are: [9]

Bowern identifies several of the wordlists of unknown providence: The Norman list is northeastern, for example, while the Lhotsky and Blackhouse lists attest to an additional language in the northeastern family; the Fisher list is western, as are the Plomley lists, though with admixture. Two of the lists reported to be from Oyster Bay contain substantial northeastern admixture, which Bowern believes to be responsible for classifications linking the languages of the east coast. [9]

Only 24 words, out of 3,412, are found in all five branches, and most of these are words for recently introduced items, such as guns and cattle, or cultural or mythological terms which could easily be borrowed. Thus there is no good evidence for a Tasmanian language family. There is, however, slight evidence that the northern and western families may be distantly related (the western varieties are especially poorly attested). The only words found in all regions that are not obvious candidates for borrowing and which do not have serious problems with attestation are *pene- 'laugh', *taway 'go', *liya 'water', *wii 'wood', and perhaps *tina 'belly'. However, there are other local words for 'laugh', 'water', and 'belly', and the reflexes of *taway are so similar as to be suspicious. *Wii is therefore the most promising; it is found as wiya, wina, wikina (-na is a common ending) and wii, glossed as wood, tree, brush, or timber. Although there is no evidence that the Tasmanian languages were related to the languages of mainland Australia (and if they were, they would presumably be related to languages which had been lost to the wave of Pama–Nyungan expansion), the fact that there is no established Tasmanian family should be kept in mind when attempting to establish such connections. [9] [15]

Lingua franca

Flinders Island Lingua franca
Region Flinders Island,Tasmania
Ethnicity Tasmanian
Extinct 1905, with the death of Fanny Cochrane Smith [16]
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Fanny Cochrane Smith.jpg
Fanny Cochrane Smith, last speaker of the Flinders Island Lingua franca [18]
Recording the songs of Fanny Cochrane Smith using a phonograph. Fanny Cochrane Smith recording.jpg
Recording the songs of Fanny Cochrane Smith using a phonograph.
1903 recording

It is unknown if the Tasmanian lingua franca was a koine, creole, pidgin, or a mixed language (Wurm, Mühlhäusler, & Tryon, 1996). However, the vocabulary was evidently predominantly that of the eastern and northeastern languages, due to the dominance of those peoples on the settlements. [19]

Bass Strait Pidgin

Bass Strait Pidgin
Region Flinders Island and, more generally, around the Bass Strait, Tasmania
Extinct mostly, unattested (perhaps, 19th century)
English Creole, with elements, mainly, of the Flinders Island Lingua franca. [20] Also, contained words from the New Holland tribes, as well as, negrito words. [21]
Language codes
ISO 639-3

The unattested Bass Strait Pidgin of Flinders Island consisted primarily of English vocabulary, but is reported to have had a mixture of words from Tasmanian languages, introduced by the women that the sealers of the island had abducted from Tasmania. [22]

Revival

Palawa kani is a language-revival project.

Phonology

The phonology is uncertain, due to the poor nature of the transcriptions. Schmidt (1952) reconstructed the following for East-central and South-east Tasmanian, as well as parts from Blake; Dixon (1981):

Labial Coronal Velar
plain palatalized dental plain palatalized palatalized plain
Stop p/bpʲ/bʲt̪/d̪t/dtʲ/dʲkʲ/ɡʲk/ɡ
Fricative x
Nasal m()nŋ
Sonorant central wr/ɹj
lateral l

There may have also been a lamino-dental nasal [], as well as a glottal stop.

Vowels included five short /a e i o u/, and five long vowels /aː eː iː oː uː/, and nasal vowels such as "[ʌ̃]" in French pronunciations. [23] Stress appears to have been on the penultimate syllable.

Tasmanian languages differ from most of those on the mainland in having words that begin with l or r, as well as with consonant clusters such as br and gr. However, many of the languages of Victoria, across the Bass Strait, also allow initial l, and the language of Gippsland nearest Tasmania, Gunai, also had words beginning with trilled r and the clusters br and gr. [24]

Grammar

East-central Tasmanian is used for illustration, unless otherwise indicated.

Nouns

There is no evidence of plurality or gender. The nominal particle may have marked the end of a noun phrase.

Eastern Tas.Western Tas.
womanlowa-nanowa-leā
handrī-nari-leā
kangarootara-natara-leā

Possession was indicated by the possessor (noun) dropping the nominal particle:

wurrawa lowa-na 'the wife of the deceased'
Postpositions

Postpositions, or perhaps case endings, include le/li 'behind', ra 'without', to/ta (change in direction):

There is also an adverbial suffix -re in lene-re 'backwards'.

lunamea ta 'to my house', nee-to [nito] 'to you'
Adjectives

Adjectives follow the noun, and some end in -ne (pāwine 'small') or -ak (mawbak 'black', tunak 'cold').

Pronouns

Only singular personal pronouns are known: mī-na 'I', nī-na 'you', nara 's/he'. (In Northeast Tas, these are mi-na, ni-na, nara.) These form possessive suffixes: loa-mi 'my woman'. Pronouns might be incorporated in the verb: tiena-mia-pe 'give me!'.

Demonstrative pronouns are wa/we 'this' and ni/ne 'that': Riena narra wa 'this is my hand'.

Numerals

marra(wa) 'one', pʲa(wa) 'two'.

Verbs

The negative particle is noia

noia meahteang meena neeto linah
'I won't give you any water'
(not give I to-you water)

In Southeast Tas., suffixes -gara/-gera and -gana/-gena appear on verbs. Their meaning is unknown:

nunug(e)ra 'to wash', tiagarra 'to keep', nugara 'to drink'
longana 'to sleep', poenghana 'to laugh', winganah 'to touch'

Vocabulary

Some basic words: [25]

nanga 'father'
poa 'mother' (Northeast)
pögöli-na 'sun'
wīta 'moon'
romtö-na 'star'
pö ön'e-na 'bird'
wī-na 'tree'
poime-na 'mountain'
waltomo-na 'river' (Northeast)
nani 'stone'

The difficulty in analyzing the records is apparent in the conflicting recorded forms for the words for "two" ("Fr" means a French transcription): [15]

Tasmanian words for "two"
RegionTranscriptionPossible
pronunciation
South-
eastern
pooalih[puwali]
bõw.lȳ[pawuli]
boula (Fr)[pula]
boulla (Fr)[pula]
bura[pura]
bourai (Fr)[pure]
cal.a.ba.wa[kalapawa]
North-
eastern
calabawa[kalapawa]
kar.te.pew.er[katapiwa]
kateboueve (Fr)[katapuwe(?)]
narn.ne.meen.er[nanamina]
nar.ner.pee[nanapi]
par.le.the.meen.er[palatamina]
pay'ãnĕrbĕrwãr[peyanapawa]
North-
western
may[me]
nue.won.ner[nyuwana]
neu.on.ne[nyuwana]
py.at.er.lare[payatale]
pie.nare.re.pare[paynerape]
by.ar.ty[payatay]
Oyster Baypy.wer[paywa]
pye.er.wer[payawa]
pye.er.wer[payawa]
pia-wah[payawa]

Given the possibility that suffixes are responsible for some of the differences, there are still clearly several distinct words, though it is difficult to say how many or what their forms were.

Related Research Articles

Aboriginal Tasmanians Indigenous people of the Australian island state of Tasmania

The Aboriginal Tasmanians are the Aboriginal people of the Australian state of Tasmania, located south of the mainland. For much of the 20th century, the Tasmanian Aboriginal people were widely, and erroneously, thought of as being an extinct cultural and ethnic group. Contemporary figures (2016) for the number of people of Tasmanian Aboriginal descent vary according to the criteria used to determine this identity, ranging from 6,000 to over 23,000.

The Wilson River language is an Australian Aboriginal language of the Karnic family. It was spoken by several peoples along the Wilson River in Queensland. Of these, the Wangkumara and Galali may have migrated from the Bulloo River and abandoned their language when they arrived.

Fanny Cochrane Smith Last known speaker of a Tasmanian language

Fanny Cochrane Smith was an Aboriginal Tasmanian, born in December 1834. She is considered to be the last fluent speaker of the Flinders island lingua franca, a Tasmanian language, and her wax cylinder recordings of songs are the only audio recordings of any of Tasmania's indigenous languages. Her recordings were inducted into the UNESCO Australian Memory of the World Register in 2017.

Palawa kani is a constructed language created by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre as a composite Tasmanian language, based on reconstructed vocabulary from the limited accounts of the various languages once spoken by the eastern Aboriginal Tasmanians. The Centre wishes to keep the language private until it is established in the community, and claims copyright. However, languages are not copyrightable under Australian or international law.

Norman James Brian Plomley regarded by some as one of the most respected and scholarly of Australian historians and, until his death, in Launceston, the doyen of Tasmanian Aboriginal scholarship.

Northeastern Tasmanian languages

Northeastern Tasmanian is an aboriginal language family of Tasmania in the reconstruction of Claire Bowern.

Eastern Tasmanian languages

Eastern Tasmanian is an aboriginal language family of Tasmania in the reconstruction of Claire Bowern.

Western Tasmanian languages languages of indigenous Tasmanians

Western Tasmanian is an aboriginal language family of Tasmania in the reconstruction of Claire Bowern.

Northern Tasmanian, or Tommeginne (Tommeeginnee), is an aboriginal language of Tasmania in the reconstruction of Claire Bowern.

Port Sorell is an aboriginal language of Tasmania in the reconstruction of Claire Bowern. It was spoken near Port Sorell, in the center of the north coast, just east of Northern Tasmanian proper. Dixon & Crowley agree that there is unlikely to be a close connection to other varieties of Tasmanian.

Northwestern Tasmanian, or Peerapper ("Pirapa"), is an aboriginal language of Tasmania in the reconstruction of Claire Bowern. It was spoken along the west coast of the island, from Macquarie Harbour north to Circular Head and Robbins Island.

Southwestern Tasmanian, or Toogee, is a possible aboriginal language of Tasmania. It is the most poorly attested known variety of Tasmanian, and it is not clear how distinct it was. It was apparently spoken along the west coast of the island, south of Macquarie Harbour.

Northeastern Tasmanian, or Pyemmairre, is an aboriginal language of Tasmania.

North Midland Tasmanian, or Tyerrernotepanner ("Cheranotipana"), was an aboriginal language of northeastern Tasmania, along the Tamar River and inland of Ben Lomond and Great Oyster Bay.

A variety of aboriginal Tasmanian attested in a manuscript nicknamed the "Norman" vocabulary is identified as a distinct language in the reconstructions of Claire Bowern. The list of 386 words was recorded in Sorell, Tasmania in the 19th century by one Charles Sterling. The language was presumably spoken somewhere in the northeast of Tasmania, but the original location of the speakers was not recorded.

Little Swanport Tasmanian is an aboriginal language of Tasmania in the reconstruction of Claire Bowern. It was spoken near the modern town of Little Swanport on the east coast. Dixon & Crowley had noted that it appeared to be distinct, but were not sure if it constituted a separate language from other word lists collected near Oyster Bay.

Oyster Bay Tasmanian, or Paredarerme ("Paritarami"), is an aboriginal language of Tasmania in the reconstruction of Claire Bowern. It was spoken along the central eastern coast of the island by the Oyster Bay tribe, and in the interior by the Big River tribe. Records of the Big River dialect, Lairmairrener ("Lemerina"), indicate that it was no more distinct than the vocabularies collected along the coast around Oyster Bay; indeed, Little Swanport appears to have been a separate language.

Southeast Tasmanian, or Nuenonne ("Nyunoni"), is an aboriginal language of Tasmania in the reconstruction of Claire Bowern. It was spoken along the southeastern mainland of the island by the Bruny tribe.

Bruny Island Tasmanian, or Nuenonne ("Nyunoni"), a name shared with Southeast Tasmanian, is an aboriginal language or pair of languages of Tasmania in the reconstruction of Claire Bowern. It was spoken on Bruny Island, off the southeastern coast of Tasmania, by the Bruny tribe.

Port Jackson Pidgin English is an English-based pidgin that originated in the region of Sydney and Newcastle in New South Wales in the early days of colonisation. Stockmen carried it west and north as they expanded across Australia. It subsequently died out in most of the country, but was creolised in the Northern Territory at the Roper River Mission (Ngukurr), where missionaries provided a safe place for Indigenous Australians from the surrounding areas to escape annihilation at the hands of European settlers. As the Indigenous Australians who came to seek refuge at Roper River came from different language backgrounds, there grew a need for a shared communication system to develop, and it was this that created the conditions for Port Jackson Pidgin English to become fleshed out into a full language, Kriol, based on English and the eight different Australian language groups spoken by those at the mission.

References

  1. NJB Plomley, 1976b. Friendly mission: the Tasmanian journals of George Augustus Robinson 1829–34. Kingsgrove. pp. xiv–xv.
  2. NJB Plomley, 1976b. Friendly mission: the Tasmanian journals of George Augustus Robinson 1829–34. Kingsgrove. pp. xiv–xv.
  3. J. Milligan, 1859. Vocabulary of the Aboriginal Tribes of Tasmania, vol. III of the Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Van Dieman's Land. Hobart.
  4. Blench, Roger (2008), The Languages Of The Tasmanians And Their Relation To The Peopling Of Australia: Sensible and Wild Theories
  5. George van Driem Languages of the Himalayas, vol. 1, pp 139–141
  6. "Tasmanian language". The Canberra Times . 1 September 1976.
  7. Bernard Comrie, Stephen Matthews, and Maria Polinsky. The Atlas of Languages. New York: Facts on File. Page 116.
  8. Crowley, Field Linguistics, 2007:3
  9. 1 2 3 4 Claire Bowern, September 2012, "The riddle of Tasmanian languages", Proc. R. Soc. B, 279, 45904595, doi: 10.1098/rspb.2012.1842
  10. JB Walker, 1898. "Notes on the Aborigines of Tasmania", extracted from the Manuscript Journals by George Washington Walker, Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania for 1897. pp 145–175. Quoted in Wurm, Mühlhäusler, & Tryon, 1996.
  11. Geoff Lennox, 1984. Oyster Cove historic site. A resource document. Hobart.
  12. W. Schmidt, 1952. Die Tasmanischen Sprachen. Utrecht and Antwerp.
  13. Australian Indigenous Languages Database
  14. The choice of p < 0.15 is rather arbitrary. A more exacting criterion of p < 0.10 results in twenty varieties; relaxing it to < 0.20, on the other hand, makes little difference, reducing the number to eleven (with two rather than three Bruny/SE varieties).
  15. 1 2 Bowern (2012), supplement
  16. NJB Plomley, 1976b. Friendly mission: the Tasmanian journals of George Augustus Robinson 1829–34. Kingsgrove. pp. xiv–xv.
  17. NJB Plomley, 1976b. Friendly mission: the Tasmanian journals of George Augustus Robinson 1829–34. Kingsgrove. pp. xiv–xv.
  18. NJB Plomley, 1976b. Friendly mission: the Tasmanian journals of George Augustus Robinson 1829–34. Kingsgrove. pp. xiv–xv.
  19. NJB Plomley, 1976b. Friendly mission: the Tasmanian journals of George Augustus Robinson 1829–34. Kingsgrove. pp. xiv–xv.
  20. Rob Amery & Peter Mühlhäusler (2011) 'Pidgin English in New South Wales', in Wurm, Mühlhäusler, & Tryon (eds.)
  21. https://books.google.gr/books?id=lFW1BwAAQBAJ&pg=RA1-PA48&lpg=RA1-PA48&dq=Bass+Strait+pidgin&source=bl&ots=ipmpdgcqkU&sig=ACfU3U3zdgC8FWWiQa-RveK0qlBZX3erVA&hl=el&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj0tr_gzbPoAhUBwqYKHV4rBK4Q6AEwAHoECAIQAQ
  22. Rob Amery & Peter Mühlhäusler (2011) 'Pidgin English in New South Wales', in Wurm, Mühlhäusler, & Tryon (eds.), Atlas of Languages of Intercultural Communication in the Pacific, Asia, and the Americas
  23. Taylor, John (2006). "The Palawa (Tasmanian Aboriginal) Languages: A Preliminary Discussion" (PDF): 139.Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  24. Barry Blake, 1991. Australian aboriginal languages: a general introduction
  25. "Tasmanian". In George Campbell, 1991. Compendium of the World's Languages, vol. II.

Bibliography