Holmer on Celtic

Anders Ahlqvist

The University of Sydney

The essential facts about the life and work of the Swedish linguist Nils Magnus Holmer are nicely documented in Bill McGregor and Matti Miestamo’s article (Encountering Aboriginal Languages 2008, 219–250) on his work as an investigator of Australian languages. This also contains a bibliography of his published work on Celtic. This paper will attempt a brief evaluation of what that amounts to, including a few words about the rather mixed reception it was subjected to by those Celtic scholars who published reviews of it. Finally, one or two questions will be raised concerning his career in Sweden, particularly his succession; the otherwise reasonably authoritative History of Linguistics in the Nordic Countries (2000, 495) is somewhat nebulous about this matter.

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Daniel Macdonald and the ‘compromise literary dialect’ in Efate, central Vanuatu

Chris Ballard & Nick Thieberger

Australian National University & University of Hawaii/University of Melbourne

Daniel Macdonald, a Presbyterian Church of Victoria missionary to the New Hebrides from 1872 to 1905, developed a particularly strong interest in language.  A prodigious author, he published widely and at length on the languages of Efate, and especially those of the Havannah Harbour area where he was stationed.  But if his work is recalled today, it is as something of a curio, both for his insistence – archaic even for the times – on a link between ancient Semitic and Efate, and for his vigorous promotion of the use by the mission and its converts of a single, hybrid Efate language.  This paper addresses and seeks to analyse what Macdonald himself called this ‘compromise literary dialect’.  By identifying distinctive features of the three main varieties of Efate languages known today (Nguna or Nakanamanga, South Efate and Lelepa), we aim to move beyond the lexical comparisons that have been the sole means of gauging relationships between these languages thus far.  This enables us to begin the process of investigating the claim of Captain Rason, British Deputy Commissioner for the New Hebrides during Macdonald’s last years on Efate, that the ‘compromise literary dialect’ was in fact a spoken dialect particular to the area of Havannah Harbour.  We hope to reconsider and perhaps recuperate some of Macdonald’s writing as a rare if often distorted window on indigenous life and language at a pivotal moment in the transformation of Efate communities.

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Lancelot Threlkeld and the Colonial Bible

Hilary Carey

University of Newcastle

This paper will provide an account of the first two translations of any work of scripture in any Australian language, Lancelot Threkeld’s translation of the Gospel of St Luke and the Gospel of St Mark. Both of these works were not published in Threlkeld’s lifetime, largely he says because all the speakers of “the Australian language” (“Awabakal”) had passed away by the time his project was completed. However at the instigation of Sir George Grey he continued his work, largely it would seem with the intention of creating a memorial to a lost language, and a work which might be collectable. The paper will consider what can be discerned of Threlkeld's translation practices from the only surviving manuscript of the Gospel of St Luke, now in Auckland Public Library, and the only surviving manuscript of the Gospel of St Mark, now in the State Library of New South Wales. Fresh light will be cast on these texts by an examination of the recently discovered copy of Threlkeld’s journal.

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On the margins of pacific linguistics: P.A. Lanyon-Orgill

Ross Clark

University of Auckland

Peter A.Lanyon-Orgill (1924-2002) made himself a place in every bibliography of Pacific linguistics without, it could be argued, ever making any original contribution to the field. At one extreme his publishing activities verged on fraud and plagiarism, but from another point of view he made available work which otherwise might have languished unknown in manuscript form. Throughout it all, in parallel with his real life as a schoolmaster, he constructed an apparently imaginary scholarly career, complete with field research, advanced degrees, and learned colleagues, all largely of his own invention. Would Lanyon-Orgill’s career (the real or the imagined) be possible in our own age?

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GA Robinson’s language descriptions in southeastern NSW

Harold Koch


George Augustus Robinson, well known for his role in pacifying and administering Indigenous people in Tasmania, is less acknowledged for his documentation of Aboriginal languages of mainland Australia. While serving as Chief Protector of Aborigines in the Port Phillip district, he recorded numerous vocabularies of languages of Victoria and southeastern New South Wales. These rich sources of lexical data have become more easily accessible since the journals and wordlists of his protectorate have been published by Ian Clark during the last decade. Robinson’s 1844 trip through southeastern NSW (see Mackaness 1941) adds considerably to our knowledge of the languages of the so-called Yuin family—including the longest extant wordlist for the Canberra region. This contribution will be assessed, in terms of its yield of lexicon, phonology, morphology, place and personal names, and sociolinguistic identities.


Mackaness, George (ed). 1941. George Augustus Robinson’s journey into south-eastern Ausutralia, 1844 with George Henry Haydon’s narrative of part of the same jouney. Australian Historical Monographs 19 (NS). Sydney: the author.

Robinson, G.A. 1998. The journals of George Augustus Robinson, Chief Protector, Port Phillip Aboriginal Protectorate, Volume four: 1 January 1844 - 24 October 1845. Edited by Clark, Ian D. Melbourne: Heritage Matters.

Robinson, G.A. 2000. The papers of George Augustus Robinson, Chief Protector, Port Phillip Aboriginal Protectorate, Vol. 2: Aboriginal vocabularies: South east Australia, 1839-1852. Edited by Clark, Ian D. Clarendon, VIC: Heritage Matters.

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Gaps, transitions, adjoining, embedding: Kenneth Hale’s groundbreaking work in the nineteen seventies on the ‘evolution’ of the relative clause

Sylvia Anne Mackie

University of Melbourne

This presentation is a contextualisation of Kenneth Hale’s 1975 paper ‘Gaps in Grammar and Culture’ in which he introduced the concept of the ‘adjoined relative clause’ in Warlpiri. Much of the material in Hale’s publication had been presented at a conference in 1971, but subsequent changes in theoretical linguistics meant that by the time it was published it was already out of date in many respects. A revised version followed in 1976.

However, the 1975 version is illuminating from a historiographical perspective in that it points up a number of interesting fault-lines in twentieth-century linguistic theory. Hale’s analysis occupies transitional, shifting ground between the ‘Aspects’ model of transformational grammar and the nineteen-seventies explorations of a ‘theory of conditions’, or ‘constraints’, which were such a crucial feature of that era and which led to a number of important developments, including the ‘principles and parameters’ approach of the next decade.

An examination and contextualisation of the paper reveals many complex entwinements between generative syntax and typological studies. I will argue that such entwinements were characteristic, not only of Hale’s work, but also of many developments in theoretical linguistics around that time, despite the ‘rhetoric of incompatibility’ between these two movements that has since arisen in historical accounts. Hale’s paper was also noteworthy in that it foreshadowed explorations in later functionalism, particularly with respect to the concepts of reanalysis, grammaticalisation and semantic pressures on syntactic change.

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Daisy Bates’ documentation of Kimberley languages

William B. McGregor

Aarhus University

As David Nash observes in his abstract, Daisy Bates’ contribution to Australian Aboriginal linguistics has received little scholarly attention. In this paper I will outline and examine Bates’ contribution to the documentation of Kimberley languages. Her documentations include manuscript and typescript wordlists and short sentences of various Kimberley languages (held in the Bates collection in the Australian National Library). Some of the materials were gathered by herself, and date from the turn of the twentieth century, when she assisted for a few months in the refurbishment of the Beagle Bay mission prior to a government inspection and its transfer from the Trappist order to the Pallottines, and from the short time she resided at Roebuck Plains station with her husband. Other manuscripts some collected by postmen, pastoralists, and others working in the region. The main focus of the paper will be on Bates’ personal documentations, the nature and quality of which will be evaluated. But I will also say a few words about the secondary sources.

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History of research in the Arandic languages and its relevance to current fieldwork

David C. Moore

University of Western Australia

The history of linguistics has important implications for fieldwork practices. This paper reveals the ‘need for understanding previous work in the context of its times’ (McGregor 2008) and the advantages of doing so to contemporary fieldwork and language documentation. Many of us who are engaged in linguistic fieldwork are involved with handling earlier transcriptions and analyses of languages. The linguist who is researching a previously recorded language engages in textual research and criticism in order to understand the work of previous researchers through the documents. This presentation examines previous fieldwork in the Arandic languages of Central Australia and the way in which the earlier sources of data are handled in current description of the Alyawarr language.

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Deriving Mrs Daisy: the Bates records of Australian languages

David Nash


Daisy Bates has been written and talked about almost continuously for most of the past century. Her legend, and efforts to dismantle and dissect it, have resulted in six books, a play, an opera, a film, at least three portraits, a dozen or more book chapters and numerous journal and newspaper articles (Jones 2008:3).

Yet in all of this reflection, the assessment of Bates’ language records is confined to a couple of paragraphs by the anthropologist Isobel White:

Her spelling of Aboriginal words … is reasonably clear and shows she had a good ear for the difficult Aboriginal phonetics. … In general, her transliterations and translations of Aboriginal words support her claim to fluency in a number of languages. (1985:28-9)

I consider Bates’ classification scheme for the hundred or so language varieties she collected, and assess in some detail her dozen vocabularies of southeast WA (Nash 2002:209) and from Boundary Dam (XII,2 G,2).


Bates collection. National Library of Australia, MS 365. Finding Aid http://nla.gov.au/nla.ms-ms365
Jones, Philip. 2008. Native entitlement. Australian Literary Review 3.2 (5 March),3,10. http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,23282366-25132,00.html
Nash, David. 2002. Historical linguistic geography of south-east Western Australia, pp.205-30 in Language in Native Title, ed. by John Henderson & David Nash. Canberra: AIATSIS NTRU, Aboriginal Studies Press.
White, Isobel. 1985. Introduction, pp.1-35 in Daisy Bates. The Native tribes of Western Australia, ed. by Isobel White. Canberra: National Library of Australia.

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Language classification: failure, confusion and success in mainland and insular Southeast Asia

Paul Sidwell

Centre for Research in Computational Linguistics (Bangkok) and Australian National University

For a century, the field of Austroasiatic linguistics has seen the issue of classification neglected and abused. Scholars have largely relied upon rather questionable lexical methods, shying away from considerations of phonological and/or morphological innovations. The result is that today two types of results typify the literature: (1) self evident sub-groupings that we take for granted, and (2) grand schemes that are beyond reasonable assessment. Outsiders are frustrated and annoyed, for example, as Roger Blench recently remarked: “Austroasiatic classification has been dogged by a failure to publish data, making any evaluation of competing hypotheses by outsiders a merely speculative exercise.” In rather stunning contrast, the field of Austronesian classification, although not without its own problems, has seen decades of robust and well documented argumentation and results that have been gladly taken up by outsiders to inform hypotheses in history, anthropology and the like.

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