Language Isolates of Australia

Authored by: Claire Bowern

Language Isolates

Print publication date:  September  2017
Online publication date:  September  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138821057
eBook ISBN: 9781315750026
Adobe ISBN:


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Language isolates are languages with no demonstrable relationship to other languages (Campbell, this volume), in effect, language families with a single member. Under this definition, strictly applied, there are six language isolates in Australia. However, the languages of Australia have long been assumed to be all ultimately related to one another (Wurm 1972; Dixon 1980) at some level of remoteness. Indeed, one might argue that one of the recurrent “tropes” of work on Australian Aboriginal languages is not their diversity but the insistence on their similarity, either through shared inheritance or through longstanding language contact. It is not difficult to find statements that a particular language is “typical” of the languages in the region or continent. Compare, for example, Goddard (1985:167), Dixon (1977:1), Butcher (2006:187), and Tsunoda (2012:1), amongst others.

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