As intimate as it gets? Paradigm borrowing in Marrku and its implications for the emergence of mixed languages

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    Marrku, now close to extinct, is the language of Croker Island in the Northern Territory. Existing classifications of Australian languages have assigned Marrku to the same family as Iwaidja, Mawng and Amurdak in what is most commonly knows as the Iwaidjan family (Schmidt 1919, O'Grady et al. 1866, Evans 2000, Dixon 2002). In fact the level of shared cognacy between Marrku and other languages of this putative family is quite low, so that what has appeared to be the best evidence for genetic relatedness comes from what appear to be shared patterns of prefixal morphology. Though Marrku verbs in particular have highly irregular morphological paradigms, with a large number of quite distinct patterns according ot the lexical item involved, some show significant paradigmatic resemblances to verbs in Iwaidja or Mawng. Recent work on Marrku has allowed us to extend the analysis of Marrku grammar, by enlisting the aid of two 'last hearers' (Joy Williams and Khaki Marrala) to transcribe a dn translate hitherto unaanalysed recordings made in the 1960s. Though our understanding is still fragmentary, it appears increasingly likely that Marrku is less close to the other Iwaidjan languages than was previously believed. Rather, tehre apears to have been borrowing of entire paradigms of at least two inflected verbs from other Iwaidjan languages. (Though it is unclear whether such extreme cases of paradigm borrowing reflect code-mixing in a language death situation, ro resulted from more 'normal' areal influence facilitated by the fact that most verbs had their own distinct paradigms anyway.) In this paper I will re-evaluate the genetic position of Marrku, focussing on the very distinctive morphological structure of the Marrku verb and why it suggests that at least two verb paradigms have been borrowed wholesale - as well as the prefixal paradigm of reflexive pronouns. A reconsideration of the evidence, I will argue, points to Marrku being a family-level isolate, rather than a mebmer of the Iwaidjan family - though belonging, at a deeper level, to the Australian phylum. At the same time, Marrku may be considered as an incipient mixed language of older vintage more than recently identified mixed languages such as Gurindji Kriol and Light Warlpiri.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationLoss and Renewal: Australian Languages Since Colonisation
    Editors Felicity Meakins and Carmel O'Shannessy
    Place of PublicationBoston/Berlin
    PublisherDe Gruyter Mouton
    ISBN (Print)9781614518877
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


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