Towards a Papuan history of languages

Mark Donohue

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    In this paper, I raise one simple point that must be taken into account when considering the history of the 'Papuan' languages - namely, the scope of the term 'Papuan'. I shall argue that 'Papuan' is a term that logically should include many languages that have generally been discussed as being 'Austronesian'. While much detailed work has been carried out on a number of 'Papuan' language families, the fact that they are separate families, and are not believed to be related to each other (in the sense of the comparative method) any more than they are to the Austronesian languages which largely surround their region, means that they cannot be considered without reference to those Austronesian languages. I will argue that many of the Austronesian languages which surround the Papuan region (see the appendix) can only be considered to be 'Austronesian' in a lexical sense. Since historical linguistics puts little value on simple lexical correspondences in the absence of regular sound correspondences, and regularity of sound correspondence is lacking in the Austronesian languages close to New Guinea, we cannot consider these languages to be 'fully' Austronesian. We must therefore consider a Papuan history that is much more widespread than usually conceived. In section 2, I shall discuss some logical problems with the term 'Papuan' as it is commonly used. In section 3, I introduce some details about what we can infer of social history in the 'Papuan' region, and the implications they have had for our understanding of linguistic processes in the area. In section 4, we discuss the notion of regularity in sound correspondences, and examine the implications for our understanding of the 'Austronesian dispersal' that arise from examining this metric for the languages west of New Guinea. Section 5 concludes the discussion.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)24-41
    JournalJournal of the Linguistics Society of Papua New Guinea
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


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