Macleay Valley, dance of defiance 1842: Language covers all aspects of life. As life changes, so does language.This is the fifth in a series discussing the deciphering of the mysteries of New England's Anaiwan or Nganjaywana Aboriginal language.
In an earlier column in this series on the story of the Anaiwan or Nganjaywana language, I mentioned that languages change over time. They change in vocabulary, in pronunciation and in grammatical structures.
The Aboriginal group or groups who first entered Sahul, the name given to the larger continent combining
Australia and when sea levels
were much lower, spoke their own language. That language covered the full
domain of life, from the detail of daily living to the ceremonial and
religious. Papua New Guinea
As the Aborigines spread across their new continent, new words had to be added or existing words altered to cover the new things they found. They preserved their history through song and dance, through yarns told around the campfire, but inevitably things were lost as new experiences and ideas were added.
The very sound of language changed slowly over time and space. Part of this was due to language drift, the way language changed from one generation to the next over multiple generations, part to the addition of new words that were fitted in but still changed the way that people spoke.
We will never properly understand the pattern of these changes over the long millennia of Aboriginal occupation of the continent that would become
However, linguists have developed rules that assist them to understand the ways
in which languages might have changed. Australia
In his work untangling the mysteries of the Anaiwan or Nganjaywana language, Terry Crowley attempted to do two things.
First, he looked at the relationships between Anaiwan and the surrounding languages to define rules that might explain difference and relationships. In doing so, he was able to establish that Anaiwan fitted within the general corpus of surrounding Aboriginal languages and that it was most closely related to the coastal languages and especially Djangadi or Dhanggati, the language of the Macleay Valley.
This left him with a second question, why did Anaiwan vary in such a way as to become an apparently different language? This problem was especially complicated because of the apparent connections between the Djangadi and the Tableands’ languages further north,. Why was Anaiwan, the southern language, so different?
The phonological changes in Anaiwan must have taken considerable some time ago to allow other Tablelands’ languages to add so much non-coastal material, to allow for the shifts in pronunciation.
The answer, he suggested, may have lain in the existence of a secret or mystical Anaiwan language, one independent of but parallel to the main language, that reduced the need for Anaiwan to borrow from other languages.
This secret language may well have existed, Mathews refers to it, but is not (I think) the most logical explanation. Rather, I think that the answer lies in geography and the pattern of climatic change.
I will explain this in my last columns in this series.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 5 July 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017.