On the map of Australia’s indigenous language types, Pama-Nyungan languages stretch expansively across the country, dipping down into the hollows of Western Australia and Victoria, and reaching high up into the furthest cranny of Queensland, to the north-east. In the remaining 10 percent of the country, languages based on Australia’s other 26 Aboriginal language families jostle for space in a cluster around the Northern Territory.
It’s extraordinary that there are 27 different Aboriginal language families at all—in Europe, by contrast, there are just four—but still more incredible that Pama-Nyungan should have such dominion across so much of Australia. For decades, linguists have puzzled over this problem: Where did the ancestral Pama–Nyungan language originate, and when? And why did it make its way across 90 percent of the country? Researchers at Yale University now believe they may have the answer, with their results published this week in Nature…
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