D I V E R S I T Y L E C T U R E
by Dr Robert Mailhammer (Senior Lecturer, Languages, Interpreting and Translation (SoHCA), Western Sydney University, Australia)
"What is linguistic diversity? Answers from an Australian perspective"
Thu, 25 May 2017, 7 pm
This public lecture is part of the BIGSAS Gender and Diversity Programme.
Australia is often mentioned as a “hotspot of linguistic diversity”, measured in the number of language families or “lineages” (see e.g. Evans 2010). This talk interrogates the concept of linguistic diversity from the perspective of Australian Indigenous languages and their history. The main point the talk makes is that if it can be shown that all Australian languages stem from one common proto-language, as is the working assumption, among specialists, then Australia would in fact be the least diverse continent on the planet and not a hotspot of diversity, as all languages would be long to one language family. Compare this for instance with Europe, which boasts languages from at least five language families. Recent work suggest that this may actually be the case (see Harvey & Mailhammer forthc.). This parallels the extralinguistic history of Australia: Australia has been settled by modern humans for at least 50,000 years, and as far as is currently known modern Aboriginal people are mainly descendants of the first wave of immigration to the continent. It is commonly assumed that there were about 250 Australian Indigenous languages before European contact in 1788. This creates an interesting narrative in which a potentially low genetic diversity of Australian languages goes back to the initial settlement of Australia, and which tells us something about the diversification of languages across large depths. The conclusion drawn will be that the concept of linguistic diversity may be recast to arrive at a more meaningful definition.