14.1231, Review: Lang Description/Typology: Dixon (2002)

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LINGUIST List:  Vol-14-1231. Wed Apr 30 2003. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Subject: 14.1231, Review: Lang Description/Typology: Dixon (2002)

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	Simin Karimi, U. of Arizona
	Terence Langendoen, U. of Arizona

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Date:  Fri, 18 Apr 2003 13:18:32 +0200
From:  W. Schulze <W.Schulze at lrz.uni-muenchen.de>
Subject:  Australian Languages: Their Nature and Development

-------------------------------- Message 1 -------------------------------

Date:  Fri, 18 Apr 2003 13:18:32 +0200
From:  W. Schulze <W.Schulze at lrz.uni-muenchen.de>
Subject:  Australian Languages: Their Nature and Development

Dixon, R. M. W. (2002) Australian Languages: Their Nature and
Development, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Language Surveys.

This book was announced at

Wolfgang Schulze, University of Munich

The book under review has an interesting title ('Australian Languages'
(henceforth  'AL')): It lacks what is found with most of the other
volumes in the Cambridge Language Survey series, namely the definite
article (compare 'The Celtic Languages' etc.). Assuming that this type
of indefinite reference is chosen deliberately, one may infer from the
title that Dixon's book is not just another reference book about the
totality of Australian languages. In fact, Dixon's book considerable
differs from the standard 'encyclopedic' presentation of a language
'group'. What Dixon aims at is to do two things at the same time: To
acquaint the reader with the structural and categorial properties of
the 'autochthonous' language in Australia and to both illustrate and
corroborate his central thesis that the evolution of these languages
cannot be accounted for in terms of simple Stammbaum models. Instead,
Dixon makes extensive reference to his equilibrium model that has found
its first comprehensive treatment in Dixon 1997. Consequently, Dixon's
'Australian Languages' rather is a unique study in diachronic areal
linguistics rather than a simple taxonomy of 'the' languages of
Australia. This fact may perhaps disappoint those readers who are
primarily interested in some kind of 'check list' of Australian
languages, but it turns the book into an extremely interesting and
fascinating 'reading book': I had difficulties to lay aside the book
once I had started to read it. It tells us a comprehensive and in parts
even thrilling story about the Australian languages, but it also calls
for the reader's permanent attention not to lose the thread.

Fortunately enough, the book at issue represents only one side of the
albeit not fully coined medal: The other side will be a 'companion
volume' ('Australian languages: a complete catalogue') that 'will
consist of a short account of each of the 240-50 languages, giving
tribal and dialect names, traditional territory and current situation,
plus a summary of the main phonological, morphological and syntactic
features. Together, the two volumes will most likely satisfy all the
demands of contemporary linguistics when referring to 'the' Australian

The reader should also be aware of the fact that AL does not simply
represent an actualized version of Dixon's 1980 volume ('The languages
of Australia' (LoA)). In the 'Preface' to AL, the author makes clear
that LoA can only be seen as a preliminary approach to a
methodologically and conceptually validated description of the
Australian languages. Accordingly, AL represents the 'mature' version
of LoA. Nevertheless, the reader should not expect that Dixon simply
dresses the LoA material with a new 'robe'. In fact, Dixon rarely
refers to the LoA data and thus importantly extends the data base
available to non-Australianists. Doing so, Dixon naturally benefits
from the enormous progress the linguistics of Australian languages has
made since the 80ies. Dixon thus covers most of the important findings
that have come to the public since the appearance of LoA, claiming that
'in this volume I take account of all published and unpublished
materials.' But he adds that he has only included 'bibliographical
references that are strictly relevant to the overall thesis which is
developed in the volume.'

Although AL introduces the reader to the specific perspective Dixon has
taken, the book is nevertheless (more or less) theory-neutral with
regards to the linguistic framework applied. This means that AL can be
used by readers which camp so ever they have chosen. Nonetheless, it
comes clear that Dixon's perspective neatly fits into the standard
descriptive and analytic paradigm of Language Typology or ' to put it
in Dixon's terms ' into Basic Linguistic Theory (see Dixon 1997).

The book is organized in fourteen chapters, preceded by lists of maps,
of abbreviations, and of languages and language groups. At the end of
the book, a comprehensive bibliography (roughly 600 entries) is
followed by a language index and by a subject index (somewhat modest in
seize). Most importantly, AL offers a number of highly informative and
well-drawn maps (34 maps in sum) which allow the reader to graphically
trace many of Dixon's observations and claims. Quite in accordance with
the general goals of AL, the book does not give us a description of
Australian languages 'language by language'. Instead, Dixon refers to a
number of category-like features that serve as an anchor for the
individual chapters. From a systematic point of view, both the choice
of 'anchors' and their ordering are somewhat unconventional. For
instance, there are word class related anchors (such as Chapter 6
'Verbs', chapter 7 'pronouns'), anchors related to morphology (Chapter
5 'Case and other nominal suffixes', Chapter 9 'Prefixing and fusion',
and one explicit 'syntactic' anchor  (Chapter 11 'Ergative/accusative
morphological and syntactic profiles'). It is not always clear to me,
why Dixon has chosen just these anchors (or: labels) instead of
following a more 'traditional' arrangement. Nevertheless, the reader
will soon get used to Dixon's way of presenting his findings,
especially because it is coherent with the basic lines of his
argumentation. Interestingly enough, it is the last major section of AL
(Chapter 12), where we find a comprehensive description of the
phonology of Australian languages. This ordering stands in the
tradition of Dixon's presentation of Dyirbal (Dixon 1972) and other
grammars of the 70ies. In parts, it reflects a 'top-down' argumentation
(from larger to smaller units)' however in the case of AL, this line of
arguments is not fully observed: The description of the syntactic
profile of Australian languages is not put in the beginning, but 'in
between'. In sum, AL first acquaints the reader with lexical features
(Chapter 4 'Vocabulary'), then turns to Morphosyntax and
Morphosemantics (Chapters 5 through 9), before coming back to
semantically relevant features in Chapter 10 ('Generic nouns,
classifiers, genders, and noun classes'). The chapter on the syntactic
profile of Australian languages (Chapter 11) follows these lexical and
morphological studies and again precedes the section of Phonology. The
book ends with a section on 'Genetic subgroups and small linguistic
areas' (Chapter 13) and with a brief summary given in Chapter 14.

The great number of Australian languages dealt with by Dixon has forced
him to choose a special coding system for the language names. This
system is introduced and explained on pages xxx-xlii (in addition, the
author gives the relevant literature for each language). Although
Dixon's system of classifying the totality of Australian languages is
by itself extremely well-done, the convention he uses to refer to
individual languages is somewhat difficult to assimilate by the reader.
The abbreviations are hardly ever mnemotechnic (e.g. 'NG1' for
Worrorra, North Kimberley Areal Group). As a result such phrasings like
'Languages with enclitic pronouns at Stage II include those in groups
O, Q, T. W1, WGd, WI and NAB2. Prefixing languages at this stage
include NB/f/g/h/i/k and ND-NK' (p.357) force the reader to again and
again turn to the language list (as long as (s)he does not have
memorized the abbreviations) - a fact that may impede the pleasure of
reading AL for those not used to the impressive universe of Australian
languages (note that with examples from individual languages, Dixon
usually gives both, the 'code' and the language name).

The main objectives of AL are described by the author as follows: 'I
attempt to characterize what the indigenous languages of Australia are
like, how individual languages have developed their particular
structural profiles, and the ways in which the languages are related. A
portrait is provided of the Australian linguistic area, which is
certainly the longest-established linguistic area in the world' (p.1).
This quote illustrates the three major perspectives, Dixon has taken:
The book elaborates the major typological features of Australian
languages in their areal and historical settings. Hence, it is both a
synchronic and a diachronic study. However, the reader should not
expect that these two levels of description and explanation are dealt
with separately. Rather, Dixon integrates the synchronic description
into a general diachronic perspective, which concentrates on the
alleged dichotomy 'genetic relationship' vs. 'areal diffusion'.
Accordingly, AL frequently refers to the historical setting in which
the Australian languages are thought to have evolved. The reader will
thus enjoy not only the wealth of linguistic data and their historical
background, but also a great number of non-linguistic references
towards the emergence and diffusion of Australian cultural practices.
Dixon starts with a brief portrait of the 'language situation in
Australia' (pp.1-19). This short chapter prepares the reader for the
presentation of Dixon's Equilibrium Model in Chapter 2. It informs on
the diffusion of some basic social and other non-linguistic features of
Australian societies and thus illustrates the assumption that language
diffusion may coincide with the diffusion of cultural practices and
cultural knowledge.

In Chapter 2 ('Modelling the language situation'), the author deepens
the historical perspective by introducing his concept of Equilibrium
and Punctuation. The concept that has its prolegomenon in Dixon 1997 is
based on the assumption that traditional stammbaum (family tree) models
cannot reflect the long range history of languages, especially when
they are related to a specific area. Dixon argues: 'The family tree
idea is an important and useful model of one kind of linguistic
relationship. It is appropriate for describing a period of population
expansion and split, with concomitant split of languages. It is not,
however, an appropriate model for dealing with every kind of language
situation' (p.23). In fact, Dixon assumes that family tree models are
especially helpful to describe periods of split that are related to his
stage of punctuation. The short phases are ' according to Dixon '
conditioned by at least the following non-linguistic factors (p.33-34):
Natural causes (droughts, floods etc.), material innovation,
development of aggressive tendencies, and territorial expansion. The
longer stages of equilibrium are characterized by a rather homogenous
or contiguous cultural habitus, by the lack of dominant political
structures, and by a relative high degree of interethnic mobility.
After having elaborated some key arguments for this model, the author
relates it to the 'Australian scenes' (pp35-40). He clearly argues in
favor of an Equilibrium model to describe most of the stages of
Australian history and arrives at a 'tentative scenario for the
development of languages in the Australian linguistic area' (p.38-40).
Accordingly, the first population of the Australian/New Guinea area
would have started some 40-50,000 thousands years ago and would have
been marked by a first punctuation situation. The basic topographical
division of the Australia/New Guinea landmass (flat, open regions
towards the Southwest, mountainous rain forests towards the Northeast,
to put it into simple terms) would have caused two different types of
development: The linguistic area in the flat, open regions would have
been 'maintained for tens of millennia' (p.39), whereas the linguistic
area in the mountainous regions would split up into more local groups.
After New Guinea became separated from the Australian landmass (between
14.000 and 7.000 BC), the languages spoken in the Australian landmass
(between 14.000 and 7.000 BC), the languages spoken in the forest areas
of the Northeast of Australia became part of the linguistic area of
Australia, 'with Australian languages infiltrating it from both north
and south' (p.39). Next, Dixon gives illuminating examples for the
processes of language split and language merger, both of which can be
described for Australian languages. In an appendix to Chapter 2, the
author carefully discusses possible aspects of punctuation that would
argue in favor of the Pama-Nyungan idea and arrives at the conclusion
that 'Pama-Nyungan' cannot be supported as a genetic group (p.53).

The objective of Chapter 3 ('Overview') is to 'provide an initial
perspective on the nature of Australian languages' (p.55). Although
this 'overview' is very helpful to readers not acquainted with
Australian languages, Dixon nevertheless warns that 'the reader will be
able to get the maximum out of the survey in the chapters which follow
if they have studied one or more good grammars of Australian languages'
(p.56). Perhaps, Dixon's warning is too strong: AL tells its complete
story at least to those readers who are used to some kind of
'typological' argumentation. True, it would have been useful if the
author had provided the reader with descriptive sections on a (limited)
number of Australian languages in order to tell them 'how the systems
work'. However, such sections would have expanded the volume to a
dimension that would have been beyond the rational. It addition, one
might have wondered which language to choose viewing the fact that
hardly any Australian language can serve as an etalon for the whole
linguistic area.

Chapter 3 first describes three salient semantic features of Australian
languages, namely the opposition between 'actual' and 'potential', the
'volitional/non-volitional' parameter, and the general 'trend' to use
'generic terms' instead of or going with specific terms. 'Genericity'
turns out to be relevant for nearly all Australian languages: 'In
summary we posit an original scheme whereby great use is made of a
smallish number of generic nouns and verbs, with wide meanings' (p.62).
After having described some basic properties of the phonology of
Australian languages, Dixon turns to a number of grammatical features:
He discusses word classes (hinting at the relevance of ideophones), the
relational role of nouns and adjectives, the architecture of pronouns
and demonstratives etc., verbs and verbal inflection, derivational
strategies, marking of possession, clause structure and constituent
order, aspects of modal variation (commands, negation, questions), and
the organization of complex clauses. The chapter ends with a brief
consideration of special speech styles such as song style, initiation
styles, and avoidance, or respect styles.

Chapter 4 (pp. 96-130) deals with the 'Vocabulary' of Australian
languages. Here, Dixon not enumerates the different semantic 'classes'
relevant in the languages at issue (such as kin terms, generic terms,
names, adjectives etc.), but also illustrates metaphorical preferences
and other semantic processes. The following domains are extensively
illustrated: Flora and fauna, body parts, kin terms, artefacts, other
nouns, adjectives, and verbs. Dixon usually refers to a number of 'key
terms' to illustrate the areal distribution and possible genetic
relations. This section includes very helpful taxonomic lists, among
them a list of 68 verbal stems ordered in from a semantic perspective
(motion, rest, giving, affect etc.). The chapter ends with a discussion
of the lexical survey from a phonological point of view.

Chapters 5 through 11 concentrate on specific grammatical issues. In
Chapter 5, Dixon describes basic patterns of case marking and other
paradigms related to this topic. The main purpose of this section is
not to simply list the case paradigms of individual languages, but to
propose a comprehensive areal typology and functional explanation of
the patterns in question. Accordingly, the first part of Chapter 5 is
devoted to a portrait of case functions in Australian languages,
distinguishing core clausal functions from peripheral functions, and
phrasal functions from local functions. Here, Dixon adopts the
descriptive and analytic framework of syntactic functions (or
relational primitives) as developed in Dixon 1994. He makes a clear
distinction between 'syntactic' and 'Semantic' functions and suggests
that the accusative/ergative terminology should be confined to
syntactic marking (p.133), whereas the semantic domain is to describe
with the help of more 'semantic' terms.  One might ask whether this
distinction is appropriate from a cognitive point of view (see Schulze
2000): It would suggest that case markers in Australian languages are
in parts homonymous (e.g. the ergative marker '((y)inggu in the
Southern Kimberley subgroup which is said to have semantic rather than
syntactic functions' (p. 133)). In addition, one might wonder whether
it is useful to apply terms for case forms to the functional domain:
For instance, Dixon uses the term 'Genitive' to indicate both the
formal and the functional category. The same holds for terms like
'ergative' and 'absolutive' etc.. Nevertheless, the taxonomy of noun
phrase functions as given in AL is a rather helpful tool that is
applicable to languages outside the Australian area, too. This taxonomy
includes the following functions: S, A, O (core), Purposive/Dative,
Instrumental, Causal, Aversive (peripheral), Genitive, Comitative,
Privative (phrasal), and locatives. Note that for locatives, Dixon
describes the fact that '[e]very language has some grammatical marking
for the three basic spatial functions (a) locative; (b) allative; and
(c) ablative (p.142). Accordingly, Australian languages are marked for
a basically 'triptotic' system as opposed to 'diptotic' systems that
would show the merger of the locative with one of the directional
functions. In the second part of Chapter 5, Dixon discusses the
distribution of case forms in Australian languages. The main advantage
of this section is that Dixon does not try to map the great variety of
case forms onto a single set of 'proto-Australian' case markers.
Instead he makes clear that there areal diffusion is crucial for the
explanation of the current patterns. Nevertheless, he concludes: ' The
evidence points towards there having been a small number of nominal
suffixes at an earlier stage of the Australian linguistic area '
perhaps just our foundational cases (ergative, locative and purposive)
plus comitative' (p.173).

The sixth chapter touches upon the relational domain ('Verbs').
Interestingly enough, Dixon also considers adverbs in this context,
which makes sense from a functional point of view. In addition this
section illustrates that many Australian languages are marked for Path
Conflation rather than for Manner Conflation. The section starts with a
brief discussion of transitivity in Australian languages. Accordingly,
the (in)transitivity dichotomy is strictly observed in most languages,
although there are several 'exceptional' valence types (such as
ambitransitives, unusual case frames etc.). Simple verbs are marked by
a 'simple verb root' to which derivational and inflectional affixes may
be added (among them reflexes of the pan-Australian (!) derivational
suffix *-dharri 'which may originally have had a basically semantic
effect (indicating, say, that an action which is normally volitional is
in this instance non-volitional)' (p.183). Complex verbs consist of one
or more coverbs and one simple (often generic) verb. Dixon uses the
simple/complex dichotomy to describe seven basic types (based on the
question how many simple verbs, derived verbs and coverbs are present
in a given language). Again this typology serves to describe the
diffusion in terms of areal features. The section on 'Verb forms and
inflections' (pp. 209-237) informs on the distribution of TAM-forms in
Australian languages. The degree of variation ranges from just two
categories (e.g. in Wik-Ngathan) to 'a dozen or more terms' (e.g.
Panyjima, p.212). The author relates the TAM-morphology to a rather
complex hypothesis about the emergence of 'conjugation classes' in
Australian languages. Dixon suggests that at an earlier stage verbs
could end both in a vowel or in a nasal or liquid. The non-vocalic
element would later have been reanalyzed as a separate element that
could merge with TAM-elements (such as imperative, purposive, or
irrealis). The interaction of now 'conjugational markers' and TAM-
morphemes would have led to a great number of TAM-allomorphs and new

In Chapter 7, Dixon deals with pronouns. He starts with a discussion of
categorial features, that is with the degree of semantic
subclassification within the set of personal pronouns (dual,
inclusive/exclusive etc.). Although in 'almost every Australian
language there are different roots for sg and n[on]-sg or for min[imal]
and non-minimal  pronouns' (p.246), the typology of pronouns can be
scrutinized with the help of the standard parameter 'lexically vs.
morphologically based extension of number features'. Dixon arrives at
the following conclusion: '[A]t an earlier stage, the pronoun system
had fewer number distinctions, probably just sg and n[on]-sg, and that
'rrV was the n[on]-sg marker. A du[al]/pl[ural] distinction developed
later and spread by areal diffusion ' (p.255-6). In order to account
for the complex world of personal pronouns in Australian languages,
Dixon gives a detailed discussion of both pronominal stem forms and of
derivational element. This includes a highly sophisticated analysis of
paradigms that lack morphological means to produce non-sg forms. Dixon
concludes that the evolution of pronominal paradigms has started with a
simple system (1/2(/3)). In addition, there may have been an inclusive
'as an extra-systemic term' (p.292). The interaction of the elements in
this basic system has led to various kinds of reanalysis and extension
resulting in the present-day paradigms. In addition to this discussion,
Dixon surveys the evolution and diffusion of pronominal case forms
starting with the hypothesis that at an earlier stage, '[s]g pronouns
ha[d] distinct forms for S, A and O functions' (p.299), in other words
that they were marked by a tripartite paradigm. Unfortunately, Dixon
does not pay the same degree of attention to demonstratives as to
personal pronouns. He states: 'The forms of demonstratives vary widely
. There is need for a full survey  across the Australian linguistic
area . All I offer here are a few exploratory remarks' (p.335).
Hopefully, the task of approaching demonstratives from the 'Dixonian'
point of view will soon be accomplished.

Chapter 8 ('Bound pronouns') nicely extends the question of personhood
in Australian languages to verbal morphology. Although bound pronouns
are typical for prefixing languages, they can be nevertheless described
for a number of suffixing languages, too. Usually, bound pronouns
mirror bipersonal agreement (S in intransitive clauses, A+O in
transitive clauses). Yet, a number of languages have extended their
agreement system to peripheral function, while others (though limited
in number) may perhaps show an accusative pattern (S, A). Finally, '[a]
sprinkling of languages have a limited (and often irregular) set of
bound pronouns' (p.345). The chapter extensively reports on the formal,
functional, and categorial properties of bound pronominal paradigms in
Australian languages. Most importantly, Dixon also compares these
properties to the corresponding sets of free pronouns showing that
there frequently is a mismatch between these two instantiations of

Chapter 9 is devoted to prefixing techniques that are relevant for
verbal inflection. The number of prefixes may range from fourteen
prefix slots in Tiwi to just two (fusing) prefixes in e.g. Alawa
(Arnhem Land Group). In order to explain prefixing techniques, Dixon
refers to basically two operations: 1) The development of bound
personal pronominal clitics into prefixes, and 2) the compounding of
coverb plus simple verb into a single unit (p.409). The author
extensively portrays the structure of prefixing chains and also
considers nominal incorporation as it shows up in about twenty of the
prefixing languages (organized in three geographical blocks in Arnhem
land). As to expected, noun incorporation mainly concerns nouns in S or
O function. Nevertheless, nouns in peripheral function (such as
instrumental or locative) may be incorporated, too, e.g. in Warray,
Tiwi, Emmi and Patjtjamalh (p.427). Semantically speaking, 'a body part
noun is most typically incorporable into the verb, a generic noun often
is, and an adjective occasionally is' (p.427). AS can be expected from
the discussion of the heuristic value of 'Pama-Nyungan', see above),
Dixon also argues against the interpretation of prefixing techniques as
an evidence for genetic relationship among prefixing Australian
languages (in the sense of 'proto-prefixing').

Chapter 10 ('Generic nouns, classifiers, genders and noun classes')
brings the reader back to semantic (and lexical) issues. Dixon starts
with an analysis of generic nouns and classifiers as they frequently
show up in Australian languages. He then turns to the question of the
'feminine' marker 'gan' found in some languages of eastern Australia
and to gender in free pronouns (especially in the third person
singular). Noun classes (marked on bound pronouns) are current in
prefixing languages. Semantic 'gender' is present in at least five of
the non-prefixing languages, including Wagaya, Diyari, Wangkumara,
Bandjalang, and Dyirbal. It is interesting to see that Dixon
illustrates the famous four class system of Dyirbal without alluding to
Lakoff 1987 together with the assumption of radial categories as
proponed by Lakoff. With prefixing languages, noun classes may vary
from two to eight in number. Dixon claims that '[t]he variation in noun
classes  is consistent with the hypothesis presented here, that noun
classes have developed recently, as an areal phenomenon, within the
prefixing region. It is basically the category of noun classes that has
diffused, with each language developing the actual marking for itself,
out of its own internal resources' (p.471). On p.515 Dixon states: 'A
pervasive theme of this book is the alternation between ergative and
accusative schemes of morphological marking in Australian languages'.
In fact, many of the parameters, categories and semantic or syntactic
features referred to so far are structurally coupled with strategies of
clausal organization (see Schulze 2000). Chapter 11 ('Ergative/
accusative morphological and syntactic profiles') is intended to bring
the reader back to this central point of grammatical organization.
Here, Dixon first recapitulates the means used to mark relational
behavior in terms of morphology. The author assumes that originally,
nouns were marked for an ergative behavior, whereas personal pronouns
were marked for an accusative behavior. This common pattern would then
have been rearranged and reanalyzed in different ways, leading to both
'pure' ergative and 'pure' accusative patterns in some languages of
Australia. In addition, Dixon discusses the question of how the
syntactic feature of pivothood interacts with clause internal
strategies of marking relational behavior. He distinguishes languages
with no syntactic pivot from languages with an S/O syntactic pivot and
from languages with a 'mixed' pivot (e.g. S/O pivot for nouns and S/A
pivot for pronouns in Yidinj). Switch reference as a specific type of
pivotal behavior can be found especially in the central and western
areas of Australia. The author then correlates pivothood to strategies
of antipassivization (S/O pivot) and passivization (S/A pivot).
Finally, he looks at a number of shifts in profile. He comes to the
conclusion that '[t]here does appear to be something of an overall
trend towards a more fully acc[usative] system, but there are also
languages moving in the opposite direction. The great majority of
languages retain both erg[ative] and acc[usative] elements in their
grammatical profile' (p.545-6).

The survey of linguistic features in Australian languages ends with an
in-depth study of phonology (Chapter 12). Dixon starts with two
important phonetic observations that stem from the feather of A.
Butcher (forthcoming): First, 'the lowering of the velum for nasal
consonants tends to be delayed as long as possible' (p.547). As a
result, nasalized vowels rarely occur. In addition, this tendency may
result in 'prestopped nasals' that may become distinct phonemes in a
number of languages. Second, 'in a stressed syllable, the pitch peak
tends to occur relatively late in the syllable' (p.547). As a result,
the syllable onset is relatively weak, whereas a coda consonant tends
to be strengthened. These two tendencies can be related to a more
general articulatory 'habitus' that  accounts for the relative close
similarities in the phonological systems of Australian languages. Dixon
describes the 'canonical' sytem of Australian phonological organization
and then relates individual phonetic features (laminals, apicals and
rhotics) to areal distributional patterns. Other phonetic aspects
referred in this chapter include initial dropping and medial
strengthening, stop contrasts, fricatives and their historical
development, the question of glottals, vowels, and phonotactic
features. The chapter on 'Phonology' is especially important because
here Dixon illustrates and discusses a vast number of phonetic
processes that are typical for certain 'blocks of languages'. It comes
clear that many such processes cannot be accounted for in terms of
simple 'sound changes' as described for punctuated situations of
language split.

This point brings us back to the overall model of how languages have
evolved in Australia. In Chapter 13 ('Genetic subgroups and small
linguistic areas'), Dixon resumes this question. He again stresses that
the view of an Australian genetic macro-family 'cannot be sustained
when the proper methodology of comparative and Areal linguistics is
applied to the Australian situation' (p.659). Nevertheless, Dixon does
not claim that the 'Australian situation' is characterized by complete
entropy. He shows that a number of low-level genetic subgroups can
still be described. Here, he discusses the following groups: the north
Cape York subgroup, the Cairns subgroup, the Maric proper subgroup, the
Central Inland New South Wales subgroup, the Wannji/Garrwa subgroup,
the Yolngu subgroup, the Northern Desert Fringe (putative) subgroup,
the Ngarna subgroup, the Tangkic subgroup, the Maringrida (putative)
subgroup, the Mnid subgroup, the Kitja/Miriwung subgroup, the South
Kimberley subgroup, and finally the North-west Arnhem Land (putative)
subgroup. In sum, the author thinks of about forty low-level genetic
subgroups ('mostly consisting of just two or three languages' (p.691).
On the other hand, Dixon suggests a number of smaller linguistic areas
with languages 'hav[ing] much greater similarities to other languages
in the area than to anything outside the area' (p.668-9). The following
smaller areas are described: Lower Murray, Arandic, North Kimberley,
and Daly River. For a number of (genetic) subgroups, Dixon develops a
scenario of expansion. For instance, he claims that North Cape York 'is
basically of non-Australian type, but with some Australian substratum'
(p.681). Maric seems to have expanded from the coasts of the Coral Sea
to the inlands. The books ends with a brief summary (pp.690-699), which
gives a fairly good though rather condensed overview of the claims and
analyses put forward in AL. In his final paragraph, Dixon states: 'The
Australian linguistic area poses problems of investigation and analysis
unlike those found anywhere else in the world. The established methods
of historical and comparative linguistics, which can be applied so
successfully elsewhere, have limited appropriateness in Australia'
(p.699).  Perhaps, this claim too strongly emphasizes the uniqueness of
the 'Australian situation'. A cursory look at for instance the 'East
Caucasian situation' will reveal that other non-Indo-European areas,
too, face the same kind of problems as they have been described by
Dixon. In other words: It may well be that the success of the 'Indo-
European' comparative method mirrors nothing but the peculiarities of
the Indo-European type of language change and diversification. The
worth of AL is ' among others ' the fact that Dixon proposes and
applies a methodological alternative that departs from the given
linguistic situation itself rather than from generalized hypotheses
about language change that stem from a linguistic area quite different
from the Australian situation in space and time. This does not
necessarily mean that we have to adopt Dixon's methodological pathways
as such to other linguistic areas. It may well be that this approach is
fruitful for such other areas, too. But we should also take into
account that different historical setting may result in different types
of language change, diffusion and diversification. The main lesson non-
Australianists learn from Dixon's book is that just as historical
developments may follow both more general patterns and idiosyncratic
lines, the language(s) of speech communities not necessarily develop

In sum, AL is an extremely important contribution to both
Australianists and non-Australianists. Australianists will probably
have to work through the many details to judge whether all of Dixon's
hypotheses and claims will finally 'pass the examination'. Non-
Australianists will profit from AL in at least three respects: First,
they are introduced to the 'Australian situation' in a way that is
generally easy to follow. Sure, one has to get involved in Dixon's
descriptive and analytic arguments. One has to accept that Dixon's way
is stony and full of deviations, windings, and sometimes perhaps too
suggestive short cuts. Many will object to some aspects of this way,
but for the time being it seems that there is no other way to go.
Second, the book can be used as a good instruction to the typology of
Australian languages, disregarding whether or instruction to the
typology of Australian languages, disregarding whether or not one
accepts Dixon's 'Diachronic Areal Typology'. Third, the book also shows
how to approach linguistic categories from a descriptive point of view.
Not every category or function discussed by Dixon will withstand the
critics of Theoreticians, which camp so ever they belong to. Yet, AL
opens the way towards a descriptive mode that seems to be applicable to
other linguistic areas, too.


Butcher, A. (forthcoming). The phonetics of Australian languages.
Oxford: OUP.

Dixon, R. M. W. 1972. The Dyirbal language of North Queensland.
Cambridge: CUP.

Dixon, R. M. W. 1980. The languages of Australia. Cambridge. CUP.

Dixon, R. M. W. 1994. Ergativity. Cambridge: CUP.

Dixon, R. M. W. 1997. The rise and fall of languages. Cambridge: CUP.

Lakoff, G. 1987. Women, fire, and dangerous things: What categories
reveal about the mind. Chicago: CUP.

Schulze, W. 2000. The accusative ergative continuum. General
Linguistics 37:71-155.


Wolfgang Schulze is the Head of the Institute for General Linguistics
and  Language Typology at the University of Munich (German). His main
research  topics include among others Language Typology, Cognitive
Typology, Historical  Linguistics, language contact, the languages of
the Eastern Caucasus, and  'Oriental' languages. He currently works on
a Functional Grammar of Udi and  on  a comprehensive presentation of
the framework of a Grammar of scenes and  Scenarios in terms of
Cognitive Typology.


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