The Unity of Australian Languages: 1841.

Matt of No-sword posts a quote from Dixon’s The Languages of Australia (which looks wonderful — insert ritual complaint about overpriced academic books here) involving George Grey‘s “second great breakthrough in Australian linguistic studies”, in Grey’s 1841 Journals of Two Expeditions of Discovery in North-West and Western Australia, During the Years 1837, 1838, and 1839:

Grey showed not only that there was a typological similarity between the languages of Australia, he also gathered enough cognates to suggest an historical connection between them: in effect, he suggested that the languages all belonged to a single genetic ‘language family’.

Matt points out that the Journals are online, quotes the actual passage from Grey, and compares it to William Jones‘s famous proclamation of the unity of the Indo-European languages (though that name was not then in use, and he was far from the first to make the observation).

I did a series of posts on Dixon and Australian languages back in January 2006: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Comments

  1. I totally agree (along with pretty much the entire literate world) about overpriced academic books, so clicked on the link to Amazon’s The Languages of Australia expecting a price well into three figures. It’s only $46.55. I’m brainwashed enough by now to accept that as reasonable…

    Incidentally, in addition to his astonishing range of linguistic work, Bob Dixon also wrote (or writes) detective novels, and is the co-author of a discography of early blues and gospel recordings. The term “Renaissance Man” is overused, but if Renaissance Men could be transported into the present they would feel some kinship with Bob Dixon. I don’t know if the detective novels are any good.

  2. It’s only $46.55. I’m brainwashed enough by now to accept that as reasonable…

    I am a relic of the past (I vividly remember how shocked I was the first time I saw a ten-dollar paperback), and I can’t afford books over ten dollars anyway, so I can’t be brainwashed.

    Incidentally, in addition to his astonishing range of linguistic work, Bob Dixon also wrote (or writes) detective novels, and is the co-author of a discography of early blues and gospel recordings.

    Great heavens! I’m OK with “Renaissance Man” here. Thanks for that! (Has anybody read the detective novels?)

  3. Bob Dixon published two detective novels in the 1980s, I spy, you die and Death upon a spear. I haven’t had the opportunity to read either, but his linguistic works are captivating enough. With such versatility, he might even write linguistic detective fiction, entitled, say, Who killed Dyirbal, or Ŋayuŋuɽi bund̡aːɲ (‘I am the murderer’ in Yidiɲ).

  4. Been reading the respectful kicking that Evans gives Dixon (referred to in your Blench post), fascinating stuff.
    George Grey was an interesting character too, Governor General of NZ a couple of times (My hypothesis is that his period in South Africa militarized him, & when he got back to NZ was prepared to take a more aggressive approach to Maori independence than before, although his predecessor Gore-Brown usually cops the blame for the wars)

  5. It’s only $46.55 … if it were a real book. But for a digital reprint?

  6. Been reading the respectful kicking that Evans gives Dixon (referred to in your Blench post), fascinating stuff.

    Indeed. Sounds like Dixon has (in the way of so many distinguished scholars) become so convinced of the rightness of his own long-held views he doesn’t bother engaging with opposing views or with more recent scholarship. But, as Evans says, even if he’s wrong, it’s bracing to read the strongly stated views of a brilliant linguist, and hopefully will spur others to sharpen and clarify their own theories.

  7. David Marjanović says:

    if it were a real book. But for a digital reprint?

    Mere papers will probably cost that much in about 3 years. They’ve been moving from 35 to 40 bucks.

    I’m off to read Evans’s paper now. 🙂

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