After three years studying one of the world’s oldest living cultures, researchers at the University of Newcastle (UNO) and the Western Sydney University (WSU) claim they have found evidence that all Indigenous languages come one from one ancestor: Proto-Australian.
The research suggests Proto-Australian was spoken prior to the first ice age, and that the current Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages spoken throughout the country developed and spread only 12,000 years ago.
UON Chief Investigator and historical linguist, Associate Professor Mark Harvey, hopes the research will enhance the understanding of Australian and human history.
“This is the first demonstration that all Australian languages are part of the same language family. This language family spread across all of Australia, presumably from a small area in Northern Australia. This spread is likely to have been carried out by at least some population movement whose material and genetic traces have remained somewhat elusive,” he said.
The research used a standard method in historical linguistics to establish whether the similarity between languages was due to inheritance from a common ancestor.
WSU Chief Investigator, Associate Professor Robert Mailhammer, said the findings revealed Indigenous language had recurrent similarities that wouldn’t have been passed through human contact or chance.
“We discovered that the sounds of words we compared showed recurrent systematic differences and similarities across a set of languages that are spread out in a geographically discontinuous way - which makes it very unlikely that they are the result of chance or language contact,” he said.
The collaborative research between the University of Newcastle and Western Sydney University questions how the current 250 languages spread throughout the country.
The key research findings were published in the leading journal of historical linguistics, Diachronica.