Darwin-L Message Log 2:13 (October 1993)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.

<2:13>From sally@pogo.isp.pitt.edu  Sat Oct  2 09:39:37 1993

To: PICARD@vax2.concordia.ca
Subject: Re: Tasmanian
Date: Sat, 02 Oct 93 10:43:10 -0400
From: Sally Thomason <sally@pogo.isp.pitt.edu>

 Marc Picard gives a useful quote from R.M.W. Dixon to round out the
commentary on Tasmanian languages.  I don't have Dixon's work at hand
and so can't check the context of his remarks about Tasmanian lgs.
being "of the regular Australian type", but note that "type" is used
in linguistics to refer to typological properties, not necessarily
to genetically inherited features.  The passages I quoted in an
earlier post made it explicit that, phonologically, the Tasmanian
languages fit well with the Australian languages typologically.  But
that doesn't provide evidence that the two groups are genetically
related, i.e. that they belong in the same language family; a close
typological match like that could be due *either* to inheritance *or*
to borrowing.  Without more evidence about Tasmanian, it's likely to
be impossible to distinguish between those two historical sources of
the shared features.  That is: the typological match, together with
shared vocabulary items, makes it clear that there was *some*
historical connection between the two groups (hardly surprising, since
they were close to each other geographically); but systematic similarities
in all grammatical subsystems would be needed to establish a family
relationship, and from what the quoted sources say, such evidence is
not available and not likely in the future (unless, of course, someone
comes up with some more Tasmanian data in a British archive somewhere).

 I should add that I'm basing these comments on what the experts I
quoted -- Wurm and Yallop -- say about the paucity and fragmentary
nature of Tasmanian data.  If they're wrong, then elucidation of the
historical picture might be possible in future after all.

 Sally Thomason

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