Surprising root of 250 Aboriginal languages discovered

Researchers in Australia have discovered that the country’s 250 Aboriginal languages – which vary widely – all derived from one source: a 12,000-year-old tongue that existed in a small part of northern Australia.

Following years of debate about the origins of Australia’s Aboriginal languages, a three-year linguistics study found that they all shared recurring similarities and differences even though they were spread across vast distances.

It found that the languages originated from a single tongue, known as Proto-Australian, which existed in a small northern region about 12,000 years ago and then spread as the last ice age ended.

"We think the language would have spread from areas in the north and then all across Australia, either in one big wave or in two smaller waves all around the continent," Robert Mailhammer, from Western Sydney University, told ABC News.

"The interesting question for us is why did this one language spread and why did it supersede all of the other languages that were there?"

When the first British settlers arrived in the late-eighteenth century, Australia is believed to have had more than 250 Aboriginal languages. At least 120 remain in use, though many of these are at risk of being lost.

Raymond Kelly, from the University of Newcastle, said the findings may help Aboriginal communities to rebuild lost or broken languages.

"It says to Indigenous people, if we do actually come from a single family language, then we’re in a good position because we’ve got neighbouring languages that are doing better," he told ABC News.

"Can we learn from each other and borrow from each other which we would have done naturally over the last many thousands of years. Can we do it again?”

The findings, by  experts from Western Sydney University and the University of Newcastle, have been published in the  journal Diachronica.

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