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Seminar: Lamalamic: Unusual phonologies, in synchrony and diachrony, Jean-Christophe Verstraete, Aug 16, ANU

Seminar: Lamalamic: Unusual phonologies, in synchrony and diachrony

Speaker: Jean-Christophe Verstraete (University of Leuven)

When: Wednesday 16 August, 4.00pm-5.30pm

Where: Engma Room (5019), HC Coombs Building, ANU


In this talk, I will present on-going work on Lamalamic historical phonology. The Lamalamic languages are three languages from the Princess Charlotte Bay region of Cape York Peninsula, viz. Umbuygamu, Lamalama and Rimanggudinhma (see Laycock 1969, Rigsby 1997). They are perhaps best-known in the literature for their unusual phonologies, with inventories that include fricatives, voicing contrasts for stops and trills, and pre- and poststopped nasals (see Sommer 1976, Godman 1993, Ogilvie 1994, Sommer 1998). The talk will consist of two parts, one on synchronic and diachronic phonology, and one on the status of Lamalamic as a subgroup within Paman (Pama-Nyungan).

I will first provide a synchronic sketch of the phonologies of the three languages, based on a re-transcription of my own field materials for Umbuygamu and Lamalama, as well as Bruce Rigsby's, Bruce Sommer's and Ken Hale's archival materials (see Verstraete 2017 for results on Umbuygamu). On the basis of this re-analysis, I will then look at the diachrony of the more unusual aspects, specifically the dropping of initial consonants and initial syllables, the development of fricatives from stops and glides, the development of voicing contrasts in stops and rhotics, and the origins of diphthongs in consonant-vowel metathesis.
The second part of the talk will use these results to examine the status of Lamalamic as a subgroup within Paman. Umbuygamu, Lamalama and Rimanggudinhma have usually been assumed to form a subgroup, but this has not yet been established using evidence from shared innovations. I will show that there is a set of innovations that defines Lamalamic as a subgroup, mostly morphological, in aspects of verbal and pronominal morphology, together with one or two phonological innovations. The other phonological innovations are shared between Umbuygamu and Lamalama, but not with Rimanggudinhma, which forms a more conservative branch. I will also discuss the results in a wider Cape York context, specifically in relation to other subgroups with unusual phonological developments, like Northern Paman (Hale 1976) and Alaya-Athima (Alpher 2016).


Alpher, Barry. 2016. Connecting Thaypanic. In Verstraete & Hafner, eds. Land and Language in Cape York Peninsula and the Gulf Country. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 39-59.
Godman, Irene. 1993. A sketch grammar of Rimanggudinhma. BA Hons thesis, University of Queensland.
Hale, Ken. 1976. Phonological developments in particular Northern Paman languages. In Sutton, ed. Languages of Cape York. Canberra: AIAS. 7-40.
Laycock, Donald. 1969. Three Lamalamic languages of North Queensland. In Harris,Wurm & Laycock, eds. Papers in Australian linguistics 4. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. 71-97
Ogilvie, Sarah. 1994. The Morrobalama (Umbuygamu) language of Cape York Peninsula, Australia. MA thesis, ANU.
Rigsby, Bruce. 1997. Structural parallelism and convergence in the Princess Charlotte Bay languages. In McConvell & Evans, eds. Archaeology and linguistics. Aboriginal Australia in global perspective. Melbourne: OUP. 169-178.
Sommer, Bruce. 1976. Umbuygamu: The classification of a Cape York Peninsular language. Papers in Australian linguistics 10ː 13-31.
Sommer, Bruce. 1999. Lamalama. Townsville: Ethnografix.
Verstraete, Jean-Christophe. 2017. Umbuygamu. To appear in Journal of the International Phonetic Association.

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University

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