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Thesis defence: Temporal, aspectual and modal expression in Anindilyakwa, James Bednall, 13 Feb

Australian National University, Jane Simpson, Shape

Date: 13 February 2020

Thesis defence: Temporal, aspectual and modal expression in Anindilyakwa

Speaker: James Bednall

When: 13 Feb 2020, 6.30pm

Where: Engma Room (3.165), HC Coombs Building, ANU


In this thesis defence I overview some of the central findings and observations uncovered during my doctoral research, focused on the examination of temporal, aspectual and modal (TAM) expression in Anindilyakwa, an underdescribed and underdocumented Gunwinyguan language of the Groote Eylandt archipelago, north-east Arnhem Land, Australia.

With both descriptive and theoretical goals, my thesis provides a detailed description of some of the core grammatical properties of Anindilyakwa (particularly related to the verbal complex) in addition to providing a theoretically-informed examination of temporal, aspectual and modal expression and interaction in Anindilyakwa. The original contribution of my thesis lies in the cross-section between theoretically-informed morpho-syntactic, semantic and pragmatic approaches to TAM expression in natural languages, and the exploration and examination of this domain in a fieldwork and language documentation setting: how do underdescribed languages inform our understanding of this domain, and how should we approach the documentation of these concepts in the field?

Anindilyakwa is a particularly interesting language to examine in this regard, given the polysynthetic nature and complex morphological make-up and combinatorics of the verb. Inflectionally, TAM expression is realised through the combination of (at least) two discontinuous morphological slots of the verb structure. In addition to the complex morphological combinatorics of the verbal structure, this inflectional system displays widespread aspectuo-temporal underspecification, coupled with a widespread lack of contrastiveness in many of the paradigmatic forms (i.e. syncretism). Thus, the core of my thesis – and this thesis defence – involves unpacking and examining these inflectional verbal properties, with respect to TAM expression.

This comprehensive semantic and morpho-syntactic investigation into the TAM system of Anindilyakwa contributes not only to the description of this underdocumented language, but it also bolsters the representation of understudied (particularly non-European) languages that have received detailed TAM study, ensuring that future cross-linguistic typological work on TAM has access to richer data in a wider sample of the world’s languages.


NOTE: James will speak for 20 minutes at the start. There will then be questions and discussion led by the examiners and the assessor, with a break around 8 pm for snacks.  The whole defence should conclude around 9.30.

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