Eels and dolphins

You’re probably going to hear a lot about Nyulnyulan flora and fauna etymologies over the next week or two, as I’m doing something I should have done a long time ago – trying to sort out what can be reconstructed in the way of species lexicon based on my etymology files. When I was writing my dissertation I coompiled a database of Nyulnyulan cognates (it currently stands at 790 nouns, 170 affixes, 300 verb roots and 1400 or so preverbs) but I never really went through and filled out the reconstructions, so I’m doing that for key plants and animals.
I’m starting with flora and fauna because I want to see if there’s any evidence for the Proto-Nyulnyulan homeland. The languages are all pretty similar but there’s a lot of semantic variation in these terms, and a lot of borrowing. The Bardi for shark, for example, is the same as the word for snake – both joorroo – and it’s cognate with the Nyikina for ‘biting insect’ and seems to have cognates in Pama-Nyungan languages in the Pilbara.
The intriguing difference for today is Bardi bayalbarr ‘dolphin’ (Nyulnyul and Nimanburru bajalbarr ‘id.’), which is cognate with Nyikina bajalbarra ‘eel’. The word also appears in Mangala, where it also means eel. Mangala is not a Nyulnyulan language, and it’s probable that the Nyikina word was borrowed into Mangala (they’re in close contact). So, we reconstruct Proto-Nyulnyulan *bajalabarra (I’ll spare you the sound changes, but they’re pretty straightforward here), but what gloss? Who shifted?


5 responses to “Eels and dolphins

  1. Ooh, I envy you. That’s the kind of thing I looked forward to spending my time on back when I was a grad student.

  2. That seems like a lot of preverbs, or maybe I don’t understand the way Australianists use the term.

  3. They’re (largely) uninflecting words which form complex predicates with an inflecting verb. The preverb carries most of the lexical meaning, and the light verb acts more like an event classifier. They’re somewhat similar to the sort of thing that Miriam Butt has talked about for Urdu, or like the Farsi complex predicates. I have 1400 in my database but that’s a huge overestimate for what can actually be reconstructed – there’s English loans in there, and noun/preverb polysemy and shift, and all sorts of other things.

  4. Oh, OK. I was thinking those Caucasian aspect/locative kinda things which I remember very little about but had the idea they are basically closed classes.

  5. Nyulnyulan preverbs are most definitely an open class. English loan verbs are borrowed as preverbs, for example.

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