Language of the week: Bardi

This is cheating, of course, but since it’s Bardi appreciation week, in my brain at least, and since we’re up to B this time around in the language of the week…

Bardi’s a Nyulnyulan language, spoken right through by about 25 people at One Arm Point and surrounding areas. There are about 1,000 Bardi people. Bardi traditional country is the tip of the Dampier Peninsula, Western Australia, and surrounding islands. It’s a Nyulnyulan language. It’s non-Pama-Nyungan, and there are about 7 other languages in the family.

Bardi is so cool in so many ways I don’t know where to start (let’s just say that the draft reference grammar is 500 pages and growing with no end in sight).

Phonologywise: There are 7 vowels (a, aː, i, iː, u, uː and o). Yes, if you haven’t seen an inventory like that before, that’s because you haven’t seen Bardi. The consonants are standard average Australian, though.

Morphologywise: well, it’s both head and dependent marking in most areas, so there’s both case marking and extensive agreement, and possessive pronouns are marked for both the possessor and possessum. There’s not a whole lot of derivational morphology but there are a bunch of isolated forms, which makes me think either that they’re borrowed words or that that morphology used to be much more productive (or both, depending on the form).

Syntactically, Bardi is nonconfigurational. Now, T. Givón (pers comm, March 2008 ) informs me that he decided in 1979 that nonconfigurationality was a fiction, but I beg to differ, although I agree that some languages which has been called nonconfigurational probably don’t deserve that label. I have systematically failed to find any evidence for constituency beyond a few areas: complex predicates, and “second position”. That is, it’s possible to define the left edge of a phrase and a clause, but just about everything else is up for grabs.

Intonation in Bardi is really interesting. Joyce McDonough and I are starting work on a description based on my previous field recordings, so I can’t tell you anything yet, but stay tuned.

There’s not a whole lot available on Bardi apart from Metcalfe’s 1975 dissertation, an article by Edith Nicolas in AJL 2000, and my papers on my web page.

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2 responses to “Language of the week: Bardi

  1. David Marjanović

    I have systematically failed to find any evidence for constituency beyond a few areas: complex predicates, and “second position”. That is, it’s possible to define the left edge of a phrase and a clause, but just about everything else is up for grabs.

    Could you explain to a layman what that means?

  2. I’ll try to write a whole post about this soon.

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