Page:An Australian language as spoken by the Awabakal.djvu/26

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III. Ikfluexces affecting the Laxgvage.

The position of our Australian dialects in their relation to the great families of langua^re has not yet been determined. That task demands leisure, labour, and skill. A collection of carefully prepared Grammars and Vocabularies would make the task much easier ; but where are these to be had ? With the exception of those that I have named, I know of none. Australian Vocabu- laries have been collected in abundance, but, for the most part, these are quite useless to the philologist ; they consist of dialect- names for native customs and weapons, for the birds of the air, the beasts of the field, and the trees of the forest. All this is mistaken labour which yields no fruit. "What we want is to get from each dialect a sufficient number of words expressing the ideas essential to a language, in the form of substantive, adjec- tive or verb, and a sufficient number of simple sentences ; this would enable the philologist to ascertain what is the structure of its grammar and its vocables.

The Australian languages are subject to a principle of change which it is worth our pains to consider here. The native tribes name their children from any ordinary occurrence, which may have taken place at the birth or soon after it. Por instance, if a kangaroo-rat were seen to run into a hollow log at that time, the child would be named by some modification of the word for kangaroo-rat. At a later period of the boy's life, that name might be changed for another, taken from some trivial circumstance in his experience ; just as our own boys get by-names at school. "When a man or woman dies, his family and the other members of the tribe, as far as possible, never mention his name again, and dis- continue the use of those ordinary words which formed part of his name ; other words are substituted for those common ones, and become permanently established in the daily language of the clan or sub-tribe to which the deceased belonged.* In this way new words arise to designate those familiar objects, the previous names for which have been cast aside ; and these new words are formed regularly from other root-words, that describe probably another quality inherent in the thing in question. Let me illus- trate this matter by examples. A man or a woman may get a name from some peculiar physical feature, such as a large mouth, or chin, or head ; or a name taken from an animal or tree, or .any similar object, animate or inanimate, which iiad some relation to his birth. A Tasmanian woman was called Eamanalu, ' little gull,' because a gull fiew by at the time of the child's birth. After her death, the word ram a would never be used again for 'a gull '; a new name for ' gull ' would be invented, forrfied, it

  • It is possible that the discaixled word resumes its place in the language

after a while ; this point I have not ascertained ; at all events, the adopted word remains.

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