What is it about?

Conjunctions (like 'and', 'because', 'if') are a ubiquitous - but often overlooked - linguistic category in many of the world's languages, but were thought to be uncommon or atypical in Australian Indigenous languages. With this new comparative study (involving 53 Australian languages), we show that they are in fact not so uncommon, and may even be a dominant method of linking clauses. Our typology (system of classification) shows what conjunctions can look like, and how they may cooperate with other linguistic resources (like certain verb forms). In addition, we also find intriguing patterns: which kinds of conjunctions are more common, and which languages tend to have them, and which ones don't.

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Why is it important?

Our research not only breaks new ground in how conjunctions can be studied across many languages, but also sheds light on how grammatical and discourse structure is organised in Australian languages. Our methodology can be adapted to investigate languages around the world, and our findings also contribute to our understanding of the nature of linguistic diversity within Australia.


We hope this article on conjunctions is useful and enjoyable to both linguists and non-linguists seeking to know more about Australian Indigenous languages. A persistent thought I had throughout our research was: conjunctions are everywhere, so how can they be so overlooked in research? Many people use conjunctions everyday, yet we don't always appreciate how much these "small" elements do for us: they help us logically link ideas together, and give order to our communicative intentions. Understanding what conjunctions do - no less in the languages we know very little about - can broaden our understanding of Human Language.

Ellison Luk
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Conjunctions and clause linkage in Australian languages, Studies in Language, December 2021, John Benjamins,
DOI: 10.1075/sl.20055.luk.
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