Austronesians in Northern Australia: Re-assessing the Linguistic Impact of 'Macassans'

The impact of 'Macassans' in northern Australia was more extensive than we think.


This paper builds on an earlier re-assessment of Macassan influence (Walsh 2012), followed up by the more recent: Walsh to appear. Over 40 years ago James Urry and I in 1979 suggested that the linguistic impact of so-called Macassans in northern Australia may have been more extensive than had previously been thought. Soon after a published account appeared (Urry and Walsh 1981) there was vindication from Walker and Zorc (1981) who had a strong background in Yolngu-Matha, a language of northeast Arnhem Land, and Austronesian, an unusual but very useful combination. Other linguists (e.g. Evans 1992, Schapper to appear) demonstrated significant influence in a wider range of Australian languages. A much more extensive geographical spread and a greater time depth are suggested by archaeological research. On the one hand it now seems that the geographical spread extends along the northern coast from western Cape York to the Kimberley, and possibly to the Pilbara. On the other hand time depth seems to be as early as the 14th century and might possibly be earlier. It is therefore timely to consider many northern coastal languages yet to be explored for Macassan influence. 


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