Indigenous languages research findings make global impact

Tuesday, 22 May 2018


Research showing that all Australian Indigenous languages descend from one common ancestor has had a major national and global impact reaching more than 150 million people.

The research is a result of collaboration between UON Chief Investigator, Centre for 21st Century Humanities member and historical linguist, Associate Professor Mark Harvey, and Western Sydney University Chief Investigator, Associate Professor Robert Mailhammer. Their findings were released in March in the historical linguistics journal, Diachronica.

Their unprecedented finding is the first time the theory that all Australian languages derive from one language, Proto-Australian, has been proven.

The research has created a wave of national and global interest with more than 120 individual media stories around the world including the ABC, the BBCAustralian GeographicSBS, the Japan TimesChina and India, plus many more featuring the findings.

Associate Professor Harvey said the media attention was somewhat unexpected but had opened doors to new collaborations.

“We hadn’t anticipated this huge level of interest. We knew it would interest a small circle of academics working in Australian pre-history, but we are very pleased with the article’s reception and the wide impact it has had,” Associate Professor Harvey said.

“Both myself and Associate Professor Mailhammer received a lot of enquiries not only from the media but also other academics, particularly in the fields of archaeology, genetics and climate history. We’re now in talks with some of these researchers who are interested in learning more about our findings.”

Associate Professor Harvey said the original article also made use of digital mapping techniques to display information.

“Spatial representation of knowledge was an important part of the article. We used mapping to signify locations and denote the different languages and their similarities. This is the type of information that could be represented on the Time Layered Cultural Map as proposed by the Centre for 21stCentury Humanities in our recent ARC Linkage, Infrastructure Equipment and Facilities (LIEF) grant application,” Associate Professor Harvey said.