Tasmanian Languages

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Tasmanian Languages


the closely related languages of the aborigines of Tasmania (see), which existed until the late 19th century, by which time they were only in fragmentary states, existing in the memory of Tasmanian-European metis. The Austrian scholar W. Schmidt isolated five Tasmanian languages, and the Australian scholar S. Wurm only two—southern Tasmanian on most of the island, corresponding to four of Schmidt’s languages, and northern Tasmanian on the northern coast.

The Tasmanian languages, like the Australian languages, had no phonological opposition of unvoiced and voiced consonants and no sibilants, but the Tasmanian languages distinguished r and I and had fricatives (X and one pharyngeal) and a series of palatalized consonants. The vowel system, according to Schmidt, was very rich; however, it is not clear whether all the sound types he established are phonologically significant. Grammatical meanings were conveyed through agglutinative suffixes, as in certain cases, in perfect forms of the verb, and in the categories of participle and infinitive, and through analytic means, for example, word order to distinguish the subject and object of action. There was no category of number, tense, or person for the verb. Adjectives were formed as separate parts of speech. Numerals existed only up to 2, 3, or 4, depending on the dialect. There were cultural borrowings from the Australian languages.

The American linguist J. H. Greenberg includes the Tasmanian languages in the hypothetical Indo-Pacific phylum of languages, which includes the Andamanese, Timor-Alor, and northern Halmahera languages and the non-Austronesian, or Papuan, languages of New Guinea and such neighboring islands as New Ireland, New Britain, and the Solomons.


Schmidt, W. Die tasmanischen Sprachen. Utrecht-Antwerp, 1952.
Wurm, S. A. “Classification of Australian Languages, Including Tasmanians.” In the collection Current Trends in Linguistics, vol. 8, part 1. The Hague, 1971.
Greenberg, J. H. “The Indo-Pacific Hypothesis.” In the collection Current Trends in Linguistics, vol. 8, part 1. The Hague, 1971.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
It is estimated there were more than 20 indigenous Tasmanian languages until they faded from daily communication in the first half of the 19th century.
For Crowley and Dixon, the 'best summary is, perhaps, to say that there is no evidence that some or all of the Tasmanian languages are not ultimately related to the Australian language family' (1981:420).
The Riddle of Tasmanian Languages. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 279: 4590-4595.
Apart from the earliest explorers (whose visits were short), Tasmanian language documented were mostly laypeople without formal training or expertise.
In the 1830s Thomas Wilkinson translated sections of Genesis into Tasmanian language (Plomley 1976:40-43).

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