Waves of words: Ancient Asia-Pacific connection with North Australia

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Journal Article
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Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies
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Hendery, Rachel
McConvell, Patrick

In the 19th and (for most of the) 20th centuries, Europeans saw the Pacific as a sea of static, isolated islands. Recently Pacific Studies scholars have argued instead that it is interconnected and dynamic, a place where the sea forms roads, not barriers (see e.g., Hau’ofa 1993; Kirch 2002; Teaiwa 2007). Australia sits amidst these roads, and its languages and cultures, like those of the Asia-Pacific region, still hold traces of significant historical interactions. Uncovering, collating and understanding these traces will allow us not only to better understand our region’s past, but also to understand how long-term intercultural contact plays out. In this article we argue that this kind of research requires us to draw together threads from a variety of fields: linguistics, anthropology, archaeology and genetics. We discuss the challenges and advantages of doing so, in particular the need to develop shared ‘languages’ for description and analysis. Such comparison of linguistic with non-linguistic patterns of change sheds new light on the story of Oceania’s past as well as societal consequences of political, cultural, economic and technological change.

Pacific history, historical linguistics, lexical typology, anthropology, archaeology
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ANZSRC fields of research
CC BY 4.0