Last changed 18 April 2021

Lexical replacement and cognate equilibrium in Australia

Barry Alpher & David Nash

Australian Journal of Linguistics (AJL) 19.1(April 1999),5-56.

Published online 14 Aug 2008;res=APAFT;dn=991111485 

citations | added references | related references | errata | typographical errors | Lexicostatistical wordlists | Alpher's comparative worksheets | Abstract


added references

related references



Kuuk-Yak (as on Fig. 3 p.18) is shown as a close sister-dialect of Kuuk-Thaayorre. That is a lexicostatistical result (only). On the basis of innovations, Kuuk-Yak decends directly from the root of the tree.

typographical errors

p.12, n8, line 4: for 'and g' read 'and q'
p.17, Fig. 2 caption: add 'Ktj (Kurrtjar)'
p.17, Fig. 2: add 'HR' directly south of 'AL'
p.21n10: for 'Adnyathamathanha' read 'Adnyamathanha'
p.33: delete final parenthesis ) at end of middle paragraph
p.35, note 25: for 'disyllabic forms of the root alternating with disyllabic ones' read 'monosyllabic forms of the root alternating with disyllabic ones'
p.40, line 5: for 'Oy-ka-ngand' read 'Oykangand'
p.43, second-last par: for 'cloumn' read 'column'
p.45: 'Galali' in the Table is the same as 'Garlali' at the bottom of the page
p.45, in Table 7: for 'Wankumara' read 'Wangkumara' (twice)
p.46, line 17 up: for 'some which' read 'some of which'
p.47, line 3: for "the OGVV's" read "OGVV's"
p.49: move last two lines from Alpher 1997 reference to Alpher 1990 reference, and add 'Draft.' to Alpher 1997 reference.
p.51: in Nash 1982, for 'kurdungurtu' read 'kurdungurlu'
p.53: for 'Barr' read 'Barry'
p.53, Appendix title: for 'Lexicostatical' read 'Lexicostatistical'
p.54, in both lists: add "H71" after "leaf" (item 47.)
p.55, in both lists: change "B20" to "B22" after "spear (n.)" (item 77.)


p.22, Table 1: row 5, 120 wd, YY and YTh: '8' and '4' should be right-aligned
p.12, line 23 and note 9: 'ch'; p.24, last line: 'wangal'  - should be plain italic rather than underlined
p.19, mid: for "Ogrady" read "O'Grady"
p.40, line 8: for 'none the less' read 'nonetheless'
p.49: italicise book title (twice) Boundary Rider: essays in honour of Geoffrey O'Grady

Lexicostatistical wordlists

Appendix, pp.53-56: 151-item list from O'Grady & Klokeid, Black, Hale; and see
The list is now in the Concepticon collection

Alpher's supporting comparative worksheets (p.21n11) and Table 7

Supporting worksheet for Table 3
Supporting worksheet for Table 7


We estimate the degree to which languages resort to borrowing as a means of lexical replacement, within a group of neighbouring languages of southwestern Cape York Peninsula, using several methods: (1) sound correspondences and correspondence mimicry; (2) the proportion of "local" words in single language lists; and (3) the creation of the vocabulary of special registers. We find that borrowing accounts for at most half of lexical replacement in these languages, and most usually is well below half. We demonstrate that this rate is crucial in the prediction of what fraction of vocabulary might in the long term be common to two neighbouring languages (the 'equilibrium percentage') in a model of lexical similarity that does not distinguish borrowings from common retentions. We then apply these findings to the case study, and compare the methods of lexicostatistical subgrouping (with and without recognition of loans), to results from classification by classic means. We find substantial agreement, and that the effect of "borrowing to equilibrium" on lexicostatistical subgrouping is tolerably small.

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© 1999 Barry Alpher & David Nash