The linguistic journal Diachronica published a study by Mark Harvey of University of Newcastle and Robert Mailhammer from Western Sydney University. Their paper addresses the linguistic diversity of Australian languages. Around the time of British settlement in 1788, there were over 200 languages spoken on the continent. That number has dwindled to an estimated 120 indigenous languages still existing, with only about 20 are actively spoken today.
They teased out “recurrent” and “systematic” traits in the sounds of words all these languages. They concluded that the current linguistic diversity within Australia derived from one mother tongue, known as Proto-Australian, that was spoken about 10,000 years ago. Because the greatest diversity is where language originates from, Proto-Australian spread and diversified from a small area in northwestern Australia known as Kimberley Plateau.
Last year we talked about the first Australians arriving some 65,000 years ago. We now have some granularity as there is a 50,000 or so year gap between the arrival of the first Australians and the emergence of Australian Aboriginal languages like Proto-Australian. This discrepancy between the linguistic record and archaeological record needs to be addressed.