The principal family of Australian Aboriginal languages
, covering most of the continent. The name comes from the words for 'person' in language
s at two extremes, one from Cape York
in Queensland and the other from near Perth
Pama-Nyungan languages cover all but the far north, Kimberleys and Arnhem Land, which is divided among a large number of considerably more diverse small language stocks. Also, Tasmanian languages are not Aboriginal. Of the roughly 250 languages that survived into the twentieth century, about 175 were Pama-Nyungan, including virtually all the better-known ones.
The family has many branches: the main ones are South-West, Paman, Maric, and Arandic. For a brief grammar of a typical Pama-Nyungan language, see Bidyara, which is a Maric language from south central Queensland. The general principles and appearance apply to most of them.
The Pama-Nyungan languages are remarkably similar. Although modern humans have been known to live all over Australia for tens of thousands of years, possibly more than 50 000, and some cultural sites (rock carvings and the like) are comparably ancient, linguistic analysis of the Pama-Nyungan languages shows them to have diverged from a common ancestor and spread over their present area in a lot less than this: no more than ten thousand years, if that. (The non-Pama-Nyungan fragmentation in the north shows the more ancient distribution.) So a General Australian people spread and displaced earlier inhabitants.
Some linguists have resisted this by suggesting that normal language evolution proceeded at a vastly slower rate among the Aborigines, but this is very ad hoc to try to save the fact that the present custodians of the sacred sites claim to have been there from the beginning. Time immemorial would be accurate, but not forever. The idea that language change could be uniquely slower here is unfounded. They were not desert-dwelling nomads spread out over vast areas, giving unique conditions: that describes only the surviving tribes who live in areas European farmers didn't want. Before 1788 Pama-Nyungan-speakers also inhabited the fertile temperate plains of Victoria and the tropical rainforests of Queensland.