Farming and the Trans-New Guinea family
The island of New Guinea, located to the north of Australia, is one of the world’s major centres of early agriculture and plant domestication. At the same time, a large number of the languages of New Guinea and adjacent areas share a common origin and are believed to belong to a single language family, the Trans-New Guinea family. This paper presents a first attempt to apply the farming-language dispersal hypothesis to the New Guinea case. While the archaeological literature on early agriculture in New Guinea has focused mainly on taro, there is reason to doubt that taro was associated with the Trans-New Guinea expansion. In this paper, I instead consider the role of banana and sugarcane. The occurrence in many Trans-New Guinea languages of related terms for these two crops suggests that these were part of the “farming package” which fuelled the expansion of the family and its speakers.
Keywords: New Guinea, Papuan languages, Trans-New Guinea family, vegeculture
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