Making Language More Efficient
The process of inflection implies the modification of a word by means of particles that are added at the beginning, at the end or in the middle of it, making language use more efficient. Kinship inflections are useful when trying to cope with the limitations imposed by the taboos as speakers try to ensure that everybody involved in the conversation knows what is being referred to. Names are generally used for this purpose, but because names can become taboo in certain societies, languages develop new ways to fulfil this role.
The study provides an example of language change and evolution based on historical linguistics and conversation analysis. These languages in Australia are still evolving today and the change can be seen in everyday conversation, even if lexical and grammatical change is a very slow and subtle process. The study is yet another proof that investigating linguistic structure and devices can help linguists find out why these were originally created.
The research started by finding historical evidence that one of the Australian Aboriginal languages, Murrinh-Patha, had markers which had acquired new meanings to encode information about sibling relations. Blythe then found out that the markers had later become pervasive in the language by recording actual face-to-face conversations. To avoid influencing the results of the research, he did not limit the topic of the conversations or participate in them in any other way. He did not ask questions about kin terms or kin structures and he did not ask the subjects in the investigation to avoid personal names either.