Volume 37, Issue 2
  • ISSN 0176-4225
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9714
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A number of indigenous languages of northern Australia have complex systems of noun class prefixation incorporating the formal realization of case or topicality, as well as class. The markers of case and topicality occur inside the marking of class, in an unexpected position according to considerations of scope. In addition, where case is marked, zero marking is associated with oblique case roles while core roles are associated with substantive marking; again, an unexpected pattern given universals of case expression. We present evidence for the diachronic development of these noun class prefixation systems from an older system of demonstratives prefixed for class via a grammaticalization path: demonstrative > topic article > topic prefix. The class/topic prefixes then developed into class/case-marking prefixes through frequency correlations between topic, case, animacy and humanness. All stages in our reconstructed pathway are attested by extant languages.


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