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The quotative system – lexical and morphosyntactic strategies for the direct reporting of speech and thought – has undergone a major transformation in mainstream World Englishes. Diachronic studies of quotation in Australian, British, Canadian and New Zealand English have all documented the same trends: a relatively stable system, using a small number of quotative variants, becomes more varied and complex, with a decline in the frequency of canonical say correlating with an increasing tendency to quote thought. This study, modelled on two foregoing sociolinguistic analyses of mainstream West Australian and New Zealand Englishes, examines quotation in recordings of 26 speakers of Australian Aboriginal English born between 1907 and 1961, including 16 oral histories. The results indicate that, unlike their settler English-speaking counterparts, these speakers have not only preserved the dominance of say: they have come to use it in distinctive ways, with semantic and grammatical innovations not observed in other varieties, in a system which serves to enrich narrative in a speaker population unique for its millennia of oral tradition. The findings suggest processes of grammaticalization and, observed alongside similar expanding frequency and versatility of be like in mainstream Englishes, may signal a parallel evolutive effect in a different language ecology.
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