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In most languages the world over, place of articulation is divided in a fairly obvious way, with labials, coronals, dorsals, and laryngeals (each obviously potentially having various sublocations), but Australian Aboriginal languages are usually described as having a primary contrast between coronal & peripheral (i.e. usually velar or labial) consonants

I assume there is some phonological reason for this analysis, but I've not been able to find a simple statement anywhere in my (admittedly not exhaustive) look

An interesting case of a (macro)-language outside Australia that in some senses seems to have a coronal/peripheral contrast is Arabic, where the sun & moon letters correspond to coronal & peripheral consonants respectively (in MSA, and many vernaculars this is a little complicated by jim, but classically, and in other vernaculars, this is velar or palatal so still peripheral) meaning Arabic could be argued to have a morphophonological coronal/peripheral distinction, but this analysis does not seem to be made

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  • The categorisation of consonants as peripheral/non-peripheral allows for generalisations about phonotactics, eg one common generalisation would be that peripheral consonants cannot occur word-finally. There's a short discussion on WP but if you look at any grammar of an Australian language you'll probably find examples. Jan 25 at 21:55
  • I saw that, but the discussion there is brief and it suggests that in many Australian languages it's only a case of it not being common, which doesn't seem especially strong a case in those languages. I was hoping there was more to it
    – Tristan
    Jan 27 at 9:51
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    I guess the WP article is not very clear. Australian languages that allow word-final peripherals are not common. Jan 28 at 21:46
  • I know WALS has a few subchapters specific to Australian languages, but I don't know of one about this sort of phonotactic constraint. Do you know of any equivalent surveys?
    – Tristan
    Jan 29 at 10:14
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    Although brief, this article might be of interest. Also the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Australian Languages (hopefully out sometime in 2021) will have a chapter on phonotactics in Australian languages. Other than that it's necessary to look at individual grammars or papers on specific issues in phonotactics. Jan 30 at 22:22

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