1 Introduction in:

Katja Lenz

Lexical Appropriation in Australian Aboriginal Literature, page 13 - 18

1. Edition 2017, ISBN print: 978-3-8288-3964-9, ISBN online: 978-3-8288-6743-7,

Tectum, Baden-Baden
Bibliographic information
13 1 Introduction Aboriginal English is an ethnic dialect of English which is spoken as a first or second language, or as a first or second dialect by speakers monolingual in English, by the great majority of Aboriginal people living in Australia. The dialect developed through a process of indigenisation of the colonisers’ language, and in a situation in which large parts of the pre-colonial language ecology have been destroyed and many Aboriginal languages are lost beyond retrieval, Aboriginal English has become the major medium of communication within the Australian Aboriginal community where it functions both as an intra-group language and in interaction with the mainstream society. Aboriginal English (hereafter also ‘AborE’) shows significant differences to Australian English (hereafter also ‘AusE’) that result from speakers’ attempts to adapt the colonial language to their own communicative needs. These differences are apparent at every level of language use, including those of phonology, grammar, pragmatics, and the lexicon. While many phonological and grammatical features are shared with other non-standard varieties of English, the Aboriginal English lexicon reveals various unique characteristics. The lexico-semantics of AborE have been elaborated in such a way that they now allow speakers to convey ideas that are culturally bound and reflect a worldview that clearly differs from that maintained by Anglo-Australians; the dialect provides the lexical tools needed to verbalise a unique set of values, beliefs, and attitudes, one that accesses meanings and interpretations which are strongly influenced by the socio-cultural background of the Aboriginal speakers. Many of these salient lexical features are lexemes which occur in the same form in Australian English and other varieties of English, but in AborE have acquired a new meaning or a whole range of new meanings; other lexemes may occur in uncommon combinations or show applications which appear remarkable for speakers of the standard dialect. Still, the components most obviously setting apart Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal varieties of English are borrowings from traditional languages, or words from pidgins or creoles. Apart from its more immediate function as a tool for inter- and intragroup communication, the dialect is now increasingly employed to disseminate Aboriginal ideas, viewpoints, and meanings, and allows speakers to maintain and communicate a linguistic and cultural autonomy and distinctiveness. More recently, Aboriginal English has also become a medium for creative expression. This thesis aims to investigate more thoroughly how the lexicon of Aboriginal English equips its speakers with the lexical means needed to express concepts not shared with speakers of Australian English, and how these same 14 tools are employed by Australian Aboriginal playwrights who, in their texts, exploit the lexical resources of AborE for the linguistic construction and assertion of their own and their characters’ Aboriginality. The theoretical base for this investigation is provided by two approaches which approximate the question of why Aboriginal speakers of English feel the need for lexical innovation to express themselves and their ideas properly from two different angles, viz. from that of Cultural Linguistics and from that of Post-colonial Studies. As a consequence, the present work is located somewhere along the way between these two areas of research. Farzad Sharifian (e.g. 2003) has introduced the notion of ‘cultural conceptualisations’ into the study of Aboriginal English. His work stands in the tradition of the cultural-conceptual approach brought forward by Palmer (1996) as well as Ian Malcolm and his team (e.g. Malcolm &Rochecouste (2000), Malcolm & Sharifian (2002, 2005), Sharifian (2001), and Sharifian, Malcolm & Rochecouste (2004)), but also stems from the research of scholars such as Rosch and Bartlett on categories and schemes. Sharifian proposes that language can never reflect an objective view of reality. Rather, he maintains, language use is informed by conceptualisations that are culturally constructed, and these conceptualisations make it necessary for Aboriginal speakers to reinterpret and adapt the lexicon of AusE. He thus seeks to explain how Aboriginal peoples’ ways of understanding and categorising the world have resulted in the emergence of a distinct lexical inventory. His work partly echoes older approaches such as that of Harkins (1994) who argues that the way in which speakers of AborE use language is influenced by a uniquely Aboriginal conceptual system that determines the meanings and applications of English forms. She, too, suggests that AborE lexical items express concepts which are culturally derived and correspond to those found in Aboriginal languages. Ashcroft et al. (2002) deal with language use in post-colonial literature. They investigate how authors adapt the colonisers’ language to suit their own purposes and put forward that in many colonial and post-colonial contexts, the standard variety is manipulated so as to convey a distinct cultural identity. The processes commonly employed to achieve this type of adjustment of the literary language are known as ‘abrogation’ and ‘appropriation’. The latter is of special relevance here as it describes those features which are used to modify the dominant language in such a way that it permits indigenous authors to communicate a different socio-cultural experience and world-view and also to ‘teach’ their readers about aspects of their cultural heritage. The strategies employed to achieve these goals in fact mirror those that also occur in real language use, as authors insert words or phrases from their native or ancestral language or employ English terms which differ in their semantic scope or application. Ashcroft et al. (2002) thus provide the tools needed for the empirical analysis that will constitute the main part of the present work. In it, we will 15 scrutinise how Indigenous Australian playwrights exploit the lexical resources of Aboriginal varieties of English to adapt the standard language in their texts. Before we tackle this task, however, we have to step back and direct our attention to several more fundamental and preliminary questions, the answers to which will provide the framework for this investigation. The present work is divided into four parts. In the first part, Setting the Stage – Old and New Australian Language Ecologies, we shall explore how the colonisation of Australia affected pre-colonial Aboriginal society and culture. As such, the first chapters of this thesis attempt a short outline of the history of colonisation in Australia and briefly summarise the most important socio-political developments affecting the country’s Indigenous population. In addition, we will detail the impact of the English language on the languages spoken on the Australian continent prior to British invasion and sketch the development of the post-contact language ecology. Since these issues are only indirectly related to our actual research questions, we will limit ourselves to an outline of the major developments that have taken place. Addressing them is however central for a better understanding of the remainder of the work: the parts that are concerned with the linguistic changes that have occurred in the past two centuries will provide necessary background information on the developmental paths of Aboriginal English and on the nature of its lexicon, and addressing issues of language change will further aid to understand the role of the dialect in the present situation. Examining both historical and socio-political developments will help us comprehend the topics discussed in the plays and establish possible motivations for lexical appropriation. Part two, Aboriginal English(es) – an Aboriginal Code in an English Guise?, will then take a closer look at those forms of English commonly referred to as ‘Aboriginal English’. First, we shall determine whether we are dealing with one uniform dialect of English or rather with a whole range of varieties spoken by Aboriginal people, before we inspect the role and functions that Aboriginal English has assumed in the post-contact language ecology. This will be followed by a feature description which takes into account some of the more salient characteristics of Aboriginal English in the domains of phonology, grammar, pragmatics, and the lexicon. The remainder of part two will deal with the conceptual frameworks underlying AborE usages of English. Here, we will discuss Sharifian’s notion of cultural conceptualisations in more detail and also address related approaches to the subject. In part three, Forms of Lexical Appropriation in Australian Aboriginal Drama, we shall then undertake the actual empirical analysis. The subsections of chapter 0 investigate how seven Aboriginal Australian playwrights modify and adapt the language of their texts in order to communicate aspects of their Aboriginal heritage. Since our focus will be on lexical appropriation, we will concentrate on the occurrence of items which form part of the lexicon of AborE 16 and examine their potential as instruments of linguistic appropriation. We will discuss the nature of these lexical appropriations, try to determine the individual element’s origin, and investigate the concepts they express, in an attempt to discover larger conceptual patterns. In addition, we shall examine which motivations exist for lexical appropriation and which functions can be associated with such an adaptation of the standard language. The results obtained from the analysis of the plays have given rise to A wordbook of selected Aboriginal English words in Australian literature, a separate publication which can be accessed via the Virtual Linguistics Campus: (see also 8.3.3). In it, all items which have been identified as instances of lexical appropriation that were encountered in the drama texts are listed in alphabetic order. Each entry provides information on the item’s meaning, source language, part of speech, the type of appropriation strategy involved, its occurrence in earlier Australian contact languages, and its use in present-day varieties of English. It is further specifies in which of the texts the word occurs and a quotation is provided which exemplifies the item’s usage. Finally, part four, Findings and Conclusions, will round off the present work: Chapter 9 summarises and evaluates the results of the previously conducted text analyses and chapter 10 compares them to findings obtained from examining two additional plays from the canon of postcolonial literature which were studied in an attempt to detect parallels and discrepancies in the way authors from different cultural backgrounds appropriate the colonial language. Chapter 11 then takes up salient points that deserve further discussion and attempts to draw final conclusions regarding the nature and the functions of lexical appropriation, comparing the outcome of the analyses to our initial assumptions and the research questions derived from them. Having outlined the path that will be taken in the following, a note on terminology seems advisable. Readers should be aware that terms such as ‘Indigenous’, ‘Aboriginal’ and ‘Torres Strait Islander’ are labels introduced by the European colonisers to collectively refer to Australian peoples who spoke more than 200 distinct languages and 500 dialects and belonged to just as many different cultural groups. Before the destruction of their linguistic and cultural ecologies, Australian peoples derived their identity from their country, an identification that usually reflected the name of their language group (Flinders University. n.d.). Examples include the language and culture group names Kamilaroi, Wiradhuri, Bibbulmun, Nyul Nyul, and Palyku that will also reappear in the following. While some Aboriginal Australians continue to define their identity in this way, others now favour the use of an Aboriginal language term that denotes a wider, regional identity, such as Koori (Victoria and southern NSW), Murri (northern NSW and south-east Queensland), Yol u (eastern Arnhem Land), Anangu (Western Desert) (Arthur 1996: 223). Torres Strait Islander people may prefer to identify with a particular island and de- 17 scribe themselves, for example, as Murray Island Peoples or Mer Island Peoples (Flinders University. n.d.). In the present work, we shall resort to regional terms or the names of local groups when and where they apply. Many names of language and culture groups have multiple spellings, so that the spelling of a particular name may differ from that found elsewhere in the literature. All language group names used in the course of the empirical analysis are in line with the spellings used by the authors themselves, language group names used elsewhere in the thesis are based on the spelling suggested in the literature cited. Note however that it will often be necessary to refer to the Aboriginal community of Australia in more general terms. Therefore, we shall use the terms ‘Aboriginal people(s)’ and ‘Aboriginal person(s)’ to refer to the Indigenous population of mainland Australia and Tasmania. These designations, however, do not include Torres Strait Islander peoples. When reference is made to all Indigenous Australian peoples, ‘Indigenous’ or ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people(s)’ is used. However, as the focus of the present thesis is on Aboriginal English, i.e. those varieties of English spoken by Australian Aboriginal people, most chapters will only make reference to the inhabitants of the mainland and not to Torres Strait Islander people. The term ‘Indigenous’ will be capitalised when it describes the original inhabitants of a particular country, whereas a lower case letter indicates that it is used as a generic term. Likewise, ‘Aboriginal’ will always be capitalised when used with reference to Australian Aboriginal people, their cultures and languages. Further, there is a consensus that terms such as ‘traditional’ or ‘modern’ should not be used when talking about Aboriginal people and culture, as they evoke stereotypes of the ‘authentic’ ‘full blood’ Aboriginal person, generally associated with ‘traditional’ forms of living in the bush on the one hand, or the urban Aboriginal person deprived of his or her culture, on the other. Still, their use cannot always be avoided. Whenever these terms are employed in the present work, it is usually with reference to Aboriginal language varieties, especially when contrasting the pre- and post-contact language ecologies. In the description of the pre-contact language ecology, the term ‘Aboriginal languages’ may be used interchangeably with ‘traditional languages’ to denote the 500 or more varieties spoken before European invasion. We need to acknowledge that this might be criticised as a somewhat inaccurate approach, given that post-contact varieties such as Aboriginal English and creoles, too, are Aboriginal languages. Note also that many of the definitions and glosses which are cited in the context of the corpus analyses make use of terms such as ‘traditional’ when describing Aboriginal cultural knowledge or practice which goes back to pre-colonial times. For example, Arthur (1996: 225) defines the term Aboriginal way as ‘the customs, beliefs, habits, practices and so forth that belong to Aboriginal society, esp. those that relate to traditional life’. Other 18 sources use terms such as ‘spirituality’ or ‘spiritual’ in their descriptions of concepts related to the Dreaming or to Dreaming Stories. Here, ‘religion’ or ‘religious’ would be more appropriate terms. Since most definitions were adopted more or less verbatim, these terms have nevertheless been retained. Lastly, it needs to be pointed out that many of the meanings inherent in Aboriginal English terms will be rendered in a reductionist manner and that the definitions provided are often insufficient to fully grasp the complexity of the concepts described. A thorough understanding of the concepts underlying words such as Dreaming or law demand expert knowledge in the domain of religion, as can only be achieved by ongoing exposure to Aboriginal culture.

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Today, virtually all Aboriginal people in Australia use English in their daily interactions. This is not surprising: in a situation in which many Aboriginal languages are lost beyond retrieval, English, as the official language of education, administration, law, and generally the language of the Australian mainstream society, has become the major medium of communication for the Australian Aboriginal community. Still, Aboriginal English, the variety most commonly spoken by Aboriginal people, often differs in many aspects from what is the accepted linguistic standard in Australia. Adapted to their communicative needs, it allows its speakers to express values, beliefs, and attitudes which are strongly influenced by their socio-cultural background.

Katja Lenz investigates how the lexico-semantics of Aboriginal English provide the means needed to express concepts not shared with speakers of Australian English. Approaching these questions from both the angle of Cultural Linguistics and that of Post-colonial Studies, she further shows how these tools are employed by Australian Aboriginal playwrights, who exploit the lexical resources of AborE for the linguistic construction and assertion of their own and their characters’ Aboriginality.