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7 Aboriginal English as a Medium for Creative Expression in:

Katja Lenz

Lexical Appropriation in Australian Aboriginal Literature, page 133 - 144

1. Edition 2017, ISBN print: 978-3-8288-3964-9, ISBN online: 978-3-8288-6743-7, https://doi.org/10.5771/9783828867437-133

Tectum, Baden-Baden
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133 7 Aboriginal English as a Medium for Creative Expression In 6.2 we have seen that with the emancipation of the dialect growing out of its former role as ‘improper English’, AborE has taken on new functions. Today, it is increasingly perceived as marker of Aboriginality, and a growing number of speakers show pride in their dialect that serves them to express a distinct identity. This is also reflected in more recent developments in the field of the arts and in the media. For many years, Aboriginal Australians have sought for ways to inform the Australian mainstream society about their perception of the world, facets of Aboriginal life, and cultural understanding (Malcolm 2001a: 217f). The work of Aboriginal artists, musicians, and film makers helps to achieve this goal and to raise an awareness of Aboriginal issues in the wider Australian society. They are increasingly exploiting the resources of AborE in their works, and the dialect is featured in TV and radio broadcasting. Another area in which forms of AborE are gaining more and more importance is that of creative writing, and this has resulted in a growing body of literature authored by Indigenous Australian writers that is intended for Aboriginal as well as non-Aboriginal readers. 7.1 Writing and Aboriginalities In his 2003 essay The End in the Beginning: Re(de)finding Aboriginality, Michael Dodson describes how for two centuries, Aboriginal people have been defined and written about by others, that is, by members of the Anglo-Australian majority. Many of these accounts testify to the racist and ethnocentric attitude with which the colonisers looked upon the Aboriginal population. Early descriptions portraying Aboriginal people as human beings who “may appear to some to be the most wretched people of [sic] earth” (excerpt from Capt. James Cook’s Journal, 1770, quoted in Dodson 2003: 25) are no longer imaginable today, but for a long time, Aboriginal Australians continued to be deemed inferior to the colonist society. The emergence of contemporary Aboriginal writing in the 1960s not only allowed authors to address problems, desires, and concerns hitherto unheard by the mainstream society and to introduce Aboriginal perceptions of life to the wider public. It further ended the long period during which Aboriginal people were made the object of descriptions by others; it provided them with the opportunity to raise their voices and speak for themselves, to define themselves and assert their identity. Since the second half of the 20th century, Aboriginal authors have exploited the written medium to introduce their readers 134 to various aspects of Aboriginal culture and their linguistic heritage. By doing so, these authors built bridges for a cross-cultural exchange between the Aboriginal community and the mainstream society and, as Morrissey (2000: 314) points out, they have adopted, willingly or unwillingly, the role of a representative for the Aboriginal community. In 6.1, we have noted that in the period from the 1960s onwards, Aboriginal cultural and political activism advanced the creation of a pan- Aboriginality, and in the 1970s and 1980s, Indigenous writers “voiced a sense of responsibility towards an Indigenous community” (Russo 2010a: 113). More recently, writers and playwrights of Aboriginal descent wish to be perceived as individuals rather than representing this wider community and have begun to foreground personal experience in their works rather than acting as spokespersons for the entire Aboriginal population. Demonstrating the diversity that exists in Aboriginal society – in terms of biological heritage, lifestyle, as well as identification and affiliation with individual groups – they make their readers and audiences aware of their multiple identities. The complexity of presentday Aboriginal identity is best illustrated by two statements by Wesley Enoch and Jimmy Chi, two of the authors whose work will be discussed in the following chapters. In a speech given at the 2012 Song Summit in Sydney, Enoch sketches his complicated heritage: My father’s side of the family is Noonuccal Ngugi, as well as Goenpul and Kaanju. My father’s father’s family is from Stradbroke Island, my father’s mother’s family are from Babinda and out through into Lockhart River [an Aboriginal community on Cape York Peninsula, K.L.] in the north of Queensland. […] I have a great-grandfather called Fernando Gonzales who’s a Filipino fisherman […]. As well as the whole Scottish-Irish-English breed. [...] On my mother’s side of the family, I have a great-grandfather who’s Spanish, a great-grandmother who’s Danish, ... and Irish, and English, and all those other things ‘cause all you white people interbreed somehow. (Song Summit’s channel 2012). Chi points out the problems with self-identification which may arise from a mixed heritage. He also touches on another issue, viz. that of acceptance by others – in this case, his acceptance as Aboriginal person by the Aboriginal community. Born in the Western Australian town of Broome, Chi’s heritage mirrors the ethnic diversity found in this former centre of the pearling industry: I was born in Broome in 1948 of a Japanese-Chinese father and of an Aboriginal-Scottish mother. [...] In some respects I can’t come to terms with my own Aboriginality. I’d like to research my language, my culture on the Aboriginal side – but at the same time I’d like to research those other ethnic groups that I belong to as well. I think to become a complete human being you’ve got to look at the history of all your composites. I feel I can make a contribution to Australia as an Aboriginal. I can’t say I’m Chinese, I can’t say I’m Scottish. I can say I’m Aboriginal; but will the Aboriginal people themselves look on me as Aboriginal? (Jimmy Chi 1991: 24f, emphasis in original) 135 Portraying the diversity of Aboriginal experience and culture, and more importantly still, the variety of existing identities, Aboriginal authors correct the mainstream society’s perceptions of what constitutes Aboriginality and who qualifies as an Aboriginal person. Until today, stereotypes of the ‘authentic’ ‘full blood’ Aboriginal, generally associated with ‘traditional’ forms of living in the bush, stand in contrast to the urban, ‘hybrid’ or ‘part-Aboriginal’, deprived of his/her culture (Schürmann-Zeggel 1999: 58ff). Often, those who do not correspond to the prevailing picture of Aboriginal Australians, due to their physical appearance, language use, education, way of life, or for any other reason – that is, those who are perceived as being ‘not Aboriginal enough’ – continuously have to assert their identity (Heiss 2003: 21). At the same time, they are also not accepted as equals in the white mainstream society. As Tiffin (1985: 156) suggests, the prevailing rejection of people of Aboriginal descent as the ‘other’ by white Australian society is the major reason why many Australians of mixed heritage prefer to identify with the Indigenous community rather than with the mainstream society, rejecting those who reject them. Just as the mainstream society accents their Aboriginal heritage as a reason for exclusion, people of mixed descent rely on it for their selfidentification as Aboriginal person. The poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal (then Kath Walker) argued the point in an interview: No-one ever recognised my white blood in me all these years – why the hell should I have to declare it now? I don’t want to declare it. To hell with the white blood in me! I’m Black. [...] It’s been forced upon me, I’m glad it’s been forced upon me now. I hated it in the first place, but I’m glad it’s happened this way, because I’d rather be black than white now... (Davidson, Jim. 1977. Interview with Kath Walker in Meanjin, vol. 36(4): 434f). Despite recurrent manifestations of racism, suppression, and inequality experienced by Indigenous people in Australia, one of the main goals of many authors is to express a feeling of confidence and pride in their heritage and to stress the value of Aboriginal culture. Mainstream media representations of the culturally deprived Aboriginal often negate the possibility of an independent, authentic cultural identity in the 21st century (Schürmann-Zeggel 1999: 23). The literary portrayal of Aboriginal culture in its present-day forms counteracts such notions of a total loss of culture. Rather, it emphasises its non-static and changing nature and the many aspects which have survived until the present day. Authors use their texts to ‘educate’ their non-Aboriginal readership by introducing them to their cultural heritage, disseminating cultural and religious knowledge, and presenting Aboriginal socio-cultural perspectives. Others intend to portray and discuss Australian colonial history and its effects from the often neglected standpoint of the Australian Aboriginal population. Contemporary Aboriginal literary writing is generally assumed to have begun in earnest with the publication of Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s first volume of 136 poetry We Are Going in 1964 which “ended a period of white deafness by bringing a powerful Aboriginal voice into earshot of large, mainstream audiences both in Australia and overseas” (van Toorn 2000b: 29)21. The publication of Noonuccal’s collection of poetry coincided with a period of increased Aboriginal political activism and major socio-political changes that would affect the lives of many Aboriginal people, and Shoemaker (1989: 6) suggests that the growing numbers of texts published by Aboriginal authors during this period reflect this climate of change. Aboriginal authors started to perceive creative writing as a means to raise their voices and raise awareness about their concerns and the situation of Aboriginal Australians in the wider Australian society. Many of the works published in the 1960s and 1970s were written in the spirit of a time when Aboriginal politics stepped into the national spotlight. Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Jack Davis, Kevin Gilbert, and Colin Johnson, also known under his noms-de-plume Murooroo Narogin and Nyoongah22, are generally considered the pioneers of contemporary Aboriginal writing (van Toorn 2000b: 29f). In the 1970s and 1980s, these and other Aboriginal writers and artists often found themselves faced with accusations that their works were political rather than artistic. Many pointed out that this necessarily had to be so, given the role they played in Australian society. Jack Davis argued the point when he explained that his plays could not but be political, since “to confront white and black audiences with a truthful uncompromised picture of urban Aboriginal life is in itself political” (quoted in Casey 2004: xxi). Portraying past and present aspects of Aboriginality in Australia and describing the socio-political 21 As Russo (2007: 98) points out, many scholarly publications on the subject of Aboriginal literature follow the convention of locating the beginnings of Australian Aboriginal writing in the second half of the 20th century when poetry and life stories authored by people of Aboriginal and Torres Islander attracted the eye of non-Indigenous publishing houses. Other works refer to Davis Unapion’s Native Legends, written in the 1920s, as the starting point of Aboriginal writing. These approaches are obviously based on an understanding of Aboriginal literature that focuses on fictional or non-fictional works of art composed for the entertainment of a mostly Anglo-Australian readership and underline that, for a long time, “letters, poems, essays, pamphlets, newspaper articles, petitions, speeches, traditional stories, and traditional inscriptive practices, which precede the date of the conventional classification of the commencement of Indigenous Australian writing in the 1960s, have been overlooked as legitimate forms of literature” (Russo 2007: 98). For the sake of conciseness, we will nevertheless follow the same approach here. 22 Colin Johnson’s heritage and his identity as Aboriginal Australian have been put into question in the mid-1990s and the author himself eventually confirmed that he did not have and Aboriginal family background (Gibbs 1998: 43). This revelation, together with the exposure of other authors as of non-Aboriginal heritage set in motion a debate on authenticity and identity in Aboriginal writing (see for example Heiss (2003) on this matter). 137 consequences of two centuries of suppression, early writers attempted to correct perceptions of present-day Aboriginal society and confronted prevailing racist attitudes and injustice, re-writing Australian history from an Aboriginal perspective. 7.2 Australian Aboriginal Drama Since the 1960s Aboriginal writing has increased in quantity, and in the last few decades it has also gained in importance and recognition as authors have begun to reach a widening audience. The same can be said about Australian Aboriginal drama which, since its beginnings in the early 1970s with Kevin Gilbert’s The Cherry Pickers, has developed into an important branch of Australian theatre that now receives attention by critics and audiences alike. Already in the 1990s, Katherine Brisbane, theatre critic and co-founder of Currency Press, contended that Aboriginal drama was “the most important new Australian voice and one which will, in due course, be the most widely heard in other countries” (Brisbane 1995: 15). Like their colleagues from the fields of fiction and life-writing, Aboriginal playwrights have come to the attention of curriculum developers, and Aboriginal drama texts are being studied at High School and University level. The texts written for the stage tell stories out of the lives of Indigenous Australians and portray aspects of Australia’s colonial past and present as experienced by different generations of Aboriginal people. According to Glow (2007: 21), the effects on potential audiences are diverse: Aboriginal audiences are educated about and get the chance to recognise their own culture that is celebrated in these plays. At the same time, non-Aboriginal audiences take part in an intercultural dialogue which addresses and recognises grievances that Aboriginal people have had to face in the past and may even continue to experience. They become aware of how racial and cultural background determines the life experiences of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians and are presented with multiple facets of ‘Australian-ness’. Since the 1970s, we can observe a change in the contents that have been portrayed. Casey (2009: 193) maintains that the greater part of the early plays were concerned with contemplating “contemporary issues of survival”, and many of the texts written during the first wave of Aboriginal drama in the 1970s and 1980s have an unmistakeable political message. Since the 1990s, many plays have focused on (auto-)biographic storytelling as Aboriginal playwrights have used their own set of histories to appropriate the official mainstream perspective (Glow 2007: 23). Other texts blend individual and shared history and narrate collective stories, while again others describe indi- 138 vidual fates and life choices and treat an array of themes related to contemporary forms of Aboriginal identity and black and white coexistence in modern Australian society. Only a part of the drama texts authored by Indigenous playwrights have been published, individually or in collections of plays such as the volumes Blak Inside (2002) and Contemporary Indigenous plays (2007). On stage, these plays provide “an immediate and total sensory impact” (Shoemaker 1989: 12) on their audiences, creating effects that the written word cannot achieve. According to Shoemaker, this immediate impact is one of the reasons why many writers who are concerned with informing the mainstream society about the socio-political and socio-cultural situation of the Australian Indigenous population choose drama as their preferred medium. Of all the different literary genres, drama probably comes closest to precolonial oral traditions. “Theatre offers an opportunity to use all the talents of speech and body-movement present in Aboriginal oral literature and dance since time began”, as Jack Davis (in Chesson 1988: 191) explains. Many of the characteristics of contemporary Aboriginal drama, e.g. the emphasis on storytelling, the inclusion of music and song, and a strong sense of humour, reflect Aboriginal modes of expression. On the linguistic level, the inclusion of material from Aboriginal languages further underlines this link and Glow (2007: 32) suggests that the incorporation of untranslated traditional language elements provides an immediate cultural context that is essential to fully appreciate the character of the works. According to her, it further constitutes a technique that “calls to attention the relationship between language and power and underlines the reality, vibrancy, and currency of contemporary Indigenous cultural life”. The Aboriginal language material used in drama texts can thus be seen as the writers’ successful attempt to preserve elements of their cultural heritage in contemporary representations of Aboriginality. Like the modern Aboriginal language ecology, these characteristics underline the transforming potential of a culture which, while being anchored in one of the world’s oldest cultural traditions, has adapted to the challenges it faces in the 21st century and constitutes a framework which provides a meaningful source for self-representation. 7.3 Language Use in Aboriginal Literature As van Toorn (2000b: 30) points out, the pioneers of Aboriginal writing “faced a linguistic dilemma” when they started writing in the 1960s and 1970s. In their early poetry, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Jack Davis and others used Standard English to write about Aboriginal issues and express Aboriginal voices. Those 139 who did not adhere to the requirements of the standard language, such as Kevin Gilbert, had to see their works extensively revised by their editors to live up to the readers’ expectations. In later years, Aboriginal authors increasingly embraced and enforced the use of AborE in their works, in an attempt to narrate their stories and the stories of other Aboriginal people in the language of the people. Until today, however, financial and other reasons continue to dictate a language use that takes into consideration the expectations of the (mostly white) readership. Many authors adjust the language they employ in their writing according to the audience they intend to reach. For most, their main goal is to inform their audience about past and present aspects of the Aboriginal experience and they are aware that in order to do so, it is crucial to make the texts accessible for readers. As a consequence, authors often attempt to reconcile their own and their audience’s expectations by “adapting largely western genres and integrating them with sufficient AborE to produce a discernible and distinct Aboriginal flavour” (Gibbs (1995), quoted in Rochecouste (2002: 66)). Also, many authors, especially those of the earlier generations, have had to deal with editors and publishing houses that were unwilling to recognise the value of AborE varieties for their works and tried to limit the use of the dialect in their publications. Only few have successfully resisted the editorial makeover of their work. Among them is Robert Bropho, whose autobiographic novel Fringedwellers (1980) has been published without any changes or corrections to his use of English. His work emphasises the need for an authentic representation of Aboriginal discourse but also confronts the non- Aboriginal reader with a language that greatly challenges the understanding of the text (Schürmann-Zeggel 1999: 156ff). More often than not, however, editors have attempted a standardisation of the written language, and Bruce Moore (2008: 190) suggests that up to the 1980s, “it was the usual practice for writings in Aboriginal English to be ‘sanitised’ by white editors”. Only in the last decades, an increasing number of works has been published without this type of interference. With the establishment of Aboriginal publishing houses and a growing involvement of Aboriginal editors in the publishing process, editorial practices have been changing towards a more authentic representation of Aboriginal speech styles. Some critics have shown to be rather ignorant of the value of Aboriginal Englishes for Aboriginal writing. Raines (1991: 102), for example, suggests that the English dialect used in the writings of Aboriginal authors (incorrectly referred to as a ‘pidgin’), is unfit to express Aboriginal identity and act as a tool for cross-cultural communication: “It is unlikely that such a clumsy instrument is capable of fully expressing the diversities of Aboriginal experience without distortion”. Contemplating the degree to which the pre-colonial language ecology has been destroyed in the past two centuries, we may wonder what might be a more suitable instrument. 140 Other commentators show a more sensitive understanding of the role played by Aboriginal varieties of English in the communication of Aboriginal issues. As Russo (2010a: 42) points out, “Indigenous Australian writers have diversely interrogated the English language as an ideological tool for colonial consent and for the discursive reduction of the multiplicity of Indigenous cultures”. Hence, the authors’ use of distinctly Aboriginal varieties of English resists the Anglo-Australian society’s contention that their variety of English is the only acceptable one. Moreover, because of its heterogeneous character, grounded largely in the wide range of substrate influences, AborE calls back to mind the diverse pre-contact language ecology and stresses the linguistic variety that prevails today. In many literary works, his or her use of language allows the author to relate to other speakers who share the particular variety featured. Many texts exhibit a regional orientation as authors choose a variety of English that makes reference to their own cultural and linguistic background. These varieties generally embrace a number of Aboriginal language terms that mark the author’s affiliation with a group of people and a particular region. Yet, the language chosen can also serve a number of other functions, e.g. it may evoke multiple lifestyles and mindsets and associate characters with an urban or rural environment, cultural and linguistic assimilation vs. cultural maintenance, etc., as well as with different social groups. On a stylistic level, careful choice of language may be essential to enforce irony or render the character’s speech more authentic. As has been pointed out above, language may further assist the inclusion or exclusion of (some parts of) the audience or readership (Russo 2007: 57f). Many authors exploit forms of AborE not only in a deliberate attempt to stress a particular heritage or background, but also wish to convey contemporary Aboriginal experience and transmit deeper cultural and social meanings. For them “many of the ways of constructing reality can only be expressed using Aboriginal English” (Rochecouste 2002: 66). Originally a foreign language, the colonisers’ tongue has been adopted as a source of stylistic creativity on the one hand and as a tool for conveying cultural and religious concepts on the other. By doing so, Aboriginal writers create the possibility of a ‘counter-discourse’ in a field in which the viewpoints of the non-Indigenous Australian community still dominate. Ariss (1988: 132f) proposes that the position of Aboriginal people [...] is changing in Australia and I do not think this is attributable to an evolving state benevolence in itself. The intervention of Aborigines [sic] has been an essential force behind these innovations. It is they who are establishing progressively greater control over the constructions of Aboriginality. Including AborE in their texts, these authors acknowledge a linguistic reality, viz. they portray how the English language is used by Aboriginal people 141 to fulfil their communicative needs. In a work on the functions of Caribbean English-lexicon creoles in writing, Mühleisen (2002: 184) asserts that “writing is one of the most important socio-cultural domains in determining language prestige”. This assumption is equally true for dialects which differ from the national standard. As such, the use of Aboriginal forms of English in writing includes a socio-political dimension in that it contributes not only to a growing understanding of these varieties outside of academic circles, but also to their being accepted as linguistic forms in their own right. With the recognition of Aboriginal varieties of English comes recognition of the cultural concepts inherent in them. 7.4 Lexical Appropriation in Australian Aboriginal Drama By now it should be evident that facets of language use constitute major tools for the representation of an Aboriginal identity in the works of Aboriginal Australian writers. In many colonial and post-colonial contexts in which a Western language has become a tool for the repression or even (partial) destruction of the languages spoken before colonisation, indigenous authors often resort to strategies which allow them to convey a distinct cultural identity while using the dominant society’s language. Two of the processes commonly employed to achieve this are known as ‘abrogation’ and ‘appropriation’. These enable authors to adapt the “language of the center” (Ashcroft et al. 2002: 37) to suit their own purposes, an act which not only allows them to describe a different set of socio-cultural realities but also triggers a shift in the power relations inherent in the use of the mainstream society’s language. The term ‘abrogation’ refers to “the refusal of the categories of the imperial culture, its aesthetic, its illusory standard of normative or ‘correct’ usage, and its assumption of a traditional and fixed meaning ‘inscribed’ in the words” (Ashcroft et al. 2002: 37). While abrogation thus involves the rejection of the standard language as the only legitimate norm of communication, ‘appropriation’ describes a process “by which the language is taken and made to ‘bear the burden’ of one’s own cultural experience” so that it may be “adopted as a tool and utilised in various ways to express widely differing cultural experiences” (Ashcroft et al. 2002: 38). Although the two are distinct processes, abrogation and appropriation are closely connected in the sense that the latter springs from the former. While the use of a variety other than StE per se constitutes an act of abrogation, the features through which this variety is adapted to its new surroundings and contexts, that is, those features which render it different from the standard language, represent instances of appropriation. How speakers of AborE appropriate the English language to ‘bear the cultural burden’ of Aboriginality is perhaps most readily recognised at the 142 lexical level where characteristic AborE lexical elements describe unique sociocultural concepts and favour the formation of a distinct cultural identity. In order to fulfil these functions, language needs to bridge the socio-cultural differences that exist between the Aboriginal community and the Australian mainstream society. In literary forms such as the novel or drama, authors may accomplish this by accustoming their readers or audiences not only to their linguistic heritage, but also by introducing them to different aspects of Aboriginal culture, such as cultural or religious beliefs and practices, the structure of Aboriginal society, or perceptions of kin- and social relationships. Yet, recognition of these concepts can only be achieved when the terms employed to describe them are correctly understood. Here, borrowings or code-switches may cause difficulties as they involve a code unfamiliar to members of the dominant society. What is more, they frequently reveal an underlying conceptual system that is different from that of the mainstream society, which is also why borrowings and code-switches often defy a verbatim translation into the dominant language. However, English elements, too, can cause confusion on the part of the reader or audience. Above we have seen that the lexicon of AborE heavily relies on English terms which exhibit semantic modification or a usage unparalleled in AusE. Hence, they combine an established form with a meaning that belongs to an Aboriginal conceptual word. As such, the inclusion of AborE vocabulary items in texts authored by Indigenous Australians creates what is known as the ‘metonymic gap’, viz. “that cultural gap formed when appropriations of a colonial language insert unglossed words, phrases or passages from a first language, or concepts, allusions or references which may be unknown to the reader” (Ashcroft et al. 2009: 122f). These appropriations, most notably the readily identified borrowings and code-switches from indigenous languages, take on a synecdochic function in that they stand for the colonised culture in the way that a part stands for the whole. At the same time, their “resistance to interpretation” creates a gap between Aboriginal and mainstream culture. As such, the insertion of foreign language elements enables the author to [...] represent his or her world to the coloniser (and others) in the metropolitan language, and at the same time signal and emphasize a difference from it. In effect, the writer is saying ‘I am using your language so that you will understand my world, but you will also know by the differences in the way I use it that you cannot share my experience’ (Ashcroft et al. 2009: 123). Linguistic appropriation therefore serves to alert the non-Aboriginal readers to the fact that they are dealing with a text that embraces socio-cultural norms and world-views which differ from their own. In contrast to other literary works that are written with the intention to be read, drama is written to be performed. Therefore, theatre audiences lack the opportunity to apply strategies that ensure a better understanding of the language which are available for the written text, such as the possibility to re-read 143 single passages. In addition, while a number of authors of fiction and lifestories enhance their readers’ understanding by providing glossaries, often in the form of wordlists that are outside the main text, theatre audiences generally cannot revert to this instrument. In her analysis of indigenisation strategies in the West African Europhone novel, Zabus (1991: 158ff) discusses the techniques of ‘cushioning’, and ‘contextualisation’ both of which provide alternatives to the glossing of unknown terms and facilitate readers’ comprehension of words and phrases from the authors’ native languages. The term ‘cushioning’ describes the strategy of adding an English explanatory word or phrase to a foreign language term, while in the case of ‘contextualisation’, the interpretation of a term’s meaning is supported by providing immediate context. Yet, she points out that cushioning and contextualisation strategies may involve serious pitfalls: an explanatory tag used for cushioning may prove to be an oversimplified rendition of the original meaning which can result in an incorrect understanding on the part of the reader and an inadequate rendition of the concept in the European language which, in turn, is reinforced as the linguistic norm. Contextualisation, on the other hand, may result in a “guessing game” (Zabus 1991: 161) unless sufficient context is provided. Both may further introduce a somewhat artificial flavour to the text. Despite these drawbacks, authors who resort to the inclusion of words from their native or ancestral languages and the techniques discussed call attention to the fact that the European language is unfit to describe the culture of the colonised country: We have seen that the twin methods of cushioning and contextualisation reveal the ultimate untransferability of the African logos and “other” the European language by fixing its function to that of providing an area of immediate context “cushioning” the African word or phrase. These methods seem to indicate that the European language is so foreign or, more exactly, so “other” that it cannot convey African culture (Zabus 1991: 182). The omission of cushioning or contextualisation strategies contributes to a more authentic language use. At the same time, it makes the text more confusing for those unfamiliar with the language and authors run the risk of alienating their readership. Nevertheless, authors sometimes deliberately choose to include uncushioned borrowings and stretches of traditional language precisely because they wish to create particular effects, and Ashcroft et al. (2002: 63) provide several examples of how the refusal to explain unknown words may be used to establish English as the ‘other’ language, underline cultural differences, or force the reader to become more involved with the cultural contexts which inform the texts. When techniques for a better understanding of the language lack or fail, however, this has consequences for the transmission of cultural information: audiences unable to understand the 144 meaning of a particular term remain ignorant of the cultural significance associated with the concept and cannot appreciate the reasons for the term’s use.

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Abstract

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.