2 Studies of Aboriginal English – Where Do WeStand? in:

Katja Lenz

Lexical Appropriation in Australian Aboriginal Literature, page 19 - 22

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

Tectum, Baden-Baden
Bibliographic information
19 2 Studies of Aboriginal English – Where Do We Stand? Like the creoles, forms of Aboriginal English have long been denigrated as incorrect and incomplete linguistic codes, an attitude which also reflects on how they are perceived by the speakers themselves. Until today, some Aboriginal people feel that AborE is ‘bad English’ while others have gained pride in their own dialect (Eades & Siegel 1999: 266). The systematic linguistic description of these varieties has contributed to a change in the way they are seen today. Still, it was not until the late 1960s that Aboriginal English became the subject of academic study. Since then, numerous works have appeared which deal with a wide range of aspects of AborE (see for example Kaldor & Malcolm (2004) for an overview of publications from the period 1970-1990, as well as Eades (2014), Malcolm (2000b), and Leitner (2004b)). Yet, despite the number of publications that were available by the end of the 20th century, Kaldor & Malcolm (2004: 69f) argued that these fail to provide an all-encompassing picture. Rather, they suggest, the work of the past decades has created “a jigsaw puzzle from which many pieces are still missing but in which some major patterns are detectable”. Recently, new approaches to the study of AborE have tried to fill the existing gaps, but there still remains ample scope for further research (see for example Eades (2014) who discusses possible contexts and fields of research). In the following, we will provide a rough sketch of the major works on AborE published so far. This should not be taken as an exhaustive list of all publications on the subject, rather, the works discussed below largely reflect subject areas that are also addressed in the present thesis and the literature consulted in this context. What is more, a large number of works on AborE are unpublished bachelor, master, or PhD theses. While some of these are available online, many are not accessible and have thus not been considered here. For information on further studies of Aboriginal English, readers are advised to consult the publications mentioned above. A large part of the publications on Aboriginal English are linguistic descriptions that take into account a wide range of features and often cover several domains of the language, including phonology, morphology and syntax, the lexicon, pragmatics, and discourse structure. a) Linguistic Description Many studies focus on a particular geographical location and describe particular regional varieties of Aboriginal English. One of the first studies of regional AborE varieties was the Queensland Speech Survey conducted in the 1960s under E.H. Flint (e.g. Flint 1968). Eades (1983, 1988) focuses on AborE in south- 20 east Queensland and Kaldor & Malcolm (1982) study the speech of Western Australian Aboriginal primary school children. Eagleson (1982) investigates AborE in Sydney, and so do Malcolm & Koscielecki (1997) whose work also includes information on properties of other varieties of AborE. Sutton (1975) investigates Cape Barren English spoken on the Cape Barren Islands in the Bass Strait and Wilson’s study (1996) is an unpublished description of South Australian Nunga English. Fesl belongs to a still comparingly small group of Aboriginal researchers. Her 1977 thesis investigates Aboriginal English in Melbourne. According to Malcom (2000b: 17), research on AborE developed a broader focus in the 1980s and studies moved away from centring on the differences between AborE and StAusE. The aforementioned thesis by Eades (1983), fittingly entitled English as an Aboriginal Language in Southeast Queensland, is one example of an early work which points out the existence of deviating pragmatic principles, and identifies communicative intentions and interpretations that deviate from StAusE. Harkins (1994) is a detailed study of the properties of AborE varieties used around Alice Springs which also takes into account the substrate influence of the local languages. b) Varieties of Aboriginal English Other works on AborE have a more general character and either discuss widely shared characteristics common to more than one variety or contrast features from different varieties, e.g. Butcher (2008), Eades (1996), Harkins (2000), Kaldor & Malcolm (2004), Malcom (2001a and 2001b), Malcolm & Grote (2007), Malcolm & Koscielecki (1997). Leitner (2004b) and (2007) discuss different aspects of AborE in the context of the wider pre- and post-colonial Aboriginal language ecology. Malcolm (2000a) provides a summary of Malcolm & Koscielecki’s 1997 findings and also compares them to features observed in 19th century varieties. Many of the above studies also consider the social and other functions that AborE fulfils for its speakers and the contexts in which it is used. Eades & Siegel (1999) further address the status of AborE changing from ‘bad English’ towards a linguistic marker of Aboriginal identity. c) Developmental Studies Again other works adopt a historical perspective and investigate the origins and the development of AborE and its relationship to Australian pidgins and creoles, as for example Amery & Mühlhäusler (1996), Mühlhäusler (1996b, 1996c, 1996d), Mühlhäusler & McGregor (1996), all of which are found in Wurm, Mühlhäusler & Tryon’s Atlas of languages of intercultural communication in the Pacific, Asia and the Americas, or Sandefur (1983). Troy (1990) offers a comprehensive description of the emergence of NSW Pidgin, one of the contact varieties that preceded the development of AborE. Her findings are summarised in Troy (1993). Foster, Monaghan & Mühlhäusler (2003) further provide information on the lexicon of early AborE in the south of Australia. See 21 also Meakins (2014) for a discussion of the literature on Australian contact varieties. d) Aboriginal English in Education Detailed linguistic descriptions of AborE varieties are also frequently found in works which discuss AborE in educational contexts or provide guidelines and resources for teachers of Aboriginal students. Those consulted for the present work include Christie (1987), Department of Education and Department of Training and Workplace Development (2012), Eagleson, Kaldor & Malcolm (1982), Königsberg & Collard (2002), as well as Malcolm (1979), (1994a), and Malcom & Königsberg (2007). Many more works have studied AborE in education contexts and several are listed in the above mentioned sources. e) Studies focussing on individual aspects of Aboriginal English Some authors have published works which concentrate on individual aspects of AborE such as the lexicon, e.g. Arthur (1990, on kinship terms) and (1996). Malcolm & Sharifian (2007) define the morphological and syntactic mechanisms which AborE speakers use to express concepts not found in StE. Several studies investigate AborE discourse genres and conceptual schemas (e.g. Malcolm 1980-1982, 1994b, Malcolm & Rochecouste 2000, Malcom & Sharifian 2002, Sharifian 2001, Muecke 1981). Diana Eades has published widely on distinct communicative strategies of AborE speakers and resulting implications for the treatment of Aboriginal people within the legal system; she has also written a handbook for legal practitioners (Eades 1992). Several of her works are published in Eades (2013) and many more are listed in Eades (2014). Sharifian (e.g. 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007) has investigated cultural conceptualisations manifested in AborE. His work largely contributes to the theoretical foundation for our own research and will be discussed in more detail below. Malcolm (2013) addresses questions of language ownership, identity, and language rights. A few of the aforementioned publications (e.g. Kaldor & Malcolm 2004, Malcolm & Grote 2007) also consider the role of AborE for the written medium, and in 2000, Malcolm (2000b: 22) remarked, “Another developing area of focus is the analysis of Aboriginal English as it has been used increasingly in literature by Aboriginal authors”. He points out the work undertaken by Gibbs (1998) who provides a linguistic analysis of Sally Morgan’s My Place and Jack Davis’ No Sugar in her unpublished MEd dissertation Educating readers: Aboriginal English in Aboriginal literature. Still, sixteen years later, the author of the present thesis would like to disagree with Malcolm and argue that the linguistic study of how and to what end AborE varieties are employed in literary texts has deserved too little attention. Malcolm (2014) himself provides a feature analysis of an AborE text authored by Glenyse Ward. However, to my knowledge, only few other extensive linguistic analyses exist of the lan- 22 guage featured in creative literature authored by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons, especially in regard to the role of the AborE lexicon as a resource for appropriation. Among the works written by an Aboriginal playwright, Jack Davis’ plays are probably those which have been most frequently discussed, analysed, and commented on by scholars from various fields, especially by those working in the area of theatre and literature studies. Some of them, including Shoemaker (1989), Hodge & Mishra (1991), and Polak (2009) have also remarked on the language of Davis’ plays. Yet, most of their observations are either concerned with individual features or provide a cursory look at the effects achieved by the inclusion of Aboriginal language words. Only Russo (2007, 2010a and 2010b) examines the issue in more detail. In her doctoral thesis (2007, published as Russo 2010b), she investigates how “appropriations of the English language, writing and visual art, provide [...] a terrain for discussing unexplored issues of intercultural representation, epistemology and interpretation” (Russo 2007: iv). In this context, she explores how persisting experiences of institutionalisation, suppression, racism, and cultural misunderstanding are presented and negotiated in Davis’ plays and also discusses the role of untranslated Nyoongah words and phrases inserted in his plays. Still, Russo’s approach differs from that of the present work in a number of aspects as she analyses different appropriation strategies in literary texts against the background of how these are employed as tools for obtaining control over literary self-representation and aid in the decolonisation of literary forms that continue to be defined by the colonial legacy. “Situated at the crossroads between Indigenous and Postcolonial studies” (Russo 2007: iv), her approach is not so much a linguistic one. In addition, while she, too, investigates how language is employed to communicate Aboriginal realities and which effects linguistic appropriation has on the reader, she is not concerned with a more detailed description of the nature of these appropriations, their role within the lexicon of AborE, and their function in connection with the expression and transmission of salient cultural concepts. Her findings will be referred to when appropriate to complement the present analysis.

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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.