This term is most often used to refer to 'white' Standard Australian English (SAE). Some of its features are:
Australians speak fast, slurring, avoiding enunciating syllables. Since the reason given for this is the prevalent tenacious blow-fly that tends to fly around the mouth, this tendency is much weaker in the cities than in the country. Instead of 'Are you going to have a shower' they say 'Yagunna avashowr?'
Another theory offered is that Australian men do not like to waste valuable drinking time. Thus beware of 'Wadincha?' meaning 'why didn't you?'
As a general rule 'g' does not exist, in fact: 'd', 't' or 'g' at the end of the word cease to exist in 'I gotta las bleedin roun!'
Finally, it is worth noting that inflection and stress tend to be on the last syllable of an utterance, and the pitch rises as if you were asking a question.
White Australian English originates from humble beginnings, to say the least. Together with features from very lower class English accents, sounds from the Australian habitat also affected the way words are pronounced. Thus, the 'a' in 'baastard' sounds very much like the noise a sheep makes while being strangled.
The further one goes into the country, the broader and harsher the accents: 'I' becomes 'Oi loike' and 'salt' becomes 'solt'.
In the bush, 'day' sounds like 'die', giving rise to the famous World War 2 joke in which a British soldier approached an Australian soldier and asked him if he had come to die. The soldier said 'no, he had come yesterday'.
Lots to report on. I will only mention one obvious feature. The word 'but' tends to be used as a replacement of 'however', for example: 'I'm not sure, but'.
This is the most noticeable area in which Australian English varies from British English. The Dinkum Dictionary, the 'Ripper Guide to Aussie English', needs 512 pages to list some of the most common words and expressions that bemuse the overseas visitor.
Striking are the many abbreviations ending in '-o', such as 'Darlo' for 'Darlinghurst', 'arvo' for 'afternoon', 'garbo' for 'garbologist', the refuse collector, 'lezzo' for 'lesbian' and 'mo' for 'moustache'. (note the similarity to company names in Eastern Nijmegen, such as the Wanco, '.. ). Other abbreviations end in '-ie', like 'veggies' for 'vegetables', 'kindie' for 'Kindergarten', 'mozzie' for 'mosquito', and 'cardie' for 'cardigan'. Even 'Australia' is abbreviated to 'Oz'.
Many words describe concepts unique to the Australian way of life, such as ■bog wagon■ or ■shaggin wagon■, a panel van with a dashboard fully lined in fur, the back fully carpeted and fitted with the latest super stereo, a mattress inside and a sticker on the back bumper stating ■Do■n bother knockin if ya see this car rockin'.
Most popular among my students are the great range of names for various parts of the body. The overhead depicts the smaller set, describing various parts of a man's rear. OVERHEAD
And this is still a safe example: I was once asked for ■Durex■ and produced the wrong item as it was 'sticky tape' they were after.
This is too obvious an area for derision. More interesting are expressions like 'the biggest liar this side of the black stump' and 'you've got two chances, ours or buckleys '.
The origin of the first seems to lie in a mythical burnt out tree outside a remote suburb of Sydney beyond which the outback was supposed to be.
The other relates to a prisoner called Buckley who chose to leave the snake-ridden prison camps of French island and swim across the shark infested sea towards mainland Australia. Although the odds were stacked against him, he made it and lived as a free man with aboriginees for many years.
Most noticeably different are outback words describing an upside down world. Wildlife is described in terms of brumbies (horses), dingoes (dogs specialised in baby kidnapping), goannas, kookaburras, galahs, koalas, possums among the best known species.
Bigger hazards are created by crocs and willy-willies (whirlwinds) and the mythical Bunyip but most of all blues in country hotels.
Place names are another source of confusion for the European Brit. There actually is a University of Wagga Wagga, and Leongatha is an existing town and the Nullabore can be extremely boring. Mind you, the Poms created 'Old Man's Hat' (Victoria) and 'Peach Melba' (NSW), which by the way has an East and West variant. Since most of these distinctly Australian words are derived from aboriginal words, delving into this lesser known version of Australian English may be more interesting.
I particularly wish to talk about the English used by the original Australians, sometimes referred to as 'Aboriginal English'.
The original Australians moved to Australia around 60,000 years ago, making their culture the oldest continuing culture on earth. They came from the north, across the landbridges connecting Australia to Papua New Guinea and Indonesia from Asia. OVERHEAD There is no evidence of any people already in Australia at that time. Aboriginal people settled across Australia, including Tasmania, and even lived in New Zealand. It is a little known among Europeans that the Aboriginal tribes there were removed by the Maori when they landed there in the 16th century. These Polinesean emigrants very quickly established themselves by literally eating the original inhabitants. This by the way is common practice in this region. Pockets of aboriginal groups remain on Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Java and New Guinea as well as islands north off Darwin like Christmas Island. Once in Australia, their expansion of settlements followed the rivers and inland seas south. Only one known aboriginal building exists but scores of refuse mounds, stone implements, charcoal fires and remains indicate the spread and age of aboriginal occupation.
The term 'Aboriginals' is strictly speaking not correct. It is actually an adjective, and more appropriate it seems to speak of 'Aboriginees'. In addition, North American and Canadian Indians have become very fond of the term, to show their indigenous rights and their link to other ancient people. Some however, prefer to use the name 'black fellas' to describe aboriginal people. Strictly speaking this is a derogatory term used by the 'white fellas' in the country, but aboriginal humour is such that they turn around the impact of the word; the term tells more about the speaker's character than about the person addressed. Nevertheless, it is more polite and politically correct to use ATSI, short for 'Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander'.
LANGUAGES AND CULTURES
The term 'Aboriginal' in addition is an umbrella term. There currently are 150 aboriginal cultures in Australia, covering a large diversity. Each culture has its own languages. The 's' is not a mistake.
I found it daunting to try and learn the language of one Warlpiri tribe, only to find that the children have their own language, the women have their own language, and the elders speak yet another language. All are related, but still distinct. The differences can be as close as say Dutch, German and Flemish, but there are also tribes which have larger distinctions.
Different vocabulary and grammar in each is used to mark differences in role, status and standing. For instance, 'koala' has several translations, such as ■banjora, boorbee, burrendong, carbora, coolabun, koob-bor, kulla, kur-bo-roo, nargoon, nurrumpi, wirngill' and 'yarri' to name a few. It all depends on who you are, where you see it and who you address.
LANGUAGE: LEARNING AND COMMUNICATION
The first question that springs to mind is then: how do they all communicate? The fact is that communication appears restricted when compared to western communication. Children are very much left to themselves when they are young. Older children look after younger ones, teaching them the rudiments of their language. They talk in terms of 'vroom vroom' for 'car' to use a modern English equivalent and only on reaching puberty do they acquire the language of adults. Acquire is a bit strong: they have a passive knowledge of the adult language, but then get permission (through initiation) to speak it. Puberty is a tough time for aboriginal children, as in traditional tribes this means the end of sheer uncontrolled bliss. During puberty the boys are separated from the tribe, often living 2-3 kilometres away from the main tribe. In this group of hunters they are taught the rudiments of hunting, of men secrets and men myths, and the basics of the men dreaming.
Life is very tough in this group of apprentices, and boys that do not pass the various tests are abandoned. In the old days they were left to fend for themselves, which invariably meant death; in the new days these boys move to the ■big smoke■, the cities. The ATSI training methods are very simple: you are shown how to throw a boomerang, how to work the woomera, which plants and berries to eat, and you are told the Rainbow serpent dreaming that explains how everything around you fits together. In songs the information is passed on to you, and once the 3 year apprenticeship has passed you must know all.
In a similar way languages are passed on. Words and grammar are also taught, though 'taught' is a big word: for instance, 'marlu' is a word for 'kangaroo' in Warlpiri, so when one animal hops along and you are told the corresponding word 'marlu', you are supposed to have acquired that word from that moment onwards. You are ridiculed every time you say 'what was that word again?' or when you use an incorrect or synonym word, and of course the word 'marlu' means that you should also know that the words for 'kangaroo grazing', 'kangaroo lying' and 'kangaroo hopping along (coorie)' even though these are totally distinct. These situations are a great source of laughter and enjoyment for the others, thus stimulating you to learn quickly. No wonder the English colonists thought that 'kangaroo' denoted that strange hopping animal they kept seeing, whereas rumour has it that the Aboriginal word actually meant 'What is that over there?'
Errors in other subjects during apprenticeship are punished more severely, the most severe penalties being getting speared and being expelled from the group, and hence, life.
Back to communication: women speak a different language from men in most tribes. In some tribes marriages are arranged, in others attraction and affection are the main stimulus for marriage. Communication during courtship is usually very restricted, sometimes involving English to bridge the gap if the other person belongs to a different tribe, most often involving fights. Very little research has been done into this setting. As you may know, I married a Dutch person to be safe.
The women look after 'their things': providing food, helping the children and singing the songs of their dreaming. Men look after 'their things': hunting and visiting neighbouring tribes, teaching an apprentice child, and singing their own songs. Sometimes the tribe throws a huge party, a 'corroboree', sometimes involving intercourse with anyone from the opposite tribe (called 'Kunapipi'). This is purely functional, to confirm the mutual bonds within the group. But the communication restriction that always holds is: do not talk to your mother-in-law. In law■s are completely off-limit at all times. Only during the wedding ceremony mother-in-law can address and touch the groom: usually this results in swearing and cursing ('why did a drop-kick like you take my beautiful princess?') and a lot of beating. Again restrictions apply; she can only use the club and her bare hands, and as a result most grooms only escape with a broken bone or two. They say it is worth it, as after this time they are not allowed to see, touch or talk to one another.
DILEMMA: LANGUAGE AND ORAL HISTORY
Communication among the elders involves their own language. Elders and medicine men are, however, off-limits to anyone except the initiated, a fact severely hampering outside researchers. And even if one becomes initiated, strict copyright rules prevent one from telling anyone else. After all, the readers and audience this researcher will address is not initiated, and therefore not fit to know the information.
Knowledge is power, or in Aboriginal terms, survival. This dilemma means that what I know I cannot tell you, as I swore an oath not to tell any outsider. Ad Borsboom, a professor of Anthropology at this university, lived with a tribe in Arnhem land, and was told and taught a great deal. In his book 'The Land of the Honey bees.' he partly resolves this by telling the readers about general principles and what is done in other tribes.
For each 'Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander' (ATSI) language group, language was much more than a means of day-to-day communication. As with all other languages it is a means of group identification and contained embedded within it much of the culture, social values and world view of the language group. Adding to the crucial importance of ATSI language is the reliance on an oral heritage. Each language is a conduit of the group heritage which in many cases goes back thousands of years and conveys the history, culture and experience of the group. Stories and songs explain the origin of geological forms, of animals and of plants, their special features and their uses. Rituals, law, social mores and technology are conveyed through, and are part of, the language.
Similarly, their world view is embedded in the language that conveys it. This global view sees an individual, society, the land and nature as part of an integrated entity. The language that a person thinks in is an essential and distinctive part of that person.
RICHNESS IN THE LANGUAGE
Aboriginal language goes with the land. They are one, as the language tells the secrets of the land and its food, and tells the religion. The aboriginal language also contains the knowledge about survival in the songs that are sung. Each tribe is responsible for a certain allotment, and knows all about what lives there. The secrets of the herbs and fruits, for instance, how these can cure and kill, are stored in the oral history of the tribe, and only recently has been discovered by white pharmacist as a rich source of drugs when some herbs were found to kill cancer cells. The Australian Army therefore recently began a programme to record the rich natural wealth, with one of the most prominent offspring being the 'Bushtucker Man' programmes on Discovery Channel. Geologists found in the stories sung by Aborigines clues to rich deposits of gold and uranium. These examples illustrate that the death of a language results in a loss of knowledge and skills acquired over many 10,000 years. Knowledge about how prehistoric man may have lived, about the rich mineral deposits in the land, and about proper land management died with the languages.
SOME LINGUISTIC FEATURES
On the basis of the above one could claim that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages are an important part of Australia's cultural heritage. Their unique linguistic features are also significant in terms of world heritage. These languages are characterized by subtle and intricate grammars. Each language probably had a vocabulary of at least 10,000 words, which is about the size of the receptive vocabulary of the average citizen in any country today. Many languages have ancillary vocabularies for special relational speech styles. Special styles and vocabularies may be used amongst initiated men. An avoidance style including its own vocabulary is used in many languages when in the presence of someone with whom minimal contact is required by kinship rules, e.g. between a man and his mother-in-law. Kinship rules are quite elaborate and specific and govern a number of aspects of life such as marriagability. The terminology for these complex rules is embedded in language.
EXAMPLES OF COMPLEXITIES
Meanings are conveyed by root-sounds, to which accent, emphasis and reduplication add the finer shades. The contexts is all important to the interpretation, thus making it extremely difficult to translate. 'Yallum' denotes a native well or soak, 'yallock' a rippling stream and 'yarra' indicates rapids. The common root 'ya' means motion, so that 'yallum' is the slow deliberate motion of water working through sand up a well, 'yallock' the motion of water over pebbles, and 'yarra' the motion of water over a rapid. But 'yarra' can also be transferred to anything coming down, or hanging down. Thus 'yarraynee' indicated the river red gum with its long pendulous branches.
Another characteristic is that vowel quality is more important than consonants. The liquids 'l', 'm', 'n' and 'r' are frequently interchanged. Thus members of the same tribe use 'kulwin', 'kulwybe', 'kulkyne' and 'kulnine' to describe the dingo, the 'kul', howling. Sometimes these variations are culturally induced: when a close relative passes away, all words and expressions resembling his/her name must no longer be used for fear of invoking the departed spirit. This taboo becomes law the moment the person passes on. As a result, many synonymous expressions co-exist within the same group of people. The taboo also includes words in English.
Concepts are different. For instance, there is no general words as 'tree' for trees in general, but separate names for each species. The Murray river has no name as such, yet every bend has a particular name (like 'the fat-and-juicy place'. Different concepts from British English are illustrated in the following excerpt: ■The white child can tell the time before he goes to school. We did not have a clock. To me, the day was divided into sunrise, dinnertime and sunset. The seasons were simply Wet Weather, Cold Weather and Hot weather, with variations like Burnt Grass Time and Turtle Egg Time. I never heard of January, as I knew which month was from the flowering trees. We knew instinctively.■ (Waipuldanya)
Fortunately, onomatopoeic words abound. Birds are identified by their call, such as the 'Purdeet', 'Kellalac' or 'Ouyen', the native thrush . Much me imaginative than the British English names like 'blue wren', 'incredibly blue wren' , the 'Bell bird' and the 'yellow beak blue wren'.
Occasionally Australian English umbrella words are borrowed from English, sometimes superfluously. For instance the 'moot moot owl' actually contains the superfluous word 'owl' as 'moot moot' is already sufficient to indicate the type of owl.
All words have case-marking, similar to Latin, allowing free word order. For instance, in languags spoken on Groote Eylant there are 9 noun classes, and verbs incorporate the pronoun objects as well as subjects. Markings distinguish in number (one, dual and plural), whether the subject is included or not, and the relation of the speaker to the other person. For example 'to come' in Ungarinyin (Kimberleys) is:
sing. 1 ngialu
Dual 1 incl. ngariariwalu
1 excl. nyariariwalu
Plur. 1 incl. ngarialu
1 excl. nyarialu
There are eight 'skin' groups, each with a male and female version. (in Warlpiri male begins with 'j-', female with 'n-').
The numbering system is complicated: there are words for 10 up to 21, but none for anything under ten: these numbers have similar words. Thus 5 has the word 'hand', 8 has the word 'eyes'. Higher numbers are multiples; 72 = 3 x 20 plus 12. In such cases where aboriginal expressions become very long, aborigines switch to English. Here is what this sounds like: 'Like most aboriginal tongues, Waliburu has no words for figures other than 1 and 2; Wungain and Wuruja. We could count 3 and four by saying Wungain-Wuruja and Wuruja-Wuruja. After that we indicated numbers by using our fingers. In the broken-English known as pidgin which was used inter-tribally and for talking with the whites we had such phrases as 'little mob' to indicate an number upto 10.Between 10 and 20 was 'little-bit-big-feller-mob' and more than 20 was 'big mob'. But 33, 55 or 15 did not exist. Our teacher once tried to subdivide big-feller and little-feller mobs but he was confronted with unique maths.' (Waipuldanya)
Fingers are also used in a primitive inter-tribal sign language, involving the mouth and arms. An important one is the following:
'a hospitable man may tell one from another tribe to borrow one of his wives without opening his mouth, simply by clenching his fist at the breast and tapping his belly and thigh..' (Waipuldanya)
Finger talk has the added advantage that evil spirits cannot hear it.
Aboriginals also believe that muscle twitching is a means of communication. 'we do not use 'how strange, I was just thinking of you'. Instead we know that muscle twitching in the left eyelid refers to my cousins, the calves to my brothers, my right shoulder to my father.'
Prepositions tend to be replaced by words, and few directions and relations are described. 'In' and 'on' are most common. In English, certain prepositions of movement are rarely used, such as 'towards'.
ATSI groups basically took four directions as a result of European settlement:
They adopted another ATSI language of a larger community or sign language ■They adopted English
■They adopted Australian English
■They adopted Kriol < p> Increasingly, only those groups relatively isolated from external contact managed to retain strong languages. While some groups have lost their language and gained another ATSI language, most have lost it to English or Aboriginal English. English was the language of the colonizing settlers and its use was frequently insisted upon. It after all was and is the language of government, commerce and the courts and is aptly described as the language of power. It was the only language of education.
English is a prestige language and has considerable resources to back it up. It has a very large pool of fluent speakers and has an extensive written language heritage.
Consequently English has become a strong second language for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the first language for many of their children. To the extent that these children learned an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language it is much weaker through the lack of a full range of social opportunities to
The influence of English as the dominant language has increased exponentially with better communications and transport. Access to radio, and videos and television has been extended across Australia including the most remote areas. This has increased exposure to English language and worldwide English-speaking culture. Consequently, English has a wider daily use and, as an example, teenagers in those remote communities adopt rock music and fashions much the same as elsewhere in the world. Newspapers, magazines, comics and books have also encouraged English as a main language. In the last two decades, increased government interest in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs, including many government meetings conducted almost exclusively in English, has increased the pressure for communities to switch to English.
In view of the complicated communication rules, English is also often seen as a neutral lingua franca. Perhaps therefore it is best to stick to Aboriginal English, which is rapidly replacing the old tongues.
Ever since the arrival of the English in Australia the Aboriginal languages and cultures have been under threat. There have been settlers before the English, like the Mocassins from Madagaskar, Indonesians, Polineseans, possibly the Portugese and definitely the Dutch. However, all these visitors had in common that they acknowledged the presence of the Aboriginal people they encountered. There are persistent stories of Dutch shipwrecked sailors living with a tribe for some time, influencing the men to cut their beards and to wear large white colours in 17th century fashion.
The English, however, arrived in Australia as ■Terra Nullis, an empty country, thus ignoring the original inhabitants and their culture. Not until 1994 did the Australian-English officially recognise that Aboriginal people were the traditional owners of Australia. As you may imagine, this landmark decision has opened a Pandora■s box as far as landrights are concerned.
This decision also legitimised the efforts to record and maintain Aboriginal culture and language. When Cook and his gang arrived in Australia, about 200 tribal languages were used. European diseases like flu, smallpox and measles, disowning of religious sites and land, as well as ■culling■ (shooting) of Aborigines resulted in a reduction to 150 languages to date. Of these 150 languages, 50 odd involve large groups in which all varieties are regularly used. Only 11 have more than 2,000 speakers. The other languages are used by small groups or even individuals, often using only one variety. Strong aboriginal groups still live in the Northern Territories and the Kimberley region where they have more legal rights to live their traditional lives.
There are currently about 200,000 Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islanders (ATSI), only 10% of whom speak an ATSI language. The Census indicates 18.5% speaks this language at home on average; in the country 42% speaks an ATSI at home, in urban areas this is 6%. All cultural values are conveyed orally, and together with an absent overseas pool of speakers as is the case with European immigrants, this makes ATSI languages extremely vulnerable.
In addition to forced relocation and the dispersal of language communities thereby destroying their cohesion, intense assimilatory pressure was imposed on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to abandon their culture and language. The dormitory system and schools were part of that pressure. ATSI languages and culture were so demeaned that many parents came to think that their own language was not worth passing on to their children. Some sought to avoid embarrassment or punishment for their children by not teaching them language or sought success for their children by insisting they learn only English to equip them for a different future. This break in the transmission to children brought about by the dormitory system, the school system and through assimilatory pressure has been one of the major contributors to language loss in Australia.
PIDGIN AND CREOLE
So what is spoken then? Take this extract of a court case about a killing of a man, who killed the murderer■s dog because the medicine man had taken his kidney-fat (■honour■, ■soul■): 'Your name Budjirindja, eh?' 'You-ai' 'you bin savvy (=have knowledge of) that time big-feller trouble bin come-up alonga that dead-feller Roper River?' 'you-ai' 'arright, now, you tell this Big-Feller-Boss-Judge (=right honourable judge) all you know about that trouble, eh?' 'you-ai' 'No more what some other fella bin talk-talk. No more what some lubra (=grapevine) bin yabber yabber along you. Just what you do, what you se longa your own eye, what you hear longa your own ear. You savvy now?' 'you-ai' 'arright, Budjirindja, you remember that dead-feller, eh?' 'you-ai' (= Aboriginal law prevents talking about a dead man) 'You bin kill 'im, aint't it?' 'You-ai' 'how you bin kill 'im?' 'Longa shovel-spear' 'You bin throw that spear at that dead feller?' 'What-for you bin kil that dead-feller'? 'Dunno' (= Aboriginal law prevents anyone from telling outsiders about Aboriginal law, the sanctity of the tribal dogs, and the fact that the victim already was dead as a result of the curse on him) 'But you must know why you bin kill 'im?' 'Dunno, Might-be women trouble, I think■ (= This is what the white lawyers can understand, so then he will leave me alone as I cannot tell this uninitiated what the real reason was) (Waipuldanya)
There is a distinction between pidgins and creoles. A pidgin language is one used for communication between groups with no other language in common. It is not the first language of those that use it and it usually has a limited vocabulary and simplified grammar. A creole is a pidgin that has undergone expansion to become the mother tongue of the members of a speech community. In this process of creolisation its vocabulary becomes vastly expanded and its syntax more flexible so that it is able to express the whole range of human experiences.
There are two large creole languages in Australia. They are Kriol, which extends across the Katherine region of the Northern Territory through to the Kimberleys in Western Australia, and Broken (Torres Strait Creole). Each of these creoles is estimated to have around 15,000 speakers and numbers are increasing. These are very large language groups compared with the four largest indigenous traditional language groups which range up to a possible 5,000 speakers.
The creolisation process is largely undertaken by children. Kriol had its beginnings at Roper River in the Northern Territory at the beginning of this century. Following five years of systematic massacres in the area survivors moved to the newly established Anglican mission for protection. About 200 people from 7 language groups settled at the mission within a year of its establishment in 1908. The adults were multilingual and could talk to one another in language. The children were not yet multilingual and in order to communicate with one another they used the English pidgin used between Aboriginal and European people. Similar creolisation occurred in several other northern communities one, Bamyili, as recently as the Second World War. Over the years movement of Aboriginal people led to a standardization of these creoles which were not dissimilar from one another to start with. There are recognizable regional dialects but they are mutually intelligible amongst Kriol speakers.
Because of their mixed origins, creoles are often looked upon as marginal and inferior to their parent languages. While there is increasing acceptance of the merit and validity of all languages in the world, particularly those previously thought to be primitive this recognition has only recently been extended to creoles. The creoles continue to grow while the traditional indigenous languages they impinge upon are declining. Fluent traditional ATSI speakers who are opposed to the spread of creole tend to be the older members of the community. Those taking up creole most enthusiastically are the young who see it as a modern language more suited to their needs than traditional languages.
Torres Strait Creole which is usually called Broken (short for Broken English) was derived from Pacific Pidgin English. This was spoken by marine workers of different nationalities across the Pacific. Around the turn of the century it was creolised by the children of Erub, Ugar and St Paul■s Community and became a regional common language throughout the Torres Strait Islands. Torres Strait creole expresses pan-Islanderness and marks an identity separate from European and Aboriginal ethnicity. Young Western Islanders are trilingual speaking their traditional language, Broken and English.
Australian creoles serve several clear purposes. They are the first language of a large number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. They are capable of communicating across a wider range of people than traditional languages. At the same time creoles serve as an identity marker for Aboriginal and Torres Strait and Islander people in a similar way to Aboriginal English. Implicit in the adoption of creole is a wish to maintain some separation from Standard Australian English (SAE). However in rejecting traditional languages there is some rejection or loss of the culture, knowledge and values that the language is part of. It is this aspect which most distresses traditional language speakers whose language is being superseded by creole.
It is a difficult decision within some communities as to whether a creole or a traditional language should be supported in a community e.g. by being used or taught at school. While the decision should be made by the community there will be many communities where no one language will be clearly preferred. Where a creole is preferred to a traditional language, special attention should be paid as to whether there is a need for other language maintenance activities in support of the traditional language.
Creoles are significant languages in hundreds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. While in most of those communities it is spoken by two generations as a mother tongue in some it is spoken by four or more generations.
■Aboriginal English■ is a continuum of dialects ranging from close to Standard Australian English through to being close to Kriol. In the 1986 Census 76% of people identifying as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander said they spoke only English and only 3.4% said they spoke no English at all. It is impossible to quantify precisely but many of the 76% speak dialects of English known as Aboriginal English. Aboriginal English is spoken throughout Australia, as either a first or second language by the great majority of Aboriginal people. These dialects, considerable exposure, are mutually intelligible with Standard Australian English but differ in systematic ways. Those dialects closest to Kriol are much more difficult for Standard Australian English speakers to comprehend. These dialects have derived from pidgins (through depiginization), creoles (through decreolisation) and in some instances from the Aboriginalization of the language by Aboriginal Standard Australian English speakers. These dialects serve as a marker of Aboriginal identity and for many, Aboriginal English is their first and only language.
While some speakers are bilingual or bidialectical and can switch quickly between one dialect and another, young children with Aboriginal English coming to school for the first time, usually have it as their only language. Aboriginal English is now widely regarded by linguists as a valid rule-governed language capable of expressing the wide range of human experience. The failure to recognize it as a separate dialect leads to several problems. It is often looked upon as ■bad English■ with both the language and the speaker being devalued. Speakers often undervalue their dialect as a result of years of disparagement.
Traditionally, the mismatch between the standard educational approach to non-standard dialects such as Aboriginal English used by the children from minority or socially underprivileged groups was ■remedied■ at school in a rather simple manner. It was the speech habits of children which were attempted to be changed to bring about a better 'match'. Such attempts were carried out by 'eradication' procedures, aimed at 'stamping out' the non-standard dialect, in a kind of process akin to weeding a garden. It is now a well-known fact that such 'weeding' programs were mostly unsuccessful: the 'precious plant' of standard English did not often grow 'naturally' on the silenced lips of non-standard speakers.
Many teachers still fail to see Aboriginal English as a different dialect of English. They treat it instead as an uneducated or corrupted form of Standard Australian English. These misconceptions in the wider community do considerable damage but in the classroom the damage is much greater. This approach is slowly beginning to change. The rejection by teachers of children's home language as corrupted or substandard gives these children a bad start in an education system which contains a number of other cultural barriers. These teacher attitudes are perceived by children as devaluing them, their family and friends. Children faced with the choice of loyalty to family, friends and their way of life or of accepting the authority of a comparatively foreign institution such as the school, not surprisingly, frequently reject the school.
While Aboriginal English and Standard Australian English are usually mutually intelligible, there are important differences which need to be better understood. Major differences occur in the vocabulary, grammar, meaning, sounding system, gesturing and particularly the socio-cultural context. If these major structural differences are not understood and addressed in teaching Aboriginal English speakers the level of misunderstanding between teachers and students will remain high.
A lovely example of English used by ATSI groups is the following. Note that English words not to receive any marking at all, as in this story of the mystical little people that pester the Alawa tribe:
'One day I go hunting walkabout. I go and I go and I go and I go. And I sit down. Camp.
Arright. Sun-up I go and I go and I go and I go. And I sit down. Camp.
Arright. Sun-up I go and I go ■ah! Whats that! Kangaroo! Quietly sneak-up' woomera on
spear' swish! ..got im!
But that kangaroo not dead first time. He hop away, blood dripping, crooked track, go here, go
there, go everywhere. I run after him.
I run and I run, chasing blood trail on the ground. Then that roo (=kangaroo) lie down properly-
dead-finish. I run up, I see big pool of blood where he die. I see tracks where he thrash about.
And my spear there, too.
But that roo not there. Him gone. Then I look close-to and I see piccaninny (=juvenile)
track■only him not piccaninny track at all.. him pygmy!
Burgingin (=pygmy) bin carry that roo away and I properly fright. I run and I run and I run no-
more-little-bit and I not sit-down till dark. And all-a-time I got plenty pimple-along-skin, all-a-
same goose. ' (Waipuldanya)
What was termed 'pidgin English' was mistakenly viewed as an ATSI language, and dismissed as primitive or illustrating an incapacity to learn English properly. Scholars, however, noted that 'Aboriginal Australians were eager and able to learn normal English, if they were exposed to it. But they were often not addressed in the standard dialect.' The pioneer missionary Gribble described a typical situation around 1900: 'in the early days of our work pidgin English was used by us all, and a beastly gibberish it was. As time passed, I determined that it should cease, and good English be used; and, strange to say, the people seemed to find it easier to avoid than did the staff who had got so accustomed to its use that they found it extremely difficult to avoid addressing in pidgin English every black they met'. It was because they were spoken to in this way, that Aboriginal Australians initially adopted a poor type of pidgin English. Northern Territory pidgin English is not English; perverted and mangled by the natives; it is English perverted and mangled by ignorant whites, who have in turn taught this ridiculous gibberish to the natives and who then affect to be amused by the childish babbling of these "savages".
Absent parental support added to a poor command of English, as well as poor and irrelevant teaching materials. Incompatible ideas at school resulted in ridicule only: ■Why should I know how to spell 'food' when we always called it 'tucker'? What difference did it make if 8 and 9 equalled 17 when I didn't have that many fingers? Why should an aboriginal boy say 'I believe heavy rain is about to fall' rather than 'Properly big feller rain bin come up, missus'?'.. '..The day I left the mission schoolroom my tribal teacher descended on me. I was soon to learn that problems in text books were simple indeed when reckoned against the primary equation or our ancestral blackboards: Survival = Stealth x Cunning x Expertise.' (Waipuldanya)
Another common characteristics of 'black' Australian English is unusual combinations of words, such as 'the drought was heavy on the land'.
Or when I'm explained why the tree was cut down near our camp: 'Crocodile bin knock im', A crock had bitten it in two.
Some Aboriginal English expressions are direct translations of aboriginal words: 'Fat one', I said to the hunter. 'Big one', the other said as a compliment. 'Dead one', he said. 'Allabout laughed'. (Waipuldanya)
'That is nothing to do with me. That is a matter for Marbunggu, who is growing him up'(=raising him)
Some English words have a different or more specific meaning than in Standard Australian English. Some examples are: "Him finish" meaning "He is dead," "Jar" as a verb meaning scold and "dust" as a verb meaning to overtake a car on a dusty road.
Other differences include the lack of the possessive" 's" and the lack of the initial ■h■ sound in words beginning with "h."
However one of the most significant differences between Aboriginal English and Standard Australian English is in the socio-cultural context. This context is established in early childhood. Regarding Aboriginal child rearing Irruluma Guruluwini Enemburu comments:
Certain aspects of child rearing are not the same as those of the non Koori society. This point is stressed, as within the patterns of child rearing the foundations are established for the use of language within varying contexts, thus affecting the manner in which knowledge is conceptualized and regarded, and so shaping the learning style of the child. These parameters will in later life affect the manner in which the child communicates and so distinguish an important aspect of Koori English.
Some of these differences include the way information is usually sought of another person, the use of silences in conversation, eye contact and gestures. Speakers of Standard Australian English are used to asking direct questions to elicit information, but as Eades points out:
'where Aboriginal people want to find out significant or personal information they do not use direct
questions. It is important for Aboriginal people not to embarrass someone by putting them 'on the
spot'. So people volunteer some of their own information, hinting about what they are trying to find out
about. Information is sought as part of a two-way exchange. Silence and waiting till people are ready to
give information are also central to Aboriginal ways of seeking any substantial information...'
Although people in mainstream Australian society can recognize these ways of seeking information they use them only in sensitive situations. In Aboriginal interactions these are the everyday strategies used to seek substantial information.
Enemburu differentiates two important perspectives when looking at Aboriginal English. One is their evolution which can be described from a historical and linguistic perspective, and the second is the socio-political perspective through which identity is expressed. He says of its socio-political significance: ■... the growing importance of the social role of Koori English is becoming increasingly obvious with the emergence of strong feelings of in-group solidarity, the re-establishment of Koori identity, the growing awareness of Koori culture and the drive of Koori people to maintain levels of education within their cultural framework. ' In the past non-standard dialects such as Aboriginal English were seen by schools as aberrant and were to be eradicated. However eradication procedures have been largely unsuccessful in that the stifled speakers have failed to gain in Standard Australian English skills and only learnt that their language, which is also the language of their family and friends, is a poor one. Instead of being language nurturing institutions, schools have been instruments of language suppression. Aboriginal English speakers are often unaware of the full extent of the differences from Standard Australian English. Teachers frequently do not understand what students are saying because the teachers have not learnt to understand the dialect. As many children have shown in traditional language situations it is possible to understand a language as a listener without being able to speak the language.
Where children come to school with Aboriginal English as their mother tongue, it represents strongly ingrained language habits and embodies the speaker's early life experiences and learning. It is also the language that the child will continue to use at home and with same-language friends.
Children learn best when the school makes use of their language development prior to school. When their mother tongue is suppressed or even denigrated and they are taught in a language which seems very similar to them but without the differences being clearly identified, they quite understandably become confused, hurt and withdrawn. These difficulties usually form an overlay to other social difficulties encountered by children from a different cultural background to that of the school.
No wonder that recently Aboriginal groups together with anthropologists, sociologists and linguist have begun a mayor drive to boost the image and use of Aboriginal languages. Bilingual schools have been set up, Aboriginal radio and TV stations, and many books published. Elders control what young children see on the 'idiot box', as not everything that 'Auntie ABC' broadcasts on her satellites is suitable for children. In this way they try to prevent young Aborigines from trying to become Michael Jacksons.
Not all efforts are successful: the Australian Languages programme spent a lot of money on building schools in the outback, only to find out that the funds could not be stretched to buy books and pens. The recent election victory of the racist National Party of Hanson showed that about a million Australians feel little about returning rights to the ATSI people.
Thus for the time being, many young Aborigines learn English early on in life. This is picked up from the elders and from the 'white fellas' in the outback. From the age of three young aboriginal children are taught to read and write in English, a foreign language they only use in the shop and self-service. This results in an import of words like 'school', 'truck' and 'flower' into their language.
In this talk I have tried to outline the two meanings which I consider Australian English to have: the white variety, derived from the English and other emigrants who came to Australia a little more than two centuries ago, and the variety of English spoken by the indigenous people who arrived in Australia 50,000 years earlier. Whereas the ■Dame Edna■ variety of ■white■ Australian English has been widely studied and described , I have tried to point out some of the features of the ■black■ varieties of Australian English, as well as the pitfalls in studying communication in an Aboriginal context. Strong cultural taboos combined with a complex mother tongue make English as a foreign language spoken by ATSI extremely intriguing. At the same time, the original aboriginal languages are truly fascinating, and I hope that the passion with which I have tried to outline some of their fascinating features has not offended anyone.
For recent research checkout Gerhard Leitner Transforming Australia's Language Habitat (Gruyter)
lists a number of files on aboriginal culture
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