Malcolm X: Who are you?

Some great questions to ask yourself, if you are someone who has been affected by slavery or colonisation.

Who are you? You don’t know? Don’t tell me “negro” that’s nothing. What were you before the white man named you a negro? And where were you and what did you have? What was yours? What language did you speak then? What was your name? It couldn’t have been Smith or Jones, or Butch or Powell. That wasn’t your name. They don’t have those kind of names where you and I came from. No. What was YOUR name? And why don’t you NOW know what your name was THEN? Where did it go? Where did you lose it? Who took it? And how did he take it? What tongue did you speak? How did the man take your tongue? Where is your history? How did the man wipe out your history? What did the man do to make you as dumb, as you are right now?

KRIOL-INGGLISH DIKSHENRI – Kriol-English Dictionary

Screenshot 2014-08-17 22.06.14


Click the picture to head over to a Kriol-English Dictionary by Jason Lee.

Adapted from:

SIL-AAIB. 1996. Kriol Dictionary: With Kriol to English and English to Kriol: First Draft, February, 1986: Reprinted: May, 1996. Darwin: SIL-AAIB.
SIL-AAIB. 1986. Kriol Dictionary: With Kriol to English and English to Kriol: First Draft, February, 1986. Darwin: SIL-AAIB.

Sandefur, J.R. & J.L. Sandefur. 1979. Beginnings of a Ngukurr-Bamyili Creole Dictionary. Work Papers of SIL-AAB, Series A, Volume 4. Darwin: SIL-AAB.


Aboriginal English – Kriol – Traditional Language

Happy NAIDOC Week!

I am an Aboriginal Australian studying Linguistics at the University of Oxford. Rather than write my thesis (ugh), I signed up for Deadly Bloggers’ Carnival and thought I’d use my turn to share some Aboriginal English and Kriol from Western Australia.

Both of these videos are from youtube and are infomercials showing how to be a good tenants for the Department of Housing. It is really cool to compare the speech of both videos.


This first video is listed on youtube as Kriol. I tend to think it is a lighter version of Kriol and leans towards to the Aboriginal English end of the continua. Having said this, we don’t know exactly where it is from, but I have a feeling it might be Broome Kriol.


This second video is listed as English, however you can here some Aboriginal English words sneaking into the speech. Taking into account the rhythm, speed and intonation of speech in addition to the AE words, I would say that this is a very light Aboriginal English. (I’ve just discovered that I can’t embed the vid – but watch it in youtube by clicking on the link)


Of course, Aboriginal English can change from mob to mob, area to area and from something closer to English or more towards Kriol. Aboriginal English speakers are not one homogenous group, so what is shown here will not apply to all speakers. But, it is still pretty cool to have some examples to look at.


As an added awesome bonus – here is the same youtube clip (with different actors) speaking in Walmajarri


Aboriginal ways of using English

Taken from> Interview with author Diana Eades


Photo on 13-07-2014 at 3.36 pm

Me with Diana’s new book.


Transcript: April 2013

What exactly do applied linguists do, and how might your work be relevant to a non-academic audience? In Australia, are there many people working in the part of applied linguistics you work in?

Applied linguists take findings from linguistic research, and apply them to real world questions, issues, problems or debates. Most applied linguistics has focused on educational issues, particularly those related to language learning. I have specialised in the applications of linguistics (particularly sociolinguistics) to the legal process. This is a much smaller and newer area of applied linguistics world-wide and in Australia. But Australia is making some important contributions in this area, with the work of about a dozen of us being internationally recognised.

What is sociolinguistics?

Linguistics is the study of language and languages, while sociolinguistics is the study of language used in social contexts. While linguistics mostly analyses the structure of language, sociolinguistics analyses language function and use.

book cover

We’re used to hearing about forensic policing, forensic medicine etc., through popular media like TV shows, but you talk about forensic linguistics. What is ‘forensic linguistics’?

Forensic linguistics is used broadly to refer to the study of language in the legal process, and more narrowly to refer to using linguistics in expert evidence in court. Personally I don’t like the term much, although I’ve been very involved with the International Association of Forensic Linguists, since a small group of us established it some twenty years ago. We changed the name of the journal ten years ago from Forensic Linguistics to International Journal of Speech Language and the Law (and I’ve been a co-editor since 2006).

Can we expect to see any TV shows on forensic linguistics?

Part of me hopes that we don’t! This is because I fear that trying to translate linguistic studies of language in the legal process into a popular TV show might distort and overestimate what linguists can do. That’s why I don’t like the term ‘forensic linguistics’ much. It can make people think of fingerprints and DNA evidence, but linguistic evidence is often much less black-and-white. There is no linguistic magic formula, or black box that can solve crimes, for example. So, the complexities of linguistic evidence in individual cases can be hard to get across. However, there was a forensic linguist character in the popular 1994 ABC TV drama Heartland. His role in providing linguistic evidence in a verballing case was based on my work in the Condren case (see chapters 7 and 8 in the new book); I had provided details to the scriptwriters of the series.

This book is a collection of papers that cover decades of research. In going back through the materials, what were some of the things that struck you about what’s changed in our understandings over that period?

In preparing this book last year, I was struck both by how much has changed and how much hasn’t. Australian communities, societies, and cultures have changed in thirty years, and there is much more mobility and mixing. But there is still a lot of continuity in Aboriginal ways of living, interacting and communicating.

When I was first researching Aboriginal ways of using English more than thirty years ago, many non-Aboriginal people thought that Aboriginal people in places like Southeast Queensland were ‘just the same as Whites’. In working against the assimilationist climate of that time (early 1980s), it was inevitable that researchers like me sometimes overlooked the diversity of Aboriginal communities and cultures. I think we have developed a better understanding now that there are many different ways of being Aboriginal.

So, this understanding resulted in me talking for the past twenty years or so about bicultural Aboriginal people — explaining that some people can switch between Aboriginal ways of living, thinking and talking, and mainstream Anglo ways (it’s a bit like being bilingual). There are now increased opportunities for many Aboriginal people to become bicultural, but it’s still something that needs to be explained to many lawyers, judges and magistrates. And I find myself still explaining why we need to understand Aboriginal ways of using English — and why it matters in the twenty-first century.

Thirty years ago most Aboriginal people couldn’t believe that there was anything interesting or important about the way they were speaking English — they’d had decades of being told they were speaking “bad English”. You still see some after effects from this negativity. But it’s great to see now that a growing number of Aboriginal people are proud of their ways of talking, and that it is increasingly recognised as being a part of identity.

Another change is about how linguists understand the nature of languages. We used to think of a language as a discrete entity that was clearly separated from other languages. But increasingly we’ve been realising how much overlap there is between related language varieties (we like to use the term “language varieties” to refer to both languages and dialects). So labelling someone as speaking language variety X or language variety Y is not a simple matter (in fact it really is an abstraction).

You talk about Aboriginal people using English in a particular way, but you don’t use the term ‘Aboriginal English’ very often; the title of your book is Aboriginal ways of using English. Why is that?

This is a good question, which I discuss in the book’s introduction. What linguists can observe and study is people speaking, so that’s the best place to start. And we know that many Aboriginal people use English in Aboriginal ways, with influence from Aboriginal languages and cultures. Decades ago people referred disparagingly to Aboriginal ways of speaking English as ‘bad English’ (or worse). Beginning in the 1960s, linguists started using the name

‘Aboriginal English’ for the dialectal varieties of English spoken by Aboriginal people. That name has been important in the recognition of Aboriginal ways of speaking English, and it’s a term I still use. But there is so much variation in different varieties of Aboriginal English, that I like to use the expression “Aboriginal ways of using English”, where possible. I like this expression so much, I decided to use it as the title for the book.

Which aspects of the book (or which chapters) do you think people understand the least and/or from which they might learn the most?

I guess this depends on the backgrounds of different readers. High school students might want to start with the short chapters: 5, 6 and 9. While they are based on linguistic research, these three chapters don’t give detailed explanations or references to other research. But having read them, I hope students have questions and want to know more, and then go to chapters 1–4. Like chapter 6, chapters 7 and 8 are largely based around stories of criminal cases in which Aboriginal use of English has been an important factor. But these two chapters were originally written for other scholars and uni students, so some high school students might find them a bit hard to follow.

I hope that university students and scholars start at the beginning of the book, reading the descriptions of Aboriginal ways of using English, and then moving on to read about legal applications. I also hope that legal practioners and judicial officers will read all of the chapters in Part II (‘Focusing on the criminal justice process’), and be so engaged that they are drawn to read the chapters in Part I (‘Describing Aboriginal use of English’).

The last two chapters are the most challenging. They come out of my most recent research, which builds on the earlier work. In this current work I’m trying to dig deeper into the way language is used in the legal process, particularly the criminal justice process. Intercultural communication in the legal process — as anywhere else — is a two-way process. Chapters 10 and 11 look at assumptions made in the law about how language and communication work, particularly how these assumptions can contribute to continuing inequality for Aboriginal people using English in the legal process.

Some people in Aboriginal communities get sick of researchers traipsing through, and may not see the relevance of that work to their lives. Over time, how have you chosen the communities you worked with and how did you negotiate the relationships?

I’m sure that lots of Aboriginal people are sick of being researched. And I wonder how I would feel if a researcher wanted to ‘hang out’ with my family and observe and record how we communicate?

I was priviledged to do my most intensive community work as part of Michael Williams’ oral history work with his extended family in Southeast Queensland in the early 1980s. Michael introduced me to his mob, and organised many of the field trips, and it was through developing relationships with members of his family that I had wonderful opportunities to learn so much about how people use English in their everyday interactions.

But in the last twenty-five years most of my research has focused more on intercultural communication, especially in the legal process. While concentrating my energy on this specific and very important area, I have not had to intrude into people’s families and homes. The main way I’ve been doing this research is by researching language use in public courtroom hearings, and by responding to requests in individual cases. At the same time, once a sociolinguist starts listening to the ways people use English, you never stop. The evidence is all around you. So I have plenty of opportunities through this work in legal contexts, as well as through everyday interactions with a wide range of people, to continually observe and reflect on different ways of using English.

We now know some important things about ways that many Aboriginal people use English differently from mainstream Anglo ways (and people can read about this in the first half of the book). One of my current priorities is to communicate about this with lawyers, magistrates and judges, and police officers. My other priority is to unravel some of the complicated ways that English is used by legal and judicial officers, especially in court, so that we can see what changes need to be made in order for Aboriginal people to have equality in the legal process (people can read about this in the second half of the book).

It’s usual to think that the dominant language in a country influences other languages, but there seem to be borrowings from Aboriginal ways of using English into standard Australian English. Can you give us any examples of this and how is it happening?

Yes, all languages leak. Deadly is a great example. Many young non-Aboriginal Australians now use this to mean “fantastic”, a meaning it’s had in Aboriginal English for decades. I guess having the Deadly Awards televised nationally every year has added to the acceptance and spread of this word.


I LOVE THIS BOOK – Hopefully I will get to meet Diana Eades one day 🙂

Endangered Languages: To learn or not to learn.

An interesting article by Languages Around The Globe (click to jump to their blog)

Would you ever decide to study a language that was spoken by only 50,000 people? What about 5,000 people? 500 people? 5?Many of us make decisions about which language(s) to study based on a perception of their global worth. That is to say that we’re usually most interested in languages that can confer upon us some direct, personal benefit.

This usually comes in the form of enhanced employment, travel, the ability to communicate with a new romantic partner from abroad or their family. We might even choose a language simply to pursue its literature, movies or music.

But most of us would never take the time out of our lives to (painstakingly) acquire an endangered indigenous language that wasn’t directly relevant to our own heritage.

School of Life
(Photo credit: M R Hasan)

You know the sort – few hundred speakers, no writing system, only the elderly still remember it at all. Use of Internet, radio, film or other recordings is probably slim to none and without some serious concerted preservation efforts, the language won’t last another 20 years.

So, assuming you could even find the appropriate materials/tutors, would you bother to learn it knowing full well that your own acquisition of the language is unlikely to make a significant impact on its survival?

If you answer “no” to this question; don’t worry. You’re not a bad person. Most people wouldn’t.

While most linguists seem to be staunch supporters of indigenous/minority language preservation and documentation, there are still many who very strongly believe these efforts to be a waste of time and money.

Why bother preserving something nobody wants to speak?” is a question I often hear in relation to these languages. If the speakers are turning away from their tribal language in the pursuit of a more mainstream national or international language, is their life really any worse off?

While this question usually underscores a fundamental ignorance of what a dying language means to a native speaker, it isn’t a question entirely without merit.

Sometimes when a language’s fate is so bleak, such as is the case with many of the world’s moribund languages, it may start to seem ridiculous and even unwise to start directing government money into preservation efforts for indigenous languages.

In addition many in the language enthusiast community that write about endangered languages and their value or lack thereof fail to recognize the difference between preservation/revitalization and documentation efforts.

While there are many languages that are in fact responding well to revitalization programs sponsored by their governments or by local efforts such as talking dictionaries, radio programs or emphasis on native language use in schools, the vast majority of the languages in need may be too far gone for this sort of longer term aid.

The best these likely doomed languages can hope for at this point is documentation, and this truly is a race against the clock as linguists scramble to record, study and analyze these languages – most of which may have no written history to speak of and only a handful of surviving speakers.

Distribution of language families and isolates...
Language families and isolates
north of Mexico at first contact.

Those linguists working in documentation aren’t usually attempting to learn the languages themselves. Naturally they may pick up bits and pieces but their goal is not language acquisition, it’s the preservation of the knowledge of the speakers into electronic data banks. A sad ending for a distinct culture, but far better than oblivion.

So back to the question at hand: should you learn an endangered language?

As with all language learning recommendations I make I would advise learning what you love.

If you’re fascinated by Lakota (~6,000 speakers) and you can access the resources needed to learn the language; you should do it without concerning yourself over whether Lakota will help you find a better job or travel abroad.

If however you are concerned with more ‘typical’ language benefits, such as money, travel and meeting people, you probably wouldn’t choose an endangered language, and that’s okay.

Whether you are determined to be one of the select few individuals interested in personally learning a minority language or you have no interest in doing anything of the sort, it is most important to be aware of the issues facing the majority of the world’s languages and the ramifications of their extinction.

Would you learn an endangered language?

Would you assign certain speaker criteria of a language such as a minimum number of speakers? Are you currently studying or have you studied in the last a minority language that faces extinction? Are you a native speaker of a language in a situation like this? Leave a comment (link to their blog) and tell us your stories!


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