South Queensland Aboriginal English

Readdy, Coral Ann (1961). South Queensland Aboriginal English B.A. Thesis, School of English, Media Studies and Art History, The University of Queensland.

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Author Readdy, Coral Ann
Thesis Title South Queensland Aboriginal English
School, Centre or Institute School of English, Media Studies and Art History
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 1961
Thesis type B.A. Thesis
Supervisor E. H. Flint
Total pages 317
Language eng
Subjects 200319 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages
200302 English Language
Formatted abstract
(1)  This study was carried out within the framework of the Queensland Speech Survey, the aim of which is to distinguish and describe all the principal varieties of English spoken in Queensland. It was with the scientific aim of investigating the variety of English used by members of English-speaking aboriginal communities that the present project was undertaken.

Much has been said about Australian English, but no large-scale descriptive statement of it has yet been published. It is, however, expected that the comprehensive results of the University of Sydney Survey of Australian Speech will soon be published. The present dissertation is a contribution to the work of the Queensland Speech Survey, involving a somewhat similar investigation in Queensland.

(2)  This dissertation has more than a purely scientific aim. It is also closely concerned with the pressing social problem of the position of the aborigines in Australian society. The Government aims at the assimilation of these people, and authorities agree that the basis of this assimilation will be, in a large measure, an educational one.

The present study aims at showing that scientific linguistic research may provide a key to some of the educational problems of such communities. These are many and varied, and this investigation is limited to the English spoken by the aborigines in two South Queensland communities. Here English is the medium of instruction in the schools, and the aborigines have largely lost their original languages.

(3)  For an investigation of the informal speech of these people, a systematic scientific approach in field work techniques and analysis was followed.

The project broadly involved three phases: systematic collection of material; close and scrupulously exact examination of data, and methodical classification and collation of it; finally, formulation of conclusions on this basis. In all three phases, the strength and weaknesses of the methods and techniques adopted were evaluated. The degree of generalisation permissible from the results was carefully estimated.

This is in line with the suggestions of modern authorities, such as D. B. Fry, who regard the application of scientific methods as one of the greatest present needs of Linguistics, and stress especially the need tor painstakingly accurate observation.

Details of the methods used in the field work and analytical stages of this project are described in Sections 3 and 4.

(4)  The field work techniques employed were among those which have been used extensively in the Queensland Speech Survey. The tree co-operation of the informants of various age groups was enlisted, and tape-recordings made of their speech, under a pledge of the privacy of the actual speech material. This ranged from formal conversation with the research worker, to informal conversation when they were left to speak among themselves.

Impressionistic examination of the whole range of recordings made showed that one of the most interesting sections of the material was that spoken by four boys of the 9-12 age group at Cherbourg.

In conversation with the research worker, these informants used a variety of English not markedly different, except perhaps phonologically, from ordinary varieties of English spoken in Australia, and readily intelligible to the research worker.

When the informants spoke among themselves, however, they used a familiar communalect, which was cognate with English and doubtless was the successor of the original aboriginal tongues, now 1arge lost. It was markedly different from the English which they use in school, and was partially unintelligible to the research worker when the tape was played back.

Detailed analysis of this section of speech necessitated a combined monolingual and bilingual approach. A large amount of this material remained unintelligible to research workers, even after determined attempts at complete monolingual analysis. A bilingual approach with the aid of informants with a knowledge of aboriginal English speech habits, and finally of the four original speakers, was then used. Finally, the help of an aboriginal informant WM was sought, and he was the only one who identified aboriginal words in this material. The existence of these had perhaps been one of the causes of partial unintelligibility.

Thus the results of this investigation suggested that this familiar communalect of the informants had certain features of a contact language.

(5)  The application of relevant scientific criteria has further suggested that this communalect can be classified as a sub-language of English. It comprises English, influenced by aboriginal speech habits, with only a strictly limited number of actual aboriginal forms. It possesses, moreover, certain characteristic forms which represent a new development, resembling exactly those neither of English nor of aboriginal languages.

As far as the distribution of English and aboriginal forms goes, this sub-language seems to have incorporated into its structure sometimes English, sometimes aboriginal features. However., one of its notable characteristics is an oscillation between English, which appears to be dominant, and aboriginal linguistic habits. This was manifested in every aspect of the languages phonological, lexical, and structural.

It would be wrong, however, to conclude that this sub-language is "broken English''. It obviously provides an expressive means of familiar communication for those who use it, and they converse in it with great fluency and ease.

(6)  The informants whose speech was studied are, thus, in an exact technical sense, bilingual: they speak both a variety of Australian English, and a sub-language of English markedly different from this.

(7)  For comparative purposes, reference to the characteristics of aboriginal languages was obviously necessary in the analytical stages of this project. This background was supplied by academic studies published chiefly by Australian scholars in Oceania and elsewhere, and under the auspices of the Summer Institute of Linguistics; and by interviews with experts in aboriginal languages at the 1961 Conference in Brisbane of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science.

(8)  It is strongly suggested in the following dissertation that the linguistic background of the members of a bilingual community, where English and a contact sab-language are both spoken, may have an important bearing on their educational progress. English appears to be for them a second, or acquired language, but it is used as the medium of instruction in the school . For this reason, it is probable that the aborigines' acquisition of English, and therefore their ability to master other subjects , particularly abstract ones such as mathematics, which are taught through this medium, would be greatly facilitated if consideration were taken of the influence of their familiar sub-language on their speech habits.

The key to this lies in a scientific and accurate description of their communalect. A first step in this direction has been attempted in the following dissertation. The result achieved may serve to suggest how scientific training may be concentrated on those features of the aborigines’ English which show noticeably the influence of their familiar sub-language.

(9)  There is no suggestion that this sub-language should be used for the production of literacy materials, nor that it should replace English as the medium of instruction. One of the aims of this study is to provide linguistic descriptive material which may be used by educationists in devising drills to assist the aborigines towards a better use and understanding of English. With increased comprehension of the medium of instruction, scholastic advancement would doubtless be made.

As education is the basic factor in cultural assimilation, it follows that the application of these scientific principles would assist the sociological process of the advancement of the aborigines.

(10)  Owing to the detailed nature of scientific research, this investigation has been limited to two communities. It is suspected from inferences in published material available that similar phenomena could be observed elsewhere, but the conclusions reached by investigations in other areas could well differ, according to varying linguistic and sociological conditions, from some of the results obtained in this limited study. In a problem of this nature, with such wide scientific and sociological implications, it is felt that much further research is urgently necessary, and that this would be likely to yield results which are not only scientifically interesting but also useful for educational and sociological purposes. 
Keyword English language -- Dialects
Aboriginal Australians -- Queensland

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