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Modern Indigenous languages

Likeother places in the world that have experienced similar social disruption and colonisation, forms of speech have quickly developed that reflect this contact. These new forms of speech include Creoles and pidgins as well as forms based closely on English, such as, Aboriginal English.

Two of the most wide spread Creoles are Torres Strait Broken and Kriol. Kriol is spoken in the far north of the Northern Territory and Western Australia while Torres Strait Broken is spoken in the Torres Strait Islands and some parts of northern Queensland.

Much of the information in this section is indebted to the discussion of Kriol in Angelo et al 1998:192-199.

Kriol is estimated to have upwards of 20,000 speakers and is mostly spoken in the Katherine region of the Northern Territory and the Kimberly region in Western Australia. This language started developing in the early 20th century in the Roper River Mission in the north-eastern Northern Territory when the only language form available for communication amongst the wide variety of Indigenous peoples and the English speaking missionaries was a pidgin. Children began learning this form as their first language and thus it developed into a full and rich language in order to fulfill their communicative needs.

Many Northern Territory and Western Australia Aborigines regard their variety of Kriol as very different from, if not mutually unintelligible with, that spoken in the neighbouring state, and reject the suggestion that they are the same language. There are also certain differences in both the Western Australian and Northern Territory dialects from region to region, which many speakers are well aware of. In particular, there is a great deal of variation in the vocabulary used in Kriol because the Kriol spoken in different regions is influenced by different languages.

Kriol is generally classified as an English-based Creole; however, it also borrows much from the phonology, lexicon and syntax of traditional languages. A large number of vocabulary items, especially from domains of traditional knowledge, such as local flora and fauna, kinship terms, body parts and (of course) placenames are often borrowed into Kriol.

The sound system used in Kriol is mostly borrowed from traditional Indigenous languages. For example, traditional languages do not recognise the difference between voiced and voiceless consonants as meaningful. Thus Kriol does not use pairs of voiced and voiceless sounds like b/p, d/t, g/k, v/f to distinguish different words.

Kriol like lots of creole languages does not keep the inconsistencies of its parent languages. For example, Kriol removes the irregularities found in the expression of past time in English and simply uses the marker ‘bin’ preceding the verb:
Minbala bin wok gada ola biliken.
‘The two of us walked with the billycans’ (Angelo et al 1998:195)

Melabat bin oldie gu fishing en hanting la Hadsen Riba.
‘All of us would go fishing and hunting at the Hodgson River’ (Angelo et al 1998:196)

Kriol is still highly stigmatised and many Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians believe it to be a ‘corrupt’, ‘broken’ or ‘distorted’ combination of English and/or various traditional languages. Linguists are working on Kriol dictionaries, producing Kriol literacy materials, running workshops etc., to help promote the importance and value of Kriol.

Aboriginal English
Knowledge of the historical background of Aboriginal English is very sketchy. Different linguists and researchers have quite varying hypotheses about the history of this English-based dialect. For instance, some linguists believe that Aboriginal English is very distinct from the pidgins and creoles of Australia (Brandl and Walsh 1982; Sandefur 1983), while others argue that Cape York Creole, Northern Territory Kriol and Fitzroy Kriol and Aboriginal English are closely related forms (Eades 1991).

Many words used in the English speech of Aboriginal people are borrowed from traditional Aboriginal Languages, for example, you know this wati…this guy here and my daddy…’e bin chase that karlaya (emu) (Kaldor and Malcolm 1985:233). English words are often used in combination or in senses that differ from corresponding word or expressions in Standard Australian English. Some linguists believe that all dialects of Aboriginal English have distinctive English vocabulary usages and these distinctive vocabulary items are firmly embedded in Aboriginal life. For instance, in Alice Springs Aboriginal English the meaning of fire is extended to include firewood, lit or unlit, firesticks, matches and electric heaters (Harkins 1994:149). The semantic scope of fire in Aboriginal English corresponds to that described by the equivalent term in traditional languages of the area, such as Arrernte and Luritja: ure (Harkins 1994:149).

The use of Standard Australian English prepositions on, at, in are not obligatory and are interchangeable in Aboriginal (Harkins 1994; Kaldor and Malcolm 1985, 1991):

I live at Anthepe…I go to picnic and dig rabbit at bush
we bin go Melbourne
(Harkins 1994:66-67)

In place of the standard prepositions the word la or longa is often used in a locative function (Kaldor and Malcolm 1985). The English prepositions in, on and at correspond to a single locative marker in traditional languages of the area, such as, Luritja -la and Arrernte –le (Harkins 1994). The variable and interchangeable use of these preposition and their replacement by a la or longa seems to suggest that Aboriginal English forms are being used in accordance with systems of traditional languages.

As demonstrated by this brief sketch, features of Aboriginal English appear in different forms or ways from those regarded as standard. These non-standard forms often occur alongside standard forms. Researchers and linguists working on Aboriginal English often note that many people on hearing these non-standard forms assume they are errors (Harkins 1994; Eades 1988). Thus when, listening to a speaker who uses standard and non-standard forms, the hearer often concludes that the standard forms are what the speaker really wants to say and the non-standard forms are ‘slips of the tongue’ or ‘careless speech’ (Harkins 1994:41). These differences between Aboriginal English and Standard Australian English are really a result of the influence of traditional languages and Aboriginal ways of categorising the world. Aboriginal Speakers have simply altered English in ways to make it fit their communicative needs.

This information is from the Australian National Placenames Survey, Indigenous Languages Fact Sheet , written by Claire Hill.

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