UQ linguistics researcher Dr Felicity Meakins with Gurindji woman Violet Wadrill Nanaku
UQ linguistics researcher Dr Felicity Meakins with Gurindji woman Violet Wadrill Nanaku
2 September 2011

As the number of Aboriginal languages dwindles, UQ researchers are intensifying their studies to protect and document those that remain.

Research in Australian languages is a focus at UQ, with the University hosting one of the largest clusters of Aboriginal language academics in the country. The group includes researchers Dr Ilana Mushin, Dr Rob Pensalfini, Dr Myf Turpin, Dr Felicity Meakins and Dr Erich Round.

There were approximately 250 Indigenous languages before settlement and now only 20 remain. UQ linguists are involved in practical community-based research which includes creating and releasing Aboriginal dictionaries, books and collaborating with schools.

Dr Felicity Meakins’s current research is concerned with the Gurindji people and their language in the Northern Territory.

Dr Meakins researches intergenerational change in Aboriginal languages by studying the different ways Gurindji and Bilinarra people speak their traditional language, and how those languages incorporate Kriol, a contact variety of English which is widely spoken in northern Australia by Aboriginal people.

“There is no doubt Aboriginal language continues to change,” Dr Meakins said.

“I’m hoping to document older language and test to see if younger people are speaking in the same way.”

Colleague Dr Myf Turpin has a research focus on Aboriginal song.

“I work with Arandic and Warlpiri people to document their traditional songs, identify performance opportunities and ways to maintain their traditional performance arts,” Dr Turpin said.

“Aboriginal song has an unusual sound system. They have significance and values. Some songs may have been passed from culture to culture, similar to tools,” Dr Turpin said.

“Documenting traditional songs and stories before they die out is a really significant step.”

Dr Meakins and Dr Turpin are both ARC postdoctoral researchers, and have been involved in linguistics research for more than a decade. They both began working in Aboriginal language centres and creating a linguistic diary of applied work and continue their studies through month-long field trips to central and north Australia.

Early next year, linguists from around Australia will meet UQ to discuss current Aboriginal language research.

The 2012 Australian Languages Workshop (ALW) will be hosted by the School of Languages and Comparative Cultural Studies and will be held at the UQ Moreton Bay Research Station on North Stradbroke Island through from March 9–11, 2012.

Media: Dr Felicity Meakins (07 3365 2877, f.meakins@uq.edu.au) or Dr Myf Turpin (07 3365 1445, myfturpin@uq.edu.au) or Dania Lawrence at the Faculty of Arts (07 3365 9163, d.lawrence@uq.edu.au)