SEMINAR: Aboriginal languages use in Darwin
Research on Aboriginal languages is usually conducted in remote communities. But with increasing mobility of speakers, Aboriginal language can now be heard far beyond their homelands, with social orbits taking in urban centres such as Darwin and Alice Springs. As the speakers of these languages continue to seek out new social horizons, urban language ecologies can be expected to play a key role in the future of Aboriginal languages. I here present initial findings from a project on Aboriginal language use in Darwin.
The latest census reports 1101 speakers of Aboriginal languages in Darwin (ABS 2016), though this may undercount in various ways. In my 2018-2019 fieldwork the languages I encountered most were Anindilyakwa, Burarra, Kriol, Murrinhpatha, Tiwi and Yolngu varieties, spoken by both permanent residents and visitors from remote communities. Some speakers move back and forth regularly between homelands and Darwin. There is some degree of social differentiation between those who live in mainstream housing, those who live in Aboriginal-only ‘town camps’, and those who sleep in public parks and bushland, i.e. ‘long-grassers’. Another particularly intensive site of Aboriginal language use is Darwin prison, where the majority of some 1000 prisoners speak one or more Aboriginal language. Recently there has been a push to provide more languge-appropriate rehabilitation activities for these prisoners.
John Mansfield is a lecturer in linguistics at the University of Melbourne, and an Honorary Fellow of the Northern Institute at Charles Darwin University. He is currently working on an ARC-funded project, ‘Remotely urban: Aboriginal language use in Darwin’.
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