UQ linguists study Northern Australia’s new languages

University of Queensland linguists will join Aboriginal language experts in Katherine in the Northern Territory next week to workshop Australia’s largest newly adopted language—Kriol.

The UQ School of Languages and Cultures researcher Dr Greg Dickson said Kriol was now the second most commonly spoken language in the Northern Territory, along with new languages such as Light Warlpiri and Gurindji Kriol.

Dr Dickson said he was excited to be taking linguistic research out of universities and into relevant local regions.

UQ linguists study Northern Australia’s new languages
Two young men in Minyerri (faces not shown) participating in a UQ research project (looking at dialectal variation in Kriol) (Photo credit: UQ)

“This will allow participants to share what they are working on, contribute to different projects, and gain skills and knowledge of a growing language that’s now a significant part of Australia’s rich linguistic fabric,” he said.

UQ’s Dr Felicity Meakins said Kriol was not a traditional Indigenous language, but it was spoken across much of northern Australia.

“Indigenous youth in many areas of northern and central Australia are creating new languages which combine sounds, words and grammar from traditional languages and Indigenous English varieties,” she said.

Dr Dickson said linguists estimated there were about 20,000 Kriol speakers.

“Kriol is now even a language of Shakespeare with the critically acclaimed King Lear adaption The Shadow King being partially translated into Kriol by Aboriginal actor and musician Tom E. Lewis,” he said.

Dr Meakins said Kriol had gone from an unnamed creole language to a language interpreted widely and used in government, education, liturgy, stage and popular music in the space of 50 years.

“For policymakers, particularly in education, new Indigenous languages have largely gone under the radar,” she said.

“Yet a knowledge of them is important to tailoring educational programs which take into account the first language of a student.”

The workshop will be held at the Charles Darwin University Rural Campus in Katherine from June 6 to 10, along with academic, research and professional sessions.

About the UQ School of Languages and Cultures

The UQ School of Languages and Cultures specialises in teaching and research in major world languages and cultures. It is one of the largest Schools of language instruction in Australia with 50 full-time academic staff. The school is committed to the highest standards of teaching and research in languages, the cultures in which they are spoken, in linguistics and applied linguistics and in translating and interpreting.

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