Author Topic: Searching for Aboriginal Languages (R.M.W. Dixon)  (Read 1118 times)

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Offline wm.annis

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Searching for Aboriginal Languages (R.M.W. Dixon)
« on: June 06, 2011, 07:28:52 pm »
This book first appeared in 1981, but got a rerelease this year.  The full title is, Searching for Aboriginal Languages: Memoirs of a Field Worker.  It's about his years, the late 60s and 70s, researching the Aboriginal languages of Australia, especially the ones in the NW coast.

The book captures the full field linguist experience — bureaucratic lunacies, learning to live in a different environment, the linguistic challenges, the technical challenges (how to keep your tape recorder running?), as well as a lot of the social environment at the time, including the sorry treatment of the Aborigines.  So, you don't need to be a linguist to appreciate this book, though he indulges the linguistically inclined from time to time.  The author's prose style doesn't exactly sparkle, but since some of his best informants were such interesting people, this hardly matters.

Near the end of the book, we get these two paragraphs, which really struck me for some reason, once I reached the last sentence.

Quote
In Yidiny each answer to a question, or comment on a statement, must be a full sentence, with a subject and a verb.  If someone asks, "When shall we go walkabout?", you could answer, "We'll go walkabout tomorrow."  The reply could not be simply "tomorrow," well it could, but it wouldn't be good Yidiny.  And while the response must be a full sentence, it must not mechanically repeat all the words from the original utterance — there must be some, but not too much, variation in the words used or in the grammatical constructions employed — rather like someone asking, "Do you want to come and hunt wallabies?" and receiving the reply, "Yes, I'll come and spear marsupials".  It is probably to this end that the language has a number of pairs of synonyms (many more than Dyirbal).  Burrging and yajil both mean "go walkabout".  The only difference Moses would acknowledge between them was "if someone tell you burrging then you answer him back yajil", or vice versa.

Both Moses and Tilly dictated long strings of statements and responses, and questions and answers.  I had to read them back.  And then I would be tested.  If someone said such-and-such, how would you answer him back?  So, slowly and patiently, I was taught how to speak the language.  Not just to pronounce it properly, not just to use the right words and put them together in the right grammatical patterns — although that was a sine qua non — but how to construct good discourse in Yidiny, so that I could take my place around some long-past campfire without fear of embarrassment.

On a 5-star system, I'd give it 3.5 to 4.  It's worth the time.
'Awa lì'fya ke tam kawkrr.
A Na'vi Reference Grammar

Offline Yayo

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Re: Searching for Aboriginal Languages (R.M.W. Dixon)
« Reply #1 on: June 09, 2011, 12:29:26 am »
:O
A.R.?


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Offline wm.annis

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Re: Searching for Aboriginal Languages (R.M.W. Dixon)
« Reply #2 on: June 09, 2011, 08:00:15 pm »
A.R.?

I'm afraid I have no idea how to interpret this. :)
'Awa lì'fya ke tam kawkrr.
A Na'vi Reference Grammar

Offline Yayo

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Re: Searching for Aboriginal Languages (R.M.W. Dixon)
« Reply #3 on: June 10, 2011, 07:53:58 am »
Perhaps that was my intention.


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Offline wm.annis

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Re: Searching for Aboriginal Languages (R.M.W. Dixon)
« Reply #4 on: June 10, 2011, 08:07:39 am »
Perhaps that was my intention.

Mission accomplished.

After finishing this book, I decided to get his "The languages of Australia," which is probably less interesting to people not as obsessed with language as I am.  Nonetheless, he did intend most of it to be intelligible to interested non-linguists.
'Awa lì'fya ke tam kawkrr.
A Na'vi Reference Grammar

Offline Yayo

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Re: Searching for Aboriginal Languages (R.M.W. Dixon)
« Reply #5 on: June 10, 2011, 08:08:26 am »
I'm glad yet, bewildered simultaneously.


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