June 06, 2020

Aboriginal Lives Matter (a GIFset) - Kwementyate Briscoe (d. 2012, Alice Springs Police Station)

Kwementyaye Briscoe, 27, died in police custody in Alice Springs in 2012. The Coroner found that some police were immature and utterly derelict in their duties. He said the death was preventable and should not have occurred. Briscoe had committed no crime. He was taken into custody for being intoxicated and was dead 5 hours later. No police officer was sacked and no criminal charges were laid. More info on the case: http://nationalunitygovernment.org/content/aboriginal-death-custody-inquest-begins-kwementyaye-briscoe

432 Indigenous people have died in custody since the 1991 Australian Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

“This should never happen” - Trisha Morton-Thomas, Australian Actor (Radiance, Redfern Now, 8MMM) and Kwementyate Briscoe’s aunty. 


Source video: ABC - https://youtu.be/mVAzY5Bqn_o

April 28, 2020

Bless me and my amazing etymological discovery (well, not quite)

Like many I have spent much of the Coronavirus situation working from home, with all of its highs and lows. One highlight of my Covid experience is being stuck at home with a housemate who grew up in Côte d'Ivoire and speaks French. Not only that, but he's been quite open and willing to teach me some French and use it patiently with me as I struggle to move beyond beginner's level. (in case you're wondering: my French is still not great, but I am amazed how much I have learned in a few weeks and how much I can actually use it with my housemate now. So cool!).

I am often asking questions of him to improve my knowledge. The other day when he sneezed and I asked (as any good linguist would) 'what do you say in French when someone sneezes?'. À tes souhaits he said, pronouncing it as something like /ˈatɛˌswɛ/.

Immediately a lightbulb went off! That's the word 'atishoo' from that song we did in Kindy! I started raving:
And my housemate humoured me kindheartedly and went back to playing a game on his phone while I excitedly started to Tweet something along the lines of:

I was today years old when I found out that the word 'atishoo' we used to sing in Ring-a-ring-a-rosie actually comes from the French way of saying 'bless you' after you sneeze
But before sharing my *amazing revelation* to the Twittersphere, I decided to check on my discovery. I Googled 'Atishoo'.

Here's the Collins Dictionary entry:
Meaning: a representation of the sound of a sneeze
me: what?! no, it's an Anglicisation of a French phrase meaning bless you
Origin: C19. Of imitative origin  
me: what?! no! it's not imitative!
And Merriam-Webster and Cambridge online dictionaries were basically the same! Maybe Wiktionary is a bit more dynamic and has more to say?
Alternative form of 'achoo'. 
Ok, nope.

At this point, I was falling off my chair. Two bombshells in the space of 10 minutes! And me thinking that I had made the most amazing etymological discovery of the century. "Noone has ever made the link between 'atishoo' and 'à tes souhaits' before!" (And also "which dictionary do I contact about this and how much glory will be showered upon me!?!").

But luckily I Googled further and learned that I was not, in fact, the Neil Armstrong of sneeze-related vocab etymologies, but that there were plenty who had observed the link. The Wiktionary entry has a short discussion in the back-end user commentary:
Is this the anglicised version of what the French say after someone has sneezed which is:- "A tes souhaits" or God Bless you? If this is said quickly sounds like atishoo and the French do say it quickly after someone has sneezed. (me: Yes, der., but the one reply dismissed it as 'plausible, but unprovable')
Looking around, the link is made many times over in comments and blogs. Another example: language learning app Duolingo (which has been very helpful in my French development) has discussion boards and one commenter also noted the atishoo/à tes souhaits link when discussing a list of handy phrases:

By this stage, I was beginning to calm my farm. Plenty of people of recognised that the weird word 'atishoo' we all sang in Kindy had wriggled its way there from the French phrase meaning 'bless you'. And it makes perfect sense in the context of the song Ring a Ring o Rosie too:
Ring-a-ring o' rosie,
A pocket full of posies,
A-tishoo! A-tishoo!
We all fall down
The Wikipedia page about the song points out that 'rosie' (which doesn't exist in my English lexicon) is borrowed directly from the French word for rosebush: rosier. It makes perfect sense that the third line of the song would also be a French borrowing. I 100% stand by my etymology of 'atishoo'.

I accept that I am no expert lexicographer or etymologist, but surely me and many others who have noted the atishoo/à tes souhaits link have a convincing argument based not just on phonology but also looking at context of the song in which it occurs (which is I'm sure how most people come to know the word). It seems like a real gap if dictionaries are not making the etymological link and to me it's quite insufficient to just say its 'of imitative origin'.

Now who's gonna show this to a lexicographer for me? I'd love to hear more thoughts on this if you have any.

April 18, 2020

Speaking four, five or *even six* languages: some musings on English discourse on multilingualism

I have read phrases such as "so'n'so speaks English as a third, fourth even fifth language" enough times that it has started to strike me as rather odd:
For many on the desert, like elder Reggie Uluru, English is a foreign language, or used as a third, fourth or even fifth language
Source: Sydney Morning Herald "The end of Uluru's long quiet conflict which baffled both sides" (November 1, 2019) [link]

While this expression is not particularly common it seems to be a minor trope. It comes in different guises; it can be used with cardinal instead of ordinal numbers:
However Chaoke noted more than a decade later that the usage rate of Evenki remained quite high, and that it was still common to find Evenki speakers who were proficient in three, four or even five languages.
Source: Wikipedia "Evenki language" [link]
Or with a different series of numbers:
The main language groups living in these communities are Jawoyn, Mielli (sic), Ngalkpon, and Rembarrnga, and Elders generally speak several languages, with English as a fourth, fifth, or even sixth language
Source: Smith, Clare & Gary Jackson. 2008. "The Ethics of Collaboration: whose culture? whose intellectual property? who benefits?" in Collaboration in Archaeological Practice: engaging descendant communities [citation from p174]
And while my own experience is that I've come across this trope mostly in reference to Aboriginal Australia, this is subjective and likely due to the stuff I come across naturally. It certainly exists in other discourses:

The reason this phrase has started to stick in my mind is because it is odd.

Firstly, the number sequence is bizarrely specific yet also arbitrary: why is the 3-5 range of language abilities sometimes apparently important and other times the 4-6 range? Try Googling variants of the phrase using different number ranges and see what you get. I particularly like expanded ranges like this one that has a two-to-five range:
Reporting news is an important aspect of Aboriginal life particularly in remote communities, but what benefit does it serve broadcasting in English when members of these communities speak English as a second, third, fourth or even fifth language?
 Source: CAAMA "Utilising Aboriginal Language in Remote Media" (October 2, 2017) [link]

Secondly, the use of the emphatic adverb even reflects the arbitrariness of the phrase further. The function of even in discourse like this is to convey surprise, something unexpected or something extreme as in my made-up example:
Even Bette Midler criticised Scott Morrison's handling of the bushfire crisis
So why would one writer apparently find it extreme for someone to speak "even five" languages while another writer feels that speaking "even six" languages is extreme. Here's an example from the Australian Senate Hansard from October 26, 1955 that marks the 'surprising' level at "even nine" languages:
Some of those immigrants are friends of mine, and they are highly cultured people. Many of them can speak six, seven, eight, and even nine languages...
Source: Senator Grant (NSW), Australian Senate Hansard, October 26, 1955 [link]

No particular reason seems to exist why the various number ranges are selected and no particular reason to select a number and mark it as surprising with the use of even. Additionally, there is actually no semantic reason to use the phrase at all, as all examples can be reworded using the widely understood term and more precise 'multilingual'. (If the emphasis of even is needed, just modify it to  something like 'highly multilingual').

So what is going on with the use of this "N, N+1 or even N+2 languages" structure when it is actually not necessary semantically, arbitrary and possibly unnecessarily verbose. Here are my two theories:

Most of the examples I've cited are Australian and Australia is well known for having the Monolingual Mindset that affects countries like ours that are heavily English-dominant. Multilingualism is seen as exceptional and so under Monolingual Mindset discourses, it may not be enough to use a more clinical term like 'multilingual'. We need to make some sort of dramatic flourish out of multilingualism. My theory here can be easily debunked if I looked at discourse in more multilingual societies and found this structure exists there too, but I do think that in the Australian context this is a reasonable theory.

The other thing I think going on is it is used as a rhetorical device; a stylistic turn to persuade audiences to appreciate or be impressed by multilingualism. In countries with Monolingual Mindsets like Australia this can be quite relevant. But is it a successful rhetorical device? I'd argue yes. Despite me writing about the phrase here in a way that is problematising it, the phrase is not so incredibly common that it has become an eyeroll inducing cliche. I would say that to most people who read/hear it, it does have the desired persuasive effect.

So what's my overall point? None really. I just liked thinking about this phrase that on the one hand seems so specific and informative but on the other hand is so weirdly arbitrary. And the sort of public dialogue we have about language and multilingualism in Australia always interests me. I thought I'd throw my musings out there because sometimes others have equally interesting thoughts and ideas they sometimes share. Comments welcome!

Excerpt from: Smith, Clare & Gary Jackson. 2008. "The Ethics of Collaboration: whose culture? whose intellectual property? who benefits?" in Collaboration in Archaeological Practice: engaging descendant communities [citation from p174]

October 24, 2019

What's in a word: wangulu

My recollection of being first taught the Kriol word wangulu was that it means 'orphan'. It's an interesting word in that it is a very common word (in Ngukurr at least) but part of the relatively smaller set of Kriol words that come from Indigenous languages rather than English. But it's the semantics of it that I find more interesting, particularly when faced with trying to translate it into English.

The basic definition I learned - orphan - is a quick, shorthand definition. What linguists call a gloss. But, like all words, there's a fuller and more subtle range of English translations if you delve deeper...

I started thinking about the word wangulu again recently because of fortnightly 'advanced beginner' Kriol lessons I've started running for munanga in Ngukurr. At each session, I ask students for a 'word of the week' - a Kriol word they like or want to know more about. One of the words was wangulu but the person who 'brought' it had a different semantic frame to what I was first told: he had been taught the word wangulu after telling Kriol speaking co-workers that he is an only child.

So there's a second meaning in English:
  1. Orphan (no parents)
  2. No siblings 
So perhaps wangulu is a more generic adjective translating as something like 'without family'?

Then in our Kriol sessions, we were going over a text, to build students Kriol comprehension, Kriol-English translation skills and more. It's a really neat text written by a former local teacher and principal, Holly Daniels (nee Joshua) who passed away too young and so I only ever heard about her (and how smart and good of an educator she was). Holly wrote about her upbringing in a story written with Ngukurr schoolchildren in mind and uses the word wangulu again:
Wen melabat bin lilwan, melabat nomo bin abum ebrijing laik yumob, melabat bin brabli wanguluwan blanga abum detmatj ebrijing laik yumob sabi laik, reidiyo, telabishin, teiprikoda, toyota, enimo yu gin jinggabat.  
[Translation: when we were small, we didn't have all the things like you have, we were really wangulu about having heaps of things that you know of such as radios, television, stereos, 4WDs, and other things you can think of.]
In this passage, wangulu is used in reference to not having things, rather than being without parents or family. We struggled to translate wangulu in class. My offering was that it just means 'to be lacking' or 'to be without something that everyone else has'. But perhaps the core meaning is family-related and Holly's usage in relation to 'stuff' is a nice poetic extension of that meaning.

We can look for other clues, such as the useful-but-imperfect Kriol Dictionary. There, the definition offered for wangulu is 'widow, orphan, poor person'. I did a quick look of my own Kriol corpus and there was one example sentence:
bala imin loktap en im jidanabat wangulu na kraikraibat jinggibat wani ba du [poor thing he was locked up en he's sitting around alone/without anyone now, crying (and) thinking what to do]
(The context of the sentence was describing an illustration of a man alone in a jail cell).

Bringing together all these examples, we can build a picture of what a word like wangulu means. We can see there is no perfect direct translation, although one (such as 'orphan') may be given in early stages of learning Kriol. Rather, it takes more examples, experience and thinking to get a better understanding of the word's semantics. And even then it's still a work-in-progress.

For now, if I tried to be a lexicographer, I would say wangulu means:
(adjective) to be lacking in something most people have (typically family, parents); orphan.
And yeah, if you still had misgivings about Kriol being a straightforward language, it's not.

August 01, 2019

Pop culture as linguistic data, social justice in linguistics, Aboriginal English and the semantics of 'grab'

I was pleased with myself that I got to take a bunch of things I like and wrap them up in a single section of academic writing I was working on the other day: pop culture as linguistic data, social justice in linguistics, Aboriginal English and the semantics of 'grab'. I was particularly pleased with the bit that I wrote so I thought I'd share it. (Let's see what happens when I get feedback on my work though!):
In some cases, differences in semantic ranges [between Aboriginal English varieties and how white people talk] can have serious consequences. Across Englishes, the verb ‘grab’ can have more physical, forceful meanings (‘grab someone by the collar’) as well as senses that are synonymous with ‘obtain’ (‘grab some lunch’). Aboriginal people appear to use ‘obtain’ senses more widely, as in (9) - another quote from Bran Nue Dae’s Uncle Tadpole (Kershaw, Isaac & Perkins 2009). The context of (9) is Uncle Tadpole telling his nephew to pursue his crush but is not suggesting the use of physical force. 

(9) Ay you been find ‘im. You wanna get up there an’ grab ‘im. 

Eades (2012) details a controversial courtcase referred to as the ‘Pinkenba Six’ in which six police officers were charged with ‘depravation of liberty’ of three Aboriginal teenagers. One of the boys in an interview with lawyers had said that police had ‘grabbed the three of us’ but in court said they were ‘told to get into police cars’. This became an “inconsistency” in cross-examination, weakening the Aboriginal teenagers prosecution case after defence counsel pursued the matter enough to make the court believe the teenager had lied by using the verb ‘grab’.
I'd heard Diana Eades talk about that Pinkenba case and her musings over the word 'grab' and vaguely remember her having intuitions but not strong evidence that Aboriginal people use the verb in distinctive ways to how non-Aboriginal people use it. But when I heard that example from Bran Nue Dae, I thought it was a pretty good one!

If/when this thing gets published, I'll let youse know!


Eades, Diana. 2012. The social consequences of language ideologies in courtroom cross-examination. Language in Society. 41:4. 471-497.

Kershaw, Robin, Graeme Isaac (Producers) and Rachel Perkins (Director). 2009. Bran Nue Dae [Motion Picture]. Roadshow Films: Australia.

April 04, 2019

Tonight's trip to Woolies. Or: who sits in a 4WD looking at a woman motionless in the middle of the road and beeps at them?

Tonight, like many nights, I got on my scooter to go to Woolies to get food for dinner. I scoot down one of Katherine's roads with a steady flow of traffic, the Victoria Highway. Halfway there, near Dominos, the usually mundane trip looked different. I saw 2 big 4WDs stopped on the road in front of me. A split second later I saw why they were stationary...

Someone was sprawled flat in the middle of the road in front them. They were dark-skinned. Aboriginal, likely. I was still approaching. I heard one of the 4WDs beep. My brain kicked into instinctual assessment mode. What was this scene I was scooting towards?

My greatest fears: this person may be dead. It may have been a hit and run. Less bad: she was flat on the road as a victim of violence. Less bad again: she was out of it and relatively okay but a major hazard. Regardless of which scenario it was this woman needed assistance. Fast.

I was in instinct mode. I zoomed past the two 4WDs, parked my scooter near her and with zero hesitation, went to her. She was breathing. Thank god. She wasn’t obviously seriously injured. Again, thank god. The situation didn’t seem critical.

I was the first to go to her assistance. But I was, at best, the FIFTH person to see her. Knowing she was okay, I started to get mad. WHY WAS I THE FIRST PERSON TO ASSIST WHEN I WAS AT LEAST THE FIFTH TO ARRIVE??

An older white couple that I'd earlier noticed had seen the scene as I was arriving came over shortly after they'd seen me go to her. They were helpful and started calling an ambulance. An Aboriginal man in another 4WD drove AROUND the two 4WDs that were there before me and he got out, started helping me and also directed traffic. He seemed to be the only person apart from me who helped without hesitation.

The guy from the first 4WD (I assume the one that beeped when I was arriving, but I can't be sure) finally got out and told us that she fell. I was glad to learn it wasn’t a hit and run.

She started coming to. She seemed drunk. She said she wanted to harm herself. Police arrived not long after and helped her to the roadside.

I made sure I told the police that she was at risk of self-harm. Twice.

An ambulance was on its way and I felt okay to resume my trip to Woolies. An upsetting experience though. I hope the woman is being cared for properly.

I hope everyone who didn’t act as instinctively as I did is at home seriously reflecting on whether they should have acted with more compassion. Seriously. What the fuck. Who sits in a 4WD looking at a woman motionless in the middle of the road and beeps at them?

But all worked out relatively fine. However it also all reminded me of a much more intense incident that a friend was involved with in Darwin. She wrote about it very powerfully here: https://fieldnotesandfootnotes.wordpress.com/2014/04/13/a-fieldnote-from-home/

It's never possible to be sure about what role racism plays in incidents like these. And I don't know what was going on with the other people who were witness to all of this - there could well be good reasons why they didn't help as quickly as me. But I think the question my friend asks in her story, when she saw bystanders offering no assistance to an Aboriginal man who was drowning, is also relevant to the less-serious incident I helped with tonight:

"How has it come to this? How is it that Aboriginal people have become so dehumanised in the eyes and minds of white Australia?"

March 23, 2019

Unofficial Kriol translation of Tropical Cyclone Advice Number 50 (Cyclone Trevor)

Note and Disclaimer

Dijan Saikloun Stori im “unofficial translation” burru Greg Dickson (Wamut). If yu lugunat dijan en im afta 8pm Sadadei, im olwan na. Gu la http://www.bom.gov.au/nt/warnings/ bla det nyuwan Saikloun Stori. Dijan im laswan trensleishin ai garra duwum, dumaji det saikloun im guweiguwei na.

This is an unofficial translation of Tropical Cyclone Advice 50 (5:00pm Saturday March 23). It was written by an accredited Kriol-English interpreter and second-language Kriol speaker who is most proficient in the dialect of Kriol spoken in Ngukurr. It was done quickly and will likely contain some errors. Please do not use in lieu of the official Tropical Cyclone Advice from the Bureau of Meteorology.

*If you are reading this after 8pm Saturday, it is out of date. Please go to http://www.bom.gov.au/nt/warnings/ for the latest Cyclone Advice. This is the last Kriol translation that will be done because the cyclone is weakening and moving away from Kriol-speaking areas.

Saikloun Woning - Saikloun Stori Namba 50

5:17pm, Sadadei Matj 23

Mein stori

Det midul pat bla Saikloun Treba im antap la len hafwei from Burrulula la Kwinslen Boda. Im bigiswan saikloun (gulum 'severe'). Im garra bi deinjeris du tunait wen im kipgon mubmub la inlen eriya.
Bla Witj Kantri?

Det Kantri gada det brabili woning - From Neithin Riba raitoba la Moningtin Ailen en lorra kantri la det eriya, laik la Golf Kantri en la Bakli: Burrulula, Robinsin Riba, Wollogorang, Mikatha Riba Main, Keip Krofid, Creswel Dauns en Brunet Dauns.

From det laswan Saikloun Stori, thei bin kensilim woning bla kantri from Pot Ropa la Neithin Riba en from Monington Ailen la Bektaun (la Kwinslen).

Ola diteils

Hau strong det Saikloun?

Im Namba 3 saikloun (1 im wikeswan, 5 im stronggeswan). If det saikloun im antap la yu, det win im blo 120 kilomita per awa raitap la 165 kilomita per awa

Weya det Saikloun na?

Im antap la woda gulijap la len na, la Burrulula eriya.

Weya det Saikloun heding?

Im gulijap la Burrulula bat tharrai Kwinslenwei lilbit. Im mub 21 kilomita eberri wan awa.

Saikloun Treba im im bigwan (gulum 'severe'). Im antap la len na, sanrais from Mikatha Main. Det brabili deinjiris midul pat garra kipgon lusim pawa wen im kipgon mub tharrai la Bakli eriya tunait. Sandei moning im garra bi wikwan en nomo saikloun na, wen im sangudansaid from Brunet Dauns.

Lukat bla ol dismob

Det midul pat bla Saikloun Treba, garra bi brabili deinjeriswan (gulum 'very destructive core') en im mub antap la len hafwei from Burrulula la Kwinslen Boda. Gulijap la det midul pat, det win im blo raitap la 165 kilomita per awa, bat det win stat gudangudan dumaji det saikloun im antap la len na.

Brabili strongwan win (gulum 'destructive winds') weya det win im blo raitap la 130 kilomita per awa, im hepining na gulijap la det midul pat bla det saikloun. Detkain strongwan win stat kamat la Keip Krofid tunait.

If yu jidan la solwada eniweya from Pot Atha la Kwinslen Boda, yu garra lugat brabiliwei ba bigiswan deinjeriswan taid wen det saikloun kipgon. Tunait en alibala tumorra, det taib garra bi mowa biga then det nomul taid, gada bigis weib weya im gin demijim enijing en pudum solwada la len eriya.

Wen det saikloun kipgon mubmub, bigiswan taid garra hepin la Kwinslen du la det eriya from NT Boda raitap la Bektaun. Bigwan weib garra gaman en maitbi pushum solwada antap la len. Enibodi weya thei jidan la det eriya shud sodimat bi meigim alabat kemp seif en bi redi bla album najalot du.  

Strongwan Win (gulum 'gales') weya im blo raitap la 100 kilomita per awa bloblo rait nau la kous eriya from Neithin Riba la NT rait oba la Monington Ailen en la inlen eriya du la Golf Kantri.

Detkain Strongwin Win (gulum 'gales') garra stat bloblo la noth pat la Bakli tunait. Tunait en alibala Sandei, yu garra lugat ba detkain strongwan win if yu la Creswel Dauns, Keip Krofid, Robinson Riba, Mikatha Riba Main, Wollogorang en Brunet Dauns.

Bigis rein garra kaman en from alibala Sadadei ola krik en riba garra raning ol oba dis Golf Kantri. Thei bin tok ola riba la Golf Kantri en la Bakli eriya maibti garra fladwoda bambai (gulum 'flood watch').
Bigis Rein garra stat buldanbuldan tharrai la Golt Kantri la Kwinslen said wen det saikloun mub antap la len tumorra. Thei bin pudum woning ba Deintri Riba en Mosmin Riba ba bigis warajarra (flood warning) en thei bin tok ba lugat ba detkain fladwada bambai (gulum 'flood watch') if yu eniweya from Kens la Kowanyama o eniweya la Golf Kantri la Kwinslen.

Wani mela regen yu shud du

Bla NT said:

If yu jidan eniweya from Alyangula raitdan la Kwinslen Boda - dijan im ba enibodi la Grut en Burrulula du en la Bakli eriya:
- Irrim wanim blijimen en gabmen dalim yu bla du
- Bi redi bla brabili nogud wetha en ba det win ba get mowa biga en ba mowa rein. Jidan la seifwan bilding wen det wetha im brabili nogud.

Bla Kwinslensaid:

If yu jidan eniweya from NT Boda raitap la Bektaun, en la Monington Ailen en Sweers Ailen, yumob shud jidan insaid antil det saikloun bin guwei en den lisin la nekswan stori from gabmen bla wanim bla du.
- Yu gin gajim mowa infameishim from yu kaunsil.
- Bla sabi hau bla hendlim saikloun, yu gin luk la dis Kwinslen websait: www.disaster.qld.gov.au

Nekswan Saikloun Stori

Nekswan Saikloun Stori garra Inggalish garra kamat 8:00pm Sadadei

Note and Disclaimer

Dijan Saikloun Stori im “unofficial translation” burru Greg Dickson (Wamut). This is an unofficial translation of Tropical Cyclone Advice 50 (5:00pm Saturday March 23). It was written by an accredited Kriol-English interpreter and second-language Kriol speaker who is most proficient in the dialect of Kriol spoken in Ngukurr. It was done quickly and will likely contain some errors. Please do not use in lieu of the official Tropical Cyclone Advice from the Bureau of Meteorology.

*If you are reading this after 8pm Saturday, it is out of date. Please go to http://www.bom.gov.au/nt/warnings/ for the latest Cyclone Advice.  This is the last Kriol translation that will be done because the cyclone is weakening and moving away from Kriol-speaking areas.