So when you've devoted the last 10 years of your life to working on Aboriginal languages it's easy to forget that what you do is actually quite unique in the context of wider (whiter?) society. It's what I do (nearly) every day and what I think about every day and has become completely normalised to me.
I do have enough self-awareness to know that I don't lead an average life and have an interesting job but I wasn't quite ready for the responses I got last night when I talked to a couple of people about what I do. I was chatting to an acquaintance - a tertiary-educated professional who has lived in Katherine long enough - who asked me what my PhD is about. So I gave my spiel that tries to make it sound not completely obscure and esoteric. The conversation went something like this:
Me: "I'm looking at two languages from Ngukurr - Kriol and a traditional language, Marra - and looking at how you talk about the same topic in both languages. Like, a lot of people think that each language has a unique way of describing the world and it reflects that culture. So I'm trying to look closely at that idea because there's only a few old people who speak Marra now and everyone else speaks Kriol."
Other guy: Blank look. Extended pause. Then...
"The other day someone used the word 'pusillanimous' and I had to look it up in a dictionary".
An hour later I was small-talking with another guy I'd just met who is new to Katherine (works for the RAAF) and gave him even simpler details about what I do and was met with a similar blank look and silent response.
Is what I've devoted my life to so bizarre that it leaves even well-educated people who are not strangers to the Katherine Region dumbfounded?
I do understand why a fellow NT-linguist colleague chooses to tell randoms that she's a teacher rather than Aboriginal language linguist. But for me, I don't want to hide what I do from regular people for the sake of social niceties (and therefore perpetuate Aboriginal languages as being 'unseen' and overlooked). If what I do confuses others or makes them uncomfortable then that's their problem, not mine.