April 01, 2016

Kriol Proujek: update

So many weeks, so many communities, so many interviews but no updates on this blog since I got all excited about the start of my Kriol Proujek! Oops!

In case you're new here, I'm working on a research project trying to figure out dialects of Kriol. The plan is to visit all the communities east of Katherine where Kriol is spoken, interview people (asking the same questions each time) and work out what differs linguistically (and what doesn't) between communities. It's old fashioned dialectology basically - not very different from what people in England or America did when they went from state to state or village to village to lookout for different dialects. Except it's with Kriol.

Well, two and a half months in and the project is going really well. I've visited seven communities: Bulman, Beswick, Barunga, Jilkminggan, Minyerri, Urapunga and Borroloola and done twenty interviews involving 42 people. That means I now have about 40 hours of Kriol recordings to transcribe!

Driving into rain, on return from Borroloola (Carpentaria Hwy, March 2016)
In between, I went to Sydney for a week to share details about the project with others in the research centre I'm in: the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Languages, aka CoEDL. I presented a poster that described the project's background, methodology and a few early bits of information. You can check out the poster here.

Presenting my project poster at CoEDL Fest, Western Sydney University, Feb 2016
The interviews have overall gone extremely well, thanks to so many brilliant people who have volunteered to participate. Finding people has been pretty random. In some communities, I know quite a few people and that's a good starting place, so I've interviewed a few people I knew already. Other places, I've had to introduce myself to strangers and workout other ways to find people to interview, but it's usually worked out really well. It's been a surprise, but most of the people I've interviewed didn't know me from a bar of soap before the interview.

Part of the interview is a picture task. This is from an interview we did in a Minyerri backyard, Feb 2016 
And that's been really amazing - that a bunch of people have been happy to sit down for an hour or two and answer a stack of questions from a strange Kriol-speaking Munanga they've never met before. And to do it all in Kriol - a language that is not typically used between strangers, especially between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. So many of the interviewees have done a great job of using casual, local Kriol and rarely switching to English or English-ey Kriol. It says something about them as excellent research participants, but it must also say something about the benefits of being a good Kriol speaker. I must come across with sufficient authenticity/fluency that most people feel comfortable talking how they'd talk without Munanga around. And I'm a bit chuffed about that.

On top of that, many of the people I've interviewed have shared some great yarns, insights and personal stories. Some quite touching stories, some genuinely hilarious. Sometimes, I feel completely unworthy and humbled by the generosity and openness that a lot of people have shown me. Other times, I'm just happy and grateful. Okay, so it probably helps that they get a few bucks from the university for their participation, but it's not like it's a 10-minute job. These really are quite extended interviews these guys are doing.

Of course, not every interview has gone brilliantly, nor has every bush trip. None have been disastrous though, so overall, I'm feeling really positive about the progress.

And the info itself? Well... revelation after revelation basically. I've barely transcribed or gone over the recordings I've made yet so I can't say anything concrete about what I've been learning. But despite that, I have a growing list of variables - currently about 50 - that seem to be pretty obvious markers of different dialects within Kriol.

A variable isn't a word as such, but something that has different words or forms (called variants) with the same meaning or function. So, for instance, in Australia, 'plant' is a variable, that has the variants 'plahnt' and 'plent', depending on where you're from or how posh you are. A more famous variable in Australia is swimwear: how you'll say 'togs', 'cozzie', 'bathers' or 'swimmers', depending on where you're from.

In Jilkminggan, I was completely spoiled by a friend letting me stay with him in this great spot (Feb 2016).
In Kriol-speaking communities, there are some obvious and well known ones. I mentioned some in my last post, but more and more keep cropping up. Some are differences in pronunciation (aka phonological variation). In Beswick and Bulman, 'water' is pronounced woda but in Ngukurr it's wada or warra. That alternation between a and o is also reflected in the verb that describes rocking or cradling a baby or kid to quieten it down/put it to sleep: Beswick mob say worroworro but around the Roper, it's warrawarra.

Variation in pronunciation also seems to help people from Minyerri/Jilkminggan distinguish themselves from people from Ngukurr. People from all those places are usually said to speak just 'Roper Kriol', but there looks to be ways to break that down further. The verb for 'get' in Ngukurr is gajim, but I'm pretty sure I heard Minyerri mob and Jilkminggan mob say gejim or even gijim. In Barunga, Beswick and Bulman, you'll really only hear gedim.

Other times, variation is lexical - that is, a whole different word is used. Kinterms are particularly key here. For example, Beswickmob call their mother's elder sister mulah, but in Ngukurr, they're just your mami. But there are plenty of non-family related variables too. One I have only just learned about is the verb for 'accompany': some Beswick interviewees introduced the term balpbara to me, which I'd never heard before. When I was in Jilkminggan and Minyerri, I was told that they say marawi for the same thing. I'd never heard that word before either!

The examples just keep coming, and I haven't even started going over the recordings properly or done any careful analysis. I'm looking forward to that!

I have another few months to finish off the community visits and interviews - still a long way to go. But next week, I'm going back to UQ for a week so they remember what I look like.

Random selfie outside the new Beswick shop (March 2016).
In the meantime, stay tuned for more revelations. If you're interested, that is. I haven't been too sure what to do with this blog while I've been doing this project. On one hand, I could make this more of a journal, with posts every day or two. That'd be fairly easy to do because I'm usually learning and doing enough. On the other hand, does anyone care for that much info? Maybe I'll just aim for the occasional update when I feel like it. Happy for your thoughts on that... until next time...