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.