bruderlin maclean publishing services website
EDITING editing aboriginal voices

Editing Aboriginal voices

Editing Aboriginal writing: is it different?

Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander or Indigenous?

Australian Aboriginal English.

Representing people's voices in print: English words

Representing people's voices in print: language words

Glossing Aboriginal languages

CATE workshop, August 2009

Useful resources for those editing Aboriginal writing

Australian Aboriginal English

In her preface to The Cambridge Australian English Style Guide, Pam Peters notes that "Since World War II Australian English has emerged as a variety in its own right". Australian English now has its own government-endorsed style manual and national dictionary, but other non-standard varieties of English have been in currency for many years.

Among these are Australian Aboriginal English (sometimes called "pidgin" or "broken English") and Kriol. The most comprehensive description of Aboriginal English is that prepared by Jay Arthur in Aboriginal English: A cultural study (Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1996). Her introduction to the book describes the development of a pidgin between the early colonisers (who themselves spoke several varieties of English, and Gaelic) and the Gadigal and Eora communities they encountered. As the frontier advanced across Australia so too did this pidgin, gradually evolving and incorporating aspects of the different language communities that pidgin-speakers encountered. After two centuries the result is variation that sees Aboriginal English as a continuum of Englishes – from a variety very much like standard English in parts of southern Australia to Kriol, a language in its own right, in northern Australia.

(For a status report on pidgin/Aboriginal English in New South Wales, see Jean Harkins' chapter on the subject in the Handbook of Aboriginal Languages of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.)

There are a number of features of Aboriginal English that the person transcribing speakers of Aboriginal English and editors working on these transcriptions should be aware of. Some English words that appear to have the same meaning as their English equivalents may not have the same meaning at all. Examples include the exclusive use of the masculine pronoun "him" when discussing males or females, the use of the word "bin" or "been", and the addition to verbs of "-im" or "-em" to show transitivity.

long time olden time Some years ago I worked at Aboriginal-controlled publishing house IAD Press in Alice Springs. In 1991 we published a collection of oral histories gathered in the mid 1970s by Peter Read. The collection had lain in the archives of the Northern Territory Department of Education for a decade before Read dug them out and proposed a book. The result was Long Time, Olden Time: Aboriginal accounts of Northern Territory history, which we (ambitiously) published as a book with three audio cassette tapes.

Unlike some of IAD Press's other books, the stories in Long Time, Olden Time were exclusively recorded and transcribed in Aboriginal English. John Henderson, then working on the Arrernte Dictionary Program, drafted a single-page note on the The language of the stories (372KB pdf) to aid readers' comprehension of the subtleties of Aboriginal English.

If you'd like to attempt a transcription of a story spoken in Aboriginal English then the following audio file is a recording of Dinny Japaljarri, a Warlpiri man from Yuendumu. An extract from Dinny's story, recorded by Peter Read in 1977, provided the title for the book Long Time, Olden Time. It contains many of the features typical of Aboriginal English; it's really at the continuum of Aboriginal Englishes that are closest to Kriol. Play the audio (1.3MB MP3) and try your own transcription before opening the pdf file below it that shows the version prepared by Read and IAD Press. (The first voice you hear, introducing the story, is that of Peter Read.)

Dinny Japaljarri: Long Time, Olden Time(124KB pdf)

kaytetye countryAn extended version of Henderson's original text, titled On Reading Aboriginal English (556KB pdf), appeared in the introductory section of Kaytetye Country: An Aboriginal history of the Barrow Creek area. (Kaytetye Country, compiled and edited by Grace Koch, with translations by Harold Koch, was published by IAD Press in 1993.) This note on language expands to include information on word order (which may be more free in Aboriginal English), prepositions, and the omission of articles and possessives.

I've added a link to ABC Radio National's Lingua Franca show in which Jill Kitson interviews Jay Arthur (with transcript). In the show, originally broadcast in 1999, Arthur muses on the way we understand words such as "river" and "lake", often applying definitions that appear more suited to different continents.




bruderlin maclean facebook page bruderlin maclean home page bruderlin maclean portfolio page bruderlin maclean description of services bruderlin maclean client list bruderlin maclean about us page bruderlin maclean contact details