The loss of knowledge across a language shift boundary

The Katherine Region is a hotspot for endangered languages and it is often said that when a language is lost, cultural knowledge is lost too. However, what actually happens to cultural knowledge when a language falls out of use is rarely carefully investigated. Dr Greg Dickson's PhD research through the Australian National University considered exactly this question. He worked with the last elderly speakers of the Marra language (from the Gulf of Carpentaria coast) and young Kriol speaking adults in Ngukurr to look at what is lost and maintained across the language shift boundary. Three key domains were investigated:

  1. the lexicon of Kriol (especially non-English based verbs),
  2. kinship and kin terms used by Marra and Kriol speakers and
  3. bush medicine knowledge and nomenclature.

Ultimately, the research found examples of loss, maintenance and also instances where Kriol speakers are making their own innovations.

About the speaker

Greg Dickson has over 10 years work experience working with Aboriginal languages in the Northern Territory including facilitating community-based and school-based language programs, delivering training delivery for Indigenous language speakers, documenting endangered languages and working as an accredited Kriol-English interpreter.

Greg completed a PhD with the Australian National University in 2015 and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Uni- versity of Queensland, with the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, carrying out a project surveying dialects of Kriol.