Aboriginal English & Its Role in Promoting Identity

An Overview of Aboriginal English and its Role in Promoting Identity

This article has been written by Liam McAlary, a Years 7 – 12, VCE Legal Studies and VCE English Language Tutor at Learnmate. If you’re interested in private tutoring from Liam then please check out his page here.

Hey guys, this is my second article for the month and once again it relates to Unit 4, Area of Study 1. This article focuses on one of the most interesting parts of this outcome, which is Aboriginal English.

Aboriginal English is a non-standard variety of Australian English which is used by indigenous members of the community (indigenous people make up approximately 3% of the population). Moreover, Aboriginal English plays an extremely significant role in promoting the cultural identity of Indigenous Australians, and has various features which differ from Standard or, “conventional,” Australian English. In terms of your essays, Aboriginal English will often go into a paragraph about cultural varieties with ethnolects.

Most of the features and examples that I discuss in this article are sourced from a document released by the Queensland Courts a few years ago (I cannot track it down online unfortunately).

Firstly, I will discuss some of the main linguistic features of Aboriginal English. The morphology of Aboriginal English has some distinct features from, “conventional,” Australian English. Aboriginal English speakers often do not indicate plurals or tense when they are speaking generally omitting the inflectional morphemes such as, “s,” and, “ed.” Moreover, there are also distinctive syntactic features of Aboriginal English, such as double negatives, and interrogative tags, such as, “eh,” which is used at the end of a declarative sentence to turn it into an interrogative (they (were) sitting outside the bank, eh). Phonologically, Aboriginal English is also a distinct variety of English, as certain phonemes such as, /f/, and, /v/, do not exist in Aboriginal languages are thus often pronounced with /p/, /b/, /t/, or, /d/ instead. Additionally, the /h/ phoneme is also frequently not pronounced by speakers of Aboriginal English. Finally, there are also distinct semantic features in Aboriginal English, such as the meaning of mother, which means a person’s biological mother and all her sisters, and the word camp means home.

Given that this unit is all about the role of language in creating and promoting identity, I should probably talk about what Aboriginal English does in terms of identity. Aboriginal English is covertly prestigious within the communities which use it, and for many indigenous Australians, it is their first language. Furthermore, the practice of code switching also demonstrates the significance of Aboriginal English as a means of promoting indigenous identity. Many indigenous Australians will use Standard English at work, and then revert to speaking Aboriginal English when they are with other indigenous people, demonstrating the language’s covert prestige in Aboriginal communities.

Aboriginal English also helps to reflect the schema and identity of Indigenous people. Aboriginal people’s schema is largely centred around community and the semantics of Aboriginal English, particularly the broadened meaning of Mother help to reflect this attitude. Moreover, the Aboriginal’s belief that they do not own the land, rather that they are the custodians of it is reflected by the fact that they use the word camp to mean land.

I hope you have found this article helpful.

If you loved this article, you will LOVE all of our other articles, such as: Improve At School Without Opening A Single Textbook, 2U Maths Tips from a Past Student (98 in 2U Maths)! and My Pathway To Becoming A Tutor.


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Aboriginal English & Its Role in Promoting Identity