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The continuum of language attitudes in Barunga: Kriol as identity marker or lingua franca?

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Cutfield, S. (2012). The continuum of language attitudes in Barunga: Kriol as identity marker or lingua franca?. Talk presented at Fieldwork Forum. University of California at Berkeley. 2012-11.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0014-65F2-C
Abstract
In this seminar I explore the diverse and often contradictory language attitudes reported by Kriol speakers in the Barunga Aboriginal community of northern Australia. This work-in-progress report is part of a larger research interest in local language attitudes about Kriol and who can speak Kriol in the Katherine region of the Northern Territory. Barunga Kriol is a dialect of the English-lexifier creole spoken predominantly by Aboriginal people in the north and west of Australia. It is the lingua franca of the Barunga community and the first language of the majority. Kriol is and continues to be heavily stigmatized by both indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. However, since the 1960s, an SIL-initiated movement to recognise Kriol as a ‘full’ language and as a source of cultural pride resulted in the publication of a Kriol-language Bible, and a Kriol-and-English bilingual education program at the Barunga school. Locally it is assumed that this movement has been successful and that Kriol is evaluated positively in the Barunga community. However, Ponsonnet (2010) challenges assumed local positive esteem of Kriol, reporting that younger, monolingual Kriol speakers do not in fact hold their first language in high regard. Further, she contrasts their negative views with those of their parents and grandparents, whose more positive views of Kriol are explained in terms of their deriving their cultural identity from their knowledge of their traditional languages. Surprised by Ponsonnet's findings, I conducted a series of interviews with local language professionals who had had experience as either teachers or students in the bilingual education program. The hypothesis was that their exposure to explicit Kriol language instruction and positive evaluation of Kriol would result in them holding Kriol in high esteem. Further, it was hypothesized that as these individuals have continued in language-focussed work (e.g. as Kriol language interpreters, as employees of the local language centre, as regular consultants to linguists, as traditional language instructors, as students in linguistics courses, as language activists, etc.), that their attitudes towards the local language ecology would perhaps be more insightful and sophisticated than might be attested in of a survey of a larger cross-section of the community. The results of this small sample of suggest a broad range of views on Kriol, regardless of generation level or status as either former student or teacher. The majority of subjects' statements distanced themselves from Kriol as their main and/or first language, and did not connect speaking Kriol to performing their identity, nor to its Aboriginal language substrate features. A minority of interviewees did offer more nuanced insights and these will be reported in detail.