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Whitefellas using language in public

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Cutfield, S. (2011). Whitefellas using language in public. Talk presented at Language in Public, AIATSIS Research Seminar Series. Australian Institute for Aboriginal Studies, Canberra, Australia. 2011-04-18.

Is it ever OK for Whitefellas (Anglo-Australians) to use Aboriginal languages publicly? Is it imperative that Whitefellas be proficient in a given Australian language before they try use it publicly? What are the stereotypes that Whitefellas are invoking or seeking to avoid in their public use of Australian languages? In this seminar I seek to address these questions by examining the use of Aboriginal languages in texts created by Whitefellas. Issues of accuracy, authenticity and socio-political positioning are explored in a variety of texts set from a single multilingual area, namely the town of Katherine and the Aboriginal communities to its north-east. While authorial disrespect for editing and/or linguistic conventions are easily interpreted as racist, I suggest that a more nuanced examination of imperfect language use by whitefellas and Aboriginal responses to this reveals a continuum of practice, with mock forms of language at one end and genuine attempts at cross-cultural communication and representation at the other. Texts examined include generalist publications by academics (Cowlishaw 1999, Smith 2004), young adult fiction (Norrington, 2002), and a videoed speech given by the Katherine Mayor. References Cowlishaw, Gillian. 1999. Rednecks, Eggheads and Blackfellas: A study of racial power and intimacy in Australia. St Leonards: Allen & Unwin. Norrington, Leonie. 2002. The Barrumbi Kids. Malvern, SA: Omnibus Books. Smith, Claire. 2004. Country, Kin and Culture: Survival of an Australian Aboriginal Community. Kent Town: Wakefield Press.