Background and activities

BA (Hons) and PhD (University of Melbourne)

Research

I am a postdoctoral fellow within the Linguistic Complexity in the Individual and Society project at NTNU. My research program in sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology is concerned with exploring the social meanings of linguistic choices, in particular in the context of both the Indigenous and migrant languages of Australia. I am interested in understanding how the strategic manipulation of an individual’s linguistic repertoire in interaction is shaped by community-level formations of identity categories, and how the distinctiveness of linguistic codes is deployed in the discursive construction of identity.

My current research endeavour focuses on how speakers in Maningrida, a highly multilingual remote community in Arnhem Land, Northern Australia, use the different codes they speak in day-to-day interaction. My doctoral research took a multi-sited ethnographic approach to investigating the social meanings of Irish-language use in Ireland and the Irish diaspora. I have also worked on syntactic variation in Australian English and language use in online communities.

Fostering outward-facing engagement in linguistics is a further priority in my research. To this end, I have worked on communicating language-related issues to a non-academic audience, high-school students especially, through my work developing the Linguistics Roadshow, organising the Australian Computational and Linguistics Olympiad (OzCLO) in Victoria, and various media engagements (e.g. The Conversation, ABC radio, news.com.au and the Brisbane Times).

I am an Affiliate at the Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, an Adjunct at Batchelor Institute for Indigenous Tertiary Education, and an Associate at the Research Unit for Indigenous Language at the University of Melbourne. In July 2016 and 2017, I will be a Visiting Scholar at the School of Languages and Cultures at the University of Queensland.

Current project

Multilingual meaning-making: the sociolinguistics of language choice in Maningrida

This project investigates linguistic complexity through the lens of the sociolinguistics of language choice and use in a highly multilingual community. The project will focus on the acquisition and the social and pragmatic functions of the linguistic codes of Maningrida, Arnhem Land, Northern Australia.

Indigenous Australia is well-known for its complex patterns of multilingualism. Some 250 Indigenous languages form part of the diverse language ecologies of remote Australia, and the outcomes of language contact in the region encapsulate a range of creoles, mixed languages, koines and dynamic language mixing practices. Maningrida is a town of approximately 2000 people in north central Arnhem Land, with extremely high levels of multilingualism due to its role as a linguistic and socio-political nexus of many distinct groups from further afield in Arnhem Land. At last official report, fourteen distinct languages are spoken there, with most people speaking between two and six.

This research is situated at the intersection of the fields of sociolinguistics, linguistic anthropology and language acquisition, the former and latter especially being under-researched areas within the context of Aboriginal languages. The general questions framing the research are:

  • which languages are currently spoken at Maningrida?
  • how has the language ecology of Maningrida changed in the past three decades (since the last in-depth study)?
  • how are different linguistic codes used in interaction? What are their social and pragmatic functions? How best can language choice be accounted for in Maningrida?
  • how are children (and adults) socialised into linguistic and social patterns of code-use in Maningrida?

In particular, this study will focus on speakers of the Burarra dialects (Gun-nartpa, An-barra, Martay and Maringa), their practices of code-mixing and code-switching, and the process of dialect levelling or koineisation that these dialects have undergone in recent decades in this urban settings, in contributing to the formation of a new variety. Focusing on these speakers provides an exciting opportunity to understand the dynamic processes of how codes interact in a changing multilingual environment and to explore the role of social-indexical functions in shaping the form of change in language and language practices.