Sunday, November 05, 2017

Bob Dixon "Searching for aboriginal languages"

I've finished Bob Dixon's "Searching for Aboriginal languages".

It's an amazing book. He manages to get inside the head of aboriginal people and report their life truthfully and eloquently. He achieves this through his love of language and over time that translates into a love for the people who were giving him their dying languages.

It's full of interesting anecdotes as well as a whole lot of of linguistics, most of which I didn't understand. It's available on line you can download the pdf from here: Searching for Aboriginal languages. This book will help you understand aboriginal culture, the positive, the negative and the interesting, more so than most.

My quick, very inadequate notes included:

60 talk in language about wanting to kill the author (see below)
99 language forms reflect the present mountainous environment
100 I'll walk in front of you because even though I like you I don't like white people; if I walk behind I'll be tempted to knife you in the back
115-6 making woman's sexual organs
157 different language used for talking near in laws, shame built into the culture, error is shame
166 the taboo on the name of a dead person leads to borrowing words from another language
212 test out the author by talking BS at the first meeting
238-9 Yarrabah depressed, aboriginal culture destroyed replaced by nothing
251 hunger 2 days before welfare cheque
298 green ants medicinal so don't complain when they bite you

I have worked with family of some of the people in the book, which made it special. Details not included here.
"Mabi bayingala yawangga malagangu jangganany nyinany," Maggie said. "he's like a tree-climbing kangaroo sitting high in a tree eating malagan vines, that white man there. I'd like to throw him to the ground," she continued, "hit him when he's down there and the dog might bite him. Then peel his skin off, cook him in the fire and eat him. I'd eat his liver first. Cut his hands off and his tail, and put him back in the fire to cook a bit more. Cut the carcass up with a knife and share pieces around to all the kids ..." (p. 60)
update: for an outline of Bob Dixon's remarkable life see here (James Cook Uni site)

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