Decolonising Linguistics: Spinning a Better Yarn

The Indigenous Alliance for Linguistic Research, Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, Sydney Centre for Indigenous Research and the Research Unit for Indigenous Language, have formed a new study group called ‘Decolonising Linguistics: Spinning a Better Yarn’. This study group aims to discuss topics of relevance to Indigenous communities involved in linguistic research and linguists more broadly, around framing a new ethical model for linguistic research based on a human rights agenda.

Each month there will be a talk, and usually also a set reading. We are excited to be organising this study group and we welcome the opportunity to discuss many important topics in a friendly and open manner. It is extremely important that all discussion takes place in a safe and respectful manner. 

The study group will take place on Zoom. The sessions will run for 1.5 hours and the presentation will be followed by plenty of time for discussion and questions. The first talk will be on Wednesday the 4th of August at 3pm. Lesley Woods and Jaky Troy will present the first session, introducing the focus of the group. A description of their talk follows and a chapter of Lesley’s forthcoming book will be the set reading.

The group will meet on the first Wednesday of each month whenever possible. The following meetings are planned for 2021:

  • September: Felicity Meakins and Myf Turpin will present on ethics, authorship, supervision and archiving
  • October: Harley Dunolly-Lee will present on Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s book Decolonizing Methodologies
  • November: Lowana Tudor-Smith & Paul Williams will present on Marie Battiste’s article Research ethics for protecting Indigenous knowledge and heritage
  • December: Jacinta Tobin & Jaky Troy will present on Jeannie Bell’s article Language and linguistic knowledge: A cultural treasure

First meeting, 4th August 3pm

Re-Defining Collaborative Linguistic Research

Jakelin Troy and Lesley Woods

In Australia, as in many other parts of the world, we are seeing Indigenous peoples pushing back against research and asserting their rights to have control over their languages and cultural knowledge. It is a matter of basic human rights.

The current model of ethical linguistic research in Australia has stalled, seeing Indigenous communities beginning to reject linguistic research and documentation of their languages in some areas around Australia and, many Indigenous organisations and individuals becoming anti-linguist.

In this presentation, we look at some of the most pertinent issues and discuss what can be done to bring linguistic practice and research into line with Indigenous people’s desires and expectations in the field.

In 2016-17, Lesley Woods explored these issues in depth through a qualitative research project in which she interviewed Indigenous and non-Indigenous linguists and practitioners; one of which was Dr Jakelin Troy. This presentation is based on the outcomes of that research and forms the basis for Lesley’s forthcoming book.

Set reading: Woods, Lesley (forthcoming) Ethics in Linguistic Research and Working with Indigenous Communities: Redefining Collaborative Linguistic Research: Indigenous and Non- Indigenous Perspectives. Canberra: ANU Press. Chapter Two: A Review of the Literature.


The video from this session can be viewed <here>.
Please note that the video is captioned but you need to turn them on while viewing in YouTube.


Second meeting, 15th September 4pm-5.30pm 

Roles and attributions in research outputs

Felicity Meakins and Myf Turpin

Zoom link: https://unimelb.zoom.us/j/81083358401?pwd=dU5xME5kVG53UElvTE9lakVCSFhWZz09
Password: 050039

In this session, we will discuss authorship and the explicit recognition of multiple roles in research, which means all contributions to publications are equally valued. We will also discuss copyright and intellectual property statements to ensure future uses of knowledge are undertaken appropriately. We will also touch on models of research supervision and creative work + exegesis PhDs. 

Set reading: Meakins, F., Green, J., & Turpin, M. (2018). Understanding linguistic fieldwork. London: Routledge. Chs 2-3.


Third meeting, 5th October 2pm-3.30pm 

Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s Decolonising methodologies: research and Indigenous people: a reading group discussion

Led by:
Harley Dunolly-Lee
Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation and Monash University

Zoom link: https://unimelb.zoom.us/j/84875630383?pwd=ZVJpNkF2VDZ1YnRpTXFlZzI3RUlYUT09
Password: 017855

This chapter demonstrates that working alongside Indigenous communities is a central approach to decolonization. The world that we are born in and live in (the West) leads us to believe that the tools (Western Science) we acquire through institutions (such as Universities) are well equipped, especially for oppressed communities. Western science has grown and made its place since the arrival and expansion of Western colonies and societies. The genesis of this epistemological growth is attributed to 19th-century collectors. These early rovers collected what they believed in a short period of time all there is to know about Indigenous culture and people. From the 19th century up until now, the approach of obtaining Indigenous knowledge has changed. However, once this knowledge is stored and labeled, it is already colonized. Western science has not only presented its own interpretation of Indigenous people’s culture but there is a tradition where it strives to represent it. At the same time, the Indigenous people whose knowledge it belongs to have been excluded and ignored. In the past, when researchers have worked with Indigenous communities, the tools that they have obtained have often been shown to have little benefit for the community. This is where researchers need to start thinking about how their research will help Indigenous communities. Find the reading link here.

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University