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Future Fellowship awarded to Felicity Meakins

endangered languages, Felicity Meakins

Date: 7 June 2017

Congratulations to Felicity Meakins, one of our CoEDL CIs from the University of Queensland, who has been awarded an ARC Future Fellowship to undertake extensive research into colonial-influenced language change in Australia.

There are three main components to the research. First, Dr Meakins will conduct fieldwork and a broad survey of new varieties of language occurring in northern Australia. When Europeans arrived in Australia, there were around 300 languages spoken by Indigenous Australians but colonisation and the introduction of English had a profound impact. Now only 18 Indigenous languages remain strong, but as Dr Meakins says, in their place is an emerging and dynamic array of new under-recognised languages including Kriol dialects and fusions of traditional languages with English.

Another component to the project is focussed on developing the largest diachronic archive of an Indigenous language, namely Gurindji, a language Dr Meakins has been working on for two decades, and which is undergoing change as a result of contact with Kriol.

Artist, curator and researcher Brenda L Croft, a member of the Gurindji/Malngin/Mudpurra peoples, will be working with Felicity on this part of the project. “What has been evident to me, has been Felicity’s commitment to the community, her ethical approach to ensure community members drive the project,” says Brenda. “It is a two-way learning process and she’s great to work with.”

“These projects that Felicity and others work on are absolutely vital for the community who are determined that our language is recorded and documented for younger members and future generations.”

The third component of the project will take this Gurindji archive and will use population genetics models, taken from biology, to develop new big-data methods for understanding how change occurs across generations of speakers. Dr Meakins has already done some preliminary work on this type of phylogenetic modelling with population geneticists from the ANU.

Dr Meakins hopes her research will result in new methods for predicting mechanisms of change across languages and generations of speakers. Other expected outcomes of the project include recognising new ways of speaking and providing Indigenous communities with guiding principles for language revitalisation.

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

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