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Intense Kriol project offers new skills

minority languages, Shape

Date: 11 December 2016

Intense Kriol project offers new skills

Learning any new language is a huge task, but if you want to do it fast, really fast, then a summer project transcribing Kriol is possibly a great option.

That’s certainly the case for four Summer Research Scholars from The University of Queensland (UQ), who are working alongside three Kriol speakers from Ngukurr in Southern Arnhem Land to transcribe 48 hours of Kriol recordings.

One of the Kriol speakers, Grant Thompson, is impressed with the efforts of the summer students. “You’ve got to listen properly and have a good ear because most of the speakers talk really fast. I’m a Kriol speaker but I even found it hard to get at what they were saying.”

Alongside Grant, two other vistors from the Ngukurr Language Centre are working with the students on the transcription project: Tamara Joshua and Angelina Joshua. Angelina has acquired a profile on social media in Australia after the release of SBS’s interactive video My Grandmother’s Lingo about her grandmother’s language Marra. But her main activity over the past two weeks has been helping with the Kriol translations.

Angelina Joshua assisting Kaylee Gannaway with Kriol transcription

The work is part of an ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language (CoEDL) research project being run by CoEDL Postdoctoral Fellow Dr Greg Dickson.

The recordings come from 10 different communities, mostly located in the Katherine region, and Greg will be using these to study Kriol dialects.

He says the UQ students, Klaudia Hautsalo, Sammy Kelly, Kaylee Gannaway and Hamish Pawlaczyk didn’t know Kriol before beginning their summer placement on the project. “On the first day, with the help of the Kriol speakers, they may have transcribed two minutes of a recording, if that. Now, after nearly two weeks, they can get through 10 minutes.”

Klaudia Hautsalo confirms the steep learning curve, “before we started this I didn’t know anything about Kriol. Now it is invading my personal life; I’ve found myself texting in Kriol.”

She says as an undergraduate linguistics student the project has been valuable not only for learning a new language but for the experience with transcription and using a program like ELAN.

For the Kriol speakers, the project has been valuable too. Grant says it has focused his attention on the grammar and components of Kriol. “Our languages are very important to us, even Kriol. We do as much as we can to save our languages.”

All the participants speak about the intensity of the project. They are even dreaming about speaking in the new language.

“When you are learning a new language you tend to open your mind,” says Grant.

Tamara Joshua keeping track of transcription progress - she was the first one of the team to fully transcribe one of the extended Kriol dialectology interviews.

Kriol is spoken across large parts of northern Australia by around 20,000 people. The language has its origins in a pidgin that developed in NSW after colonisation. Kriol then emerged in parts of the Northern Territory in the early-mid 1900s as a result of abrubt and often brutal colonisation processes, developing into a fully-fledged creole language with its own distinctive vocabulary, sound system and grammatical rules. 

The two-week visit to UQ by the Ngukurr Language Centre representatives has been co-funded by CoEDL and the Ngukurr Language Centre while the Summer Research Program is delivered by the University of Queensland.

Top image: Kaylee Gannaway and Angelina Joshua (back) plus Hamish Pawlaczyk and Grant Thompson (front) transcribing together.

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

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