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Synapse Seminar: Searching for a sixth sense with Gurindji people, Felicity Meakins, 23 Mar

Australian National University, Evolution, Felicity Meakins

Synapse Seminar: Searching for a sixth sense with Gurindji people

Speaker: Felicity Meakins, University of Queensland/ CoEDL CI

When: 23 Mar 2020, 3.30pm-5.30pm

Where: Lecture Theatre 2, Hedley Bull Building (#130), ANU

Registration: essential via Eventbrite

Abstract:

Felicity MeakinsLike most First Nations languages, Gurindji does not have words for right/left, but expresses spatial relations according to cardinal directions, for example “put the flour north of the vegemite” or “there’s a fly on your west shoulder”.

This attention to geocentric cues has cognitive effects that show that Gurindji people have an extraordinary mental map of the world anchored in the trajectory of the sun, but which is constantly in operation regardless of the time of day.

One question is whether this unique attention to geocentric cues is reflected neurologically, i.e. whether Gurindji people have a hard-wired magneto-reception ability akin to migratory animals.

Human neurophysiology has been shown to contain a geomagnetic sensory system (Wang et al 2019). Small rotations in the magnetic field triggered drops in the brain’s EEG alpha-wave power. However, no participants were consciously aware of these magnetic field shifts.

All participants tested spoke English, which uses a left/right system, with cardinal terms marginal in everyday speech. On the other hand, the Gurindji spatial orientation ability is so casual and accurate, we propose that they might be consciously aware of the geomagnetic field – a new human 6th sense.

Bio

A/Prof Felicity Meakins is an ARC Future Fellow at the University of Queensland and a CI in the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language. She specialises in the documentation of Australian Indigenous languages in northern Australia and the effect of English on these languages. Meakins has worked as a community linguist and academic for the past 20 years, facilitating language revitalisation programs, consulting on Native Title claims and conducting research into Indigenous languages. This work has provided the basis for four dictionaries, five books of translated texts, Case-Marking in Contact (Benjamins, 2011), A Grammar of Bilinarra (with Rachel Nordlinger, Mouton, 2014), Understanding Linguistic Fieldwork (with Jennifer Green & Myfany Turpin, Routledge, 2018) and numerous papers on language contact.

This seminar is part of the SYNAPSE: The CHL trans-disciplinary seminar series

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