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Fully bright Caroline wins prestigious scholarship

Australian National University, Indigenous Languages, Jane Simpson, Shape

Date: 29 November 2019

Freshly minted Honours graduate Caroline Hendy is anxiously awaiting to see which of her five PhD applications in the United States will be successful after she was awarded a Fulbright Postgraduate Scholarship.

Caroline scored a First Class winning 92% for her Honours in Linguistics, supervised by Centre Associate Investigator Carmel O’Shannessy at ANU, and has applied to a disparate group of universities including MIT, Stanford, California (Santa Barbara), and New Mexico.

“Two of my PhD proposals are in linguistics and three are in educational linguistics,” Caroline says.  “What I’d like to look at is the potential application of linguistics for educational research, including the general lack of bilingual and mother tongue education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.”

Having completed a Bachelor of Languages majoring in German and Linguistics, Caroline’s Honours thesis tackled the distribution and acoustic properties of fricatives in Light Warlpiri, a new mixed language first described by Dr O’Shannessy. (Fricatives are sounds made by incompletely constricting the air coming out of your mouth: think [s], [f], [v], [z] etc.)

Light Warlpiri is a mixed language created out of English, which has eight fricatives, Kriol, which has three, and traditional Aboriginal language Warlpiri, which has none. Using Dr O’Shannessy’s recordings from Lajamanu (Northern Territory), Caroline meticulously broke down the phonetic data to investigate what, if anything, happens with fricatives in Light Warlpiri.

“I found evidence for Light Warlpiri having a distinction between ‘f’ and ‘v’ , as well as ‘s’ and ‘sh’, but nothing else,” Caroline reports. “The English [ʒ] sound (as in the ‘g’ in ‘genre’) becomes a [ʃ] (as in the ‘sh’ in ‘shop’) and the [z] sound becomes an [s]. So it’s not quite like any of the three languages that go into it, which supports the emerging research into various mixed languages that seems to show that it’s not a wholesale borrowing from one sound system or another – it’s a truly hybrid situation.”

Caroline already has form in the education space. Working with Centre Deputy Director Jane Simpson, she has done extensive work with the Ngukurr Language Centre (NT) to create an online course to teach Kriol to English speakers.

“The main questions I asked people in Ngukurr in preparation for the course are: is this a good idea, and what would you like to see in such a course?” Caroline explains. “The things that came out were particularly about relationships and respect in the culture.

“Kriol is the first language of the community of Ngukurr. So, making sure that English speakers in the community have resources available to learn Kriol and culturally-appropriate behaviour is really important. The community also has both a definite need and a desire for the school to be bilingual, for the kids to be taught primarily in the first language, with English introduced later on – something that sparked my interest in doing an educational linguistics PhD. The Kriol course is a huge project – I think I’m about half way through!”

Caroline has also provided research assistance to the ERLI project, led by Chief Investigator Caroline Jones, collecting and analysing data about the language inventory. On top of all that she is currently actively learning German, Kriol, Japanese, Mandarin, Irish, Spanish, and American Sign Language.

With such a full agenda and wide range of interests, the Fullbright Scholarship will certainly come in handy. Congratulations – and best of luck Caroline!

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
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