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Public lecture by Jennifer Green: 'Sand, Song, Sign and Language: Narrative traditions from the Central Desert', 17 August 2015

Evolution, Shape, University of Queensland

Date: 17 August 2015

When: 5:00-6:30pm Mon 17 August 2015
Where: Terrace Room (Level 6, Sir Llew Edwards Bldg), the University of Queensland

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The task of visualising language depends very much on what we imagine language to be. If the starting point is that 'language' encompasses more than just speech or words and includes various types of visible bodily action then the challenges of modelling the temporal dynamics of communication multiply. The purposes for visualising language, the theoretical assumptions made and the tools employed are similarly diverse. This lecture draws on examples of sand stories from Central Australia, a traditional form of Indigenous narrative in which storytellers incorporate speech, song, sign, gesture and drawing. A story begins with the clearing of a space on the ground. Ephemeral graphic forms and mini-installations of leaves and other small objects are employed dynamically in the process of storytelling. Between 'scenes' the space on the ground is erased before the drawing begins again, and this provides a graphic episodic marker that delineates transitions in time and space. These stories range from spontaneous accounts of everyday events to more formal performances that are closely associated with the ancestral topography of the land and its Dreamings. Understanding how these stories work as a dynamic multimodal practice provides an insight into the poetic and artistic traditions of an ancient culture. More broadly it contributes to the theory and analysis of language and multimodality in human communication, and shows how important it is to see 'language' as a composite achievement where different semiotic systems work together. The lecture will be richly illustrated with film of sand stories and sign languages from Central Australia.

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Jenny GreenJennifer Green is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Languages and Linguistics at the University of Melbourne and a member of RUIL (Research Unit for Indigenous Language). Green has worked in Central Australia since the mid 1970s documenting Indigenous languages, cultural history and visual arts. She has researched and compiled two major dictionaries: Alyawarr (Green 1992) and Central & Eastern Anmatyerr (Green 2010); co-authored The Town Grew up Dancing: The Life and Art of Wenten Rubuntja(Rubuntja & Green 2002) and collaborated on many language documentation projects, including recent work on Indigenous sign languages with Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education. Her recently published book, Drawn from the Ground: Sound, Sign and Inscription in Central Australian Sand Stories (Cambridge University Press, 2014), has been described as a "tour de force" that "takes the study of language in a totally new direction" (Prof. Nicholas Evans, Australian National University).

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