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ANU - CoEDL Linguistics Seminar: Scary stories in the sand, Susan Poetsch, 11 Dec

Australian National University, Shape

Date: 8 December 2020

Seminar: Scary stories in the sand: Arrernte children talking and drawing spontaneous first-person narratives

Speaker: Susan Poetsch

When: 11 Dec 2020, 1pm (AEDT)

Where: via zoom (please email for zoom link invitation)


This talk describes communicative skills of five Arrernte children aged 7;4–9;6 in their spontaneous telling and drawing of ‘scary stories’ in the sand. The young narrators use some of the semiotic resources known to characterise adult multimodal sand story practices in Central Australian communities (Green, 2014; Green & Turpin, 2013; Wilkins, 1997) and to have been adapted by younger generations (Eickelkamp, 2013; Ellis, Green, & Kral, 2017; Kral, 2012). The analysis organises the children’s integrated speech, drawing and use of a stylus into three main categories: entities (landmarks, people, scary beings), path lines (protagonists’ journeys) and swipes (transitions between scenes). The narrators are found to bind their story worlds to the real world, through the non-fiction nature of their accounts, use of first-person, and references to people, monsters, places and incidents in their community. They demonstrate their growing understanding of the physical layout and social geography of their community, Arrernte understandings of how the world is organised, and Arrernte ways of storytelling. This is one of three different sample situations in which I have recorded Eastern-Central Arrernte children’s language and communicative skills for my PhD research.


Eickelkamp, U. (2013). Sand storytelling: It's social meaning in Anangu children's lives. In U. Eickelkamp (Ed.), Growing up in Central Australia: New anthropological studies of Aboriginal childhood and adolescence (pp. 103-130). New York: Berghahn Books.

Ellis, E. M., Green, J., & Kral, I. (2017). Family in mind: Socio-spatial knowledge in a Ngaatjatjarra/Ngaanyatjarra children’s game. Research on Children and Social Interaction, 1(2), 164-198.

Green, J. (2014). Drawn from the ground: Sound, sign and inscription in Central Australian sand stories. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Green, J., & Turpin, M. (2013). If you go down to the soak today: Symbolism and structure in an Arandic children's story. Anthropological Linguistics, 55(4), 358-394.

Kral, I. (2012). Talk, text and technology: Literacy and social practice in a remote Indigenous community. Bristol, Buffalo, Toronto: Multilingual Matters.

Wilkins, D. (1997). Alternative representations of space: Arrernte narratives in sand and sign. In M. Biemans & J. v. d. Weijer (Eds.), Proceedings of the CLS Opening Academic Year 1997-1998 (pp. 133-162). Nijmegen: Nijmegen/Tilburg Center for Language Studies.

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