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Indigenous languages thesis day, ANU, 30 November 2015

Australian National University, Evolution, Learning, Processing, Shape

Date: 30 November 2015


When:9am-6pm, 30 November 2015

Where: Engma Room, Coombs building, ANU. Directions here: 



9 - 10.00 James Bednall: Temporal, aspectual and modal expression in Anindilyakwa


10.45 - 11.30   Claudia Cialone: Spatial language and cognition in Bininj Kunwok speakers of Western Arnhem Land


1.15pm  - 2.00pm    Denise Angelo,:Kriol: initial considerations for a grammatical description


2.00 - 3.00     Sally Dixon: Alyawarr children’s present temporal expression in two, closely-related speech varieties of Central Australia


3.00 - 4.00     SLLL SCHOOL PARTY

HRC Conference Room
A.D. Hope Bldg 14


4.00 - 4.45     Susan Poetsch        Children’s Arrernte,  Central Australia.   


4.45 on..   General discussion - pub?  dinner?


 ABSTRACTS (ordered by presentation)

James Bednall

Temporal, aspectual and modal expression in Anindilyakwa

The topic of temporal, aspectual and modal (TAM) expression is a complex and multifaceted one, involving areas such as inflectional morphology, lexical semantics, deixis and context-dependency of meaning, problems of quantification, and other aspects of syntax, semantics and pragmatics (Klein, 1994, p. xii)).  My doctoral research seeks to examine some of these complexities in Anindilyakwa, a non-Pama-Nyungan language from the top end of Australia.

            To date, there has been very little detailed research on tense, aspect and mood in Australian languages (Nordlinger & Caudal 2012, p. 74), and given that ‘most work in the development of a unified theoretical framework for TAM has relied on analyses… in the better known languages of Europe’ (Stirling and Dench, 2012, p. 1)it is important that a much wider range of languages are examined in order to better understand how TAM systems work in natural languages cross-linguistically (Stirling and Dench, 2012, p. 1).

            My doctoral research will provide an overview of TAM expression in Anindilyakwa by examining several primary areas: (i) inflectional paradigmatic head-marking of tense aspect and mood on verbs; (ii) the expression of aspectual classes in the lexicon (lexical aspect); (iii) non-inflectional modification of the verb through verb root reduplication and prosodic vowel lengthening; (iv) temporal and modal relations coded by other parts of speech, including adverbs, particles and other markers of discourse; and (v) discourse principles, where temporal relations are encoded through the organisation of the discourse rather than through specific words or constructions.

            In my Thesis Proposal Review I will present my doctoral research plan. I will provide an overview of the current state of the description and documentation of Anindilyakwa, showing what the existing understanding of the TAM system is, and highlighting some of the gaps that require investigation. I will introduce the theoretical frameworks that I intend to use to analyse tense-aspect at the discourse level (Discourse Representation Theory (DRT) (Kamp & Reyle 1993); Segmented Discourse Representation Theory (SDRT) (Asher & Lascarides 2003)), and provide a preliminary analysis of an Anindilyakwa narrative using the SDRT framework.




Asher, N. & Lascarides, A. 2003. Logics of conversation, Cambridge University Press.

Kamp, H. & Reyle, U. 1993. From Discourse to Logic. An introduction to model-theoretic
semantics of natural langauge, formal logic and discourse representation theory, 
Kluwer, Dordrecht.

Klein, W. 1994. Time in Language, UK, Routledge.

Nordlinger, R. & Caudal, P. 2012. The Tense, Aspect and Modality System in Murrinh-Patha. Australian Journal of Linguistics, 32, 73-113.

Stirling, L. & Dench, A. 2012. Tense, Aspect, Modality and Evidentiality in Australian Languages: Foreword. Australian Journal of Linguistics, 32, 1-6.




Claudia Cialone

Spatial language and cognition in a Bininj Kunwok community of Western Arnhem Land

My PhD project covers two aims: on the one hand it is an ethnolinguistic documentation of Bininj Kunwok aimed at a deeper understanding of the relation between Aboriginal people from Western Arnhem Land and their surrounding environment/ their land. At the same time it is a cross-cultural comparative empirical experimentation in the field of spatial language and cognition.

            From a theoretico-empirical perspective the project aims to provide additional answers to the language relativity question. I will be focusing on a bi-directionality of influence between language (both as we know it and as we use it when we are navigating or planning  route on a map) and cognition (intended here the as mental representations of a familiar environment during cognitive processing of route directions) and how/if this changes with the introduction of an environmental/contextual variation factor, fundamental to read spatial cognition, e.g. dimension. Psycholinguistic evidence has offered cross-cultural evidence of significant differences in the use of spatial language (e.g. use of linguistic frames of reference) and how this exercises an influence on the way space is conceptualized and processed (e.g. orientation). (Geo)Spatial cognitive and anthropological empirical evidence also shows that other contextual factors, such as the qualitative features of the surrounding geophysical environment (geometrical layout, landmarks etc.) and the way we experience such environment (e.g. with or without locomotion, in two or three dimensions) as we are exposed to or embodied in it, may affect the way we conceptualize and process space. Stemming from a combination of these previous methodological approaches this study compares two groups of people: the Indigenous Aboriginal Bininj Kunwok speakers living in an outstation of Western Arnhem Land, and the non-Indigenous Australian English speakers living in Canberra.

            To satisfy both aims of this project, the data-collection will be divided into an experimentally more controlled phase and a more naturalistic ethnolinguistic phase. 

The controlled phase, which is designed to be as ecologically-valid as possible, will be conducted cross-culturally. It will involve the performance of two tasks divided into two environmental contexts: map drawing and navigation.  The tasks will be performed under two conditions: linguistic and non-linguistic. Overall the type of data collected will be a combination of: 1) think-aloud protocols during direction processing for map drawing and navigation; 2) map/route drawings; 3) angle bearing rotation estimations; 4) GPS track of a walked path; 5) (spatial) gestures, e.g. deictic pointing throughout.

             In the naturalistic phase the data will only be collected among the Bininj Kunwok speakers. This phase will involve recording a number of events from everyday life. Special focus will be put on the spatial component: travelling to and from places by walking and driving; asking for/giving directions, recounting Dreaming stories or facts about the land.

The data from both phases will be systematically analysed and, where possible, triangulated. I aim to turn the spatial language data into a spatial depicted Bininj Kunwok phrase book, and produce a short documentary film based on the video recordings of naturalistic speech and everyday actions/travel. Both will provide an etnolinguistic documentation of the spatial system of Bininj Kunwok people as revealed in their daily lives through analytical observation of their language and behavior.



Denise Angelo

Kriol: initial considerations for a grammatical description

Early grammatical descriptions of Kriol were produced for varieties spoken in central Arnhem Land and the Roper River area of the Northern Territory (e.g. Sandefur 1979) and in the Kimberleys of Western Australia (e.g. Hudson 1985). Further descriptive work on Kriol has added material from other areas (e.g. Disbray 2008 details of Wumpurrarni English, Tenant Creek) or else augmented these initial studies with more recent data (e.g. Nicholls 2009 from Ngukurr). In this presentation I analyse the resulting mosaic of differing research coverage (region, topic, granularity) and I propose how a grammatical description of Kriol will relate to and build on these works. I also present preliminary analyses of aspects of a hitherto undescribed variety of Kriol from Binjari community near Katherine, in order to illustrate areas of Kriol that will be elucidated by a comprehensive description. This presentation indicates that there are many fertile lines of research remaining to be explored for Kriol.




Sally Dixon

Alyawarr children’s present temporal expression in two, closely-related speech varieties of Central Australia.

Aboriginal creole-speaking students are largely undifferentiated from other ESL speaking students (or, indeed, other native-English speaking students) in the NT education system. The same assessment tool, “The ESL Pathways” (NT DET2009), is used with all ESL students. Similar bandscaling-type tools have been shown to be problematic with the diverse range of contact-language speaking students in other jurisdictions, leading to specific adaptations designed to capture the observation that contact-language speakers use their L1 in the classroom in ways which differentiate them from foreign language-speaking ESL students (e.g. EQ 1999/2002; Hudson & Angelo 2014). These experiences are echoed in the second language acquisition literature that focuses on the unique challenges that confront individuals learning a language that is closely related to their L1. Specifically, that small differences may be the most challenging for second language learners (Wolfram and Schilling-Estes 1998; Kellerman 1977; Wode 1978), leading to a reliance on L1 structures. In particular this is said to be the case “if the L2 structures are perceptually nonsalient and/or communicatively redundant” (Long 2007:122). However, there is limited research on whether Australian creoles are ‘close enough’ to Standard Australian English (SAE) for these kinds of challenges to arise.

            As a response to this research gap, this thesis investigates present temporal expression by Australian Aboriginal children who speak Alyawarr English (AlyE), a new Central Australian creole, as their first language, and are acquiring SAE as a second language. Specifically, it focuses on three variable components of present temporal clauses in a longitudinal corpus: tense-aspect morphology (specifically variation between V, V-ing and V-bat forms), transitive marking (variation between verbs (un)marked with -im) and subject pronominals (1sg forms /ʌ/ vs. /ʌm/; and 3sg forms /ɪ/ and /ɪm/). I compare usage in two environments: AlyE (home, Indigenous) and SAE (school, non-Indigenous), by applying an adapted form of the Comparative Variationist Method (Poplack & Tagliamonte 2001). Separate multivariate analyses are conducted in Goldvarb Lion (Sankoff, Tagliamonte & Smith 2012) and compared against a set of criteria developed for evaluating creole:substrate/superstrate relationships (Meyerhoff 2009), but further extended in this thesis. Results are discussed in terms of the evidence they provide for the development of separate systems or ‘code separation’, and this is related to the differences between tense-aspect morphology, transitive marking and subject pronominals as potential transparency phenomena. 

            This study therefore breaks new ground in both methodological terms, with the application of the Comparative Variationist Method to an Australian creole/L2 acquisition context, and in advancing our understanding of the bi-varietal pathway travelled by children in the complex language ecologies of the region.



Education Queensland. 1999/2002. Bandscales for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander learners.

Hudson, C. & Angelo, D. 2014. Concepts underpinning innovations to second language proficiency scales inclusive of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander learners: a dynamic process in progress. Papers in Language Testing and Assessment, 3(1), 44-85.

Kellerman, E. 1977. Towards a characterization of the strategies of transfer in second language learning. Interlanguage Studies Bulletin 2: 58-145. 

Long, M.H. 2007. Problems in SLA. New York/London: Erlbaum.

Meyerhoff, M. 2009. Replication, transfer and calquing: Using variation as a tool in the study of language contact. Language Variation and Change, 21, 297-317

NT Department of Education and Training. 2009. Northern Territory Curriculum Framework. accessed 2/01/2013

Poplack, S. & Tagliamonte, S. 2001. African American English in the Diaspora. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Sankoff, G., Tagliamonte, S., & Smith, E. 2012. Goldvarb Lion: a multivariate analysis application for Macintosh.

Wode, H. 1978. The L1 vs L2 acquisition of English negation. Working Papers in Bilingualism 15: 37-57.

Wolfram, W. & Schilling-Estes, N. 1998. American English: Dialects and Variation. Malden, MA: Blackwell



Susan Poetsch

Children’s Arrernte,  Central Australia.

This mid-thesis talk will begin with an overview of the data I have been collecting and gradually transcribing for my PhD research on morpho-syntactic features of children’s Arrernte. Secondly I’ll present a small portion of that data in detail: an analysis of 3 adults’ and 17 children’s narratives, elicited using a textless picture book. The children’s will be compared with the adults’ production of three features – the definitising function of third person pronouns, associated motion verbs and different subject marking in the switch reference system – within the context of that story.


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