Gun-ngaypa Rrawa 'My Country': intercultural alliances in language research

2017-03-03T06:02:49Z (GMT) by Carew, Margaret Louise
This thesis presents the findings of an intercultural language research project involving speakers of the Gun nartpa language from north-central Arnhem Land. This was a collaboration based around a set of materials – audio recordings, photographs and notes – all artifacts of language research from a period of fieldwork undertaken between 1993 and 1996. A repatriation and documentation project called Gun nartpa Stories developed around those materials resulting in a community publication titled Gun ngaypa Rrawa ‘My Country’ (England, Muchana, Walanggay & Carew 2014). This thesis also arose from that project. Taken together, the thesis and the book is a hybrid work, reflecting an approach to language documentation that draws upon practice-led investigation. The work integrates academic and Gun nartpa accounts of the social meaning of stories and the ways in which these are situated within a web of sociality. This web, which the Gun nartpa and their Burarra neighbors call jarlakarr gun-murra ‘a network of many tracks’ is dynamic, adaptable and unbounded. It is underpinned by the relationality and practices of patrilocality and affinal kinship and shaped by historical and intercultural patterns of interaction locally and further afield. A central argument of this thesis is that my research alliance with the Gun-nartpa was formed around a contract relating to knowledge exchange and the practices surrounding that. This contract was framed in the idiom of joborr, stories that describe ethical and lawful conduct. It prescribed the projection of an ‘authentic’ local identity construct into the wider public realm through the prestige form of jurra (a Macassan term adopted by people in Arnhem Land, meaning ‘paper’, or ‘book’). The importance of literacy practices associated with the representations of knowledge as jurra, reflects the affordances provided in this context by Bible translation and liturgy development (1962-current), bilingual education programs in Maningrida (1974-2008) and local theories of story, knowledge, sociality and history. This thesis situates language research and narrative analysis at the centre of these intersecting affordances. Through foregrounding the socialities and narrative practices that characterise reflexive collaborative intercultural research, the work offers insight into ways that practice-led methodologies can integrate scholarly research and local perspectives on the social meaning of language research practices. In the context of rapidly shifting language ecologies in remote Indigenous communities, practice-led research provides one way that university based scholars can form alliances with language practitioners at the local level.