I don't often blog about what I get up to anymore. Too busy ranting about what other people are doing it seems! I never even blogged about finishing my thesis or getting a new job at the University of Queensland (as a Postdoc with the Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language). That was all last year though and I'm not going to go into that now. Instead, why not just pick up from where I am today, which is in Beswick community, listening to a raging wet season storm going on outside. It's night-time now but here's the view from my awesome accommodation this afternoon:
Today was the first day in which I started my new research project proper (that is, actually getting out and about and making recordings, rather than doing preliminary office-based stuff). My current project (which I'm just calling Kriol Proujek for now, for simplicity's sake) is an attempt to find out how Kriol is different in all the communities it is spoken in, east of Katherine.
Like any language, Kriol varies from place to place. Every Kriol speaker knows it and can tell you about it. Like English has Australian English, American English, British English and so on, Kriol has similar variation. And just like us English speakers can talk at length about what we say different to Americans or Poms, Kriol speakers can do the same. My project tries to capture that variation. Not too dissimilar to all the cool stuff that's been in the news lately about variation in Australia English, except that this project is smaller scale and on a different language.
So today I finally got started with making recordings and headed to Barunga, 70km from Katherine, where a team of local women are already working as language research assistants. They were a great help. Two women offered to sit down and go through a whole bunch of questions and ended up doing a 90-minute interview with me. So good! Except now it will take ages to go over such a long recording - the joys of sociolinguistic interviews.
I was pleased with my first interview. I tried to mix it up with sections of conversation, a bit of telling stories, a picture task that aims to obtain comparable stories across everyone I interview, questions about how they perceive and identify different Kriol dialects and also going over a few lists of words that I know are only used in some places. It worked well and didn't seem to be a mind-numbing experience for the women I interviewed.
A few tidbits of what I learned? Well I already guessed or knew some of the obvious differences. Key differences between Ngukurr Kriol (that I speak) and Barunga Kriol are the pronunciation of words for 'there' (jeya vs deya) and 'that one' (tharran vs darran) and different words used for 'eat' (dagat vs. idim) and listen (irrim vs lisin). But there were a bunch of things I didn't know. Like the word for cousin (cross-cousin, to be precise) - the women reported that they say gaj (derived from 'cuz' i.e. cousin). In Ngukurr, you'll hear kas, but not gaj. In Ngukurr, you'll also hear barn.ga but the women I interviewed said they don't say barn.ga. The four grandparent terms you hear in Ngukurr all the time: abija, amuri, abuji and gagu - for the young Barunga women it was just nena (nana) and grenpa.
My favourite new word I learned though was a non-English based verb, something I wrote a whole chapter on in my PhD thesis. When you look surreptitiously, or 'peep', Ngukurr mob will use the verb ngarra. Barunga mob know ngarra too, but have another word they use: roihroi (or royhroy - where the 'h' is a glottal stop). Who knew?! Well... obviously several hundred people around Barunga knew, but I didn't. Haha.
I only had time to do that one interview today in Barunga but it was a good start. I'm optimistic about being able to go back for a week or so and make myself more known to more people and do more interviews. It will be a case of rinse, cycle and repeat as I try and do this across the whole region east of Katherine. I'm in Beswick now and will aim to do two more interviews before heading back to Katherine. Next week, I'm going to Minyerri for a few days to do the same thing.
Wish me luck!