The Dreaming

In 1994, in relation to use of the term ‘Dreamtime’ or ‘the Dreaming’, Harkins had this to say:

“ … in the early days of culture contact when this English term was first adopted, Aboriginal people could not have realised the negative connotations of unreality and laziness that the term has for non-Aboriginal English speakers, and non-Aboriginal understanding of and respect for Aboriginal religion have not been encouraged by this semantic extension” (p. 152).

Whether or not the above statement offers a fair representation of the connotations of the English word ‘dreaming’, the cultural importance of the Aboriginal Dreaming means that students of language may gain valuable insight by striving to understand the spiritual reality that has been rendered into English in this way.  It is, after all, in Diana Eades’ words, “impossible to use or understand language outside its social and cultural context” (1991, p.85).  Personally, I think it is an important understanding for all Australians to approach.  For these reasons, I was very glad to find the following three-part article ‘Dreamtime’ and ‘The Dreaming’ – an introduction, written by the linguist Christine Judith Nicholls, and published online by The Conversation in 2014.

The author quotes the anthropologist W. E. H. Stanner as referring to the Dreaming as “a complex of meanings”.  As the article indicates, the term ‘the Dreaming’ points to a past, present and future reality with implications across the range of lived experience.

Eades, D. ‘Communicative strategies in Aboriginal English’ in Romaine, S. (1991). Language in Australia. Cambridge University Press.

Harkins, J. (1994). Bridging Two Worlds: Aboriginal English and Cross-cultural Understanding. St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press.

Jennifer Duncan

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