Schema Theory Applied to Non-Indigenous Conceptions of Aboriginal Culture

Having studied Australia’s Indigenous languages through LING366 and the Aboriginal English dialect through another LING unit, I’ve found that schematic theory features heavily in understanding how we view the world. While examining schema theory and how it is reflected in Aboriginal language, I began thinking about what schema govern my thought patterns, and how this influences my understanding of Aboriginal culture.

Put simply, ‘Schemata [schema plural] are the structures by which people perceive, remember and respond to information’ (Turton, 2016). So what are the schema through which non-Indigenous Australians perceive Aboriginal Australians? From personal experience, my first encounter with Aboriginal culture was discovering that my home town was also home to the Darug people. During primary school, I learned about the heritage status of my local area as well as the prestige and benevolence of our colonial forebears. I also learned that Aboriginal Australians possessed an unrivaled knowledge of navigation, survival, tracking, and bush skills. Through the NSW primary school HSIE syllabus, I inferred that the demise of Aboriginal Australians may have had something to do with Australia’s colonisation. Later, I learned how Aboriginal Australians were oppressed, mistreated and almost totally wiped out through genocide.

These formative concepts shaped my thinking about Aboriginal Australians, making me think of them as victims who suffered the loss of their land, knowledge and relationships. But, it also caused me to see Aboriginal culture through a ‘past tense’ lens. And this limited my ability to comprehend that Aboriginal culture and language, although oppressed and embattled, was still living, breathing, developing, and thriving. During the course of my research, one of the most valuable resources I discovered was Dr. Nicola Henry’s ‘Misconceptions About Indigenous Australians’ (2013). Henry’s article essentially debunks commonly held non-Indigenous assumptions about Australian Aboriginal culture, and is a must read for anyone new to the subject.

Posted by: Jessica Riley LING366, 18 May 18

Dr Henry’s article can be found at:

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Permission to Speak

Permission to Speak

I came across this article

I believe it is relevant to our course, Ling366 as it related to language loss and maintenance.  It also hit a chord with me that a native of our country , a representative of his constituents and people has to conform or be reprimanded for not using English, which is not officially our National language.

In this article an independent MLA Yinglya Mark Guyula is speaking out about not being permitted to use his native language when speaking in Parliament. He was expressing the frustration that the process required to translate was long and no extra time given to do so. He believes that more indigenous people might participate if they could use their native language. That due to being forced to use his second language that he could not effectively spread his message.  Mr Guyula was quoted saying “In the end, there’s a message that I want to get through from my language, from my cultural background and towards the English community, and that is the gap that we want to close’.

We are in a country where our indigenous politicians are basically being told that English is our national language and they must conform and ask permission to do otherwise. In such a public arena where Mr Guyula is wanting to maintain his native language of Yolngu Matha and encourage others to do so and use their voice, it emphasizes barriers for this to occur. By being discouraged to use his native language to spread a message of political importance could be a factor in language loss and a barrier to maintenance.


Louise Watts , Ling366, 18/5/2018


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Painting the Songlines – Warlukurlangu Artists of Yuendumu

Uploaded by Marcelo Salvo, LING556

I found this relevant to the content of the unit because of the topic of Songlines. I also found it interesting because of the way in which language is used in storytelling.

At 18:55, several women sit around recounting a story. One of them takes the lead but others chip in details as well, in a brainstorming kind of way. As the story unfolds, a visual representation of it is being sketched out on the sand. First, leaves are placed to mark spatial relationship between characters. All throughout the story someone chants a song. It is interesting to see how different art forms merge with ease here simultaneously. Also interesting is that even though the story has an improvisational feel to it, it sounds like an old story being retold. Another standout feature for me is the way in which language is used in terms of politeness of tone, particularly at the start of the story, where the old lady is asked to look after the baby by the woman who goes hunting with her husband. Although I cannot say for sure, it reminded me of language of respect around certain relationships.




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The main premise of this post is that language maintenance and language loss are influenced by POLITICS or the STRUGGLE for POWER.

What does it mean when the country’s highest elected official speaks a dying Aboriginal language on very significant events and ceremonies? Does this mean that the government as a whole is dedicated to doing everything in its power to preserve and protect Aboriginal languages?

Malcolm Turnbull, the current Prime Minister of Australia has used the Ngunnawal language in several occasions including this year’s Australia Day and Australian of the Year Awards Night, and last year’s Ninth Annual Closing the Gap ceremony. In the speech that he delivered on Australia Day, Mr. Turnbull asked the Australian people to recognise and celebrate the fundamental and unequalled role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in moulding present-day Australia. It is said that the Prime Minister has been working on his Ngunnawal language skills since 2017, and that his learning journey has been challenging because the language has not been widely spoken for about a century.

To engage the first question I raised, I believe the Prime Minister’s gesture may be interpreted in a lot of ways. Personally, this news makes me feel conflicting emotions. On one hand, I feel happy and proud of Mr. Turnbull because he went through the difficult process of learning the Ngunnawal language, a language that is at a risk of dying out. As a person who is not good with languages, I know the pains of trying to learn another language. Regardless of one’s position and stature, it can be really frustrating and discouraging. On the other hand, I worry that this gesture might simply be a political stunt meant to appease the Aboriginal communities. I am even more bothered by the idea that in the end, the plight of the Aboriginal communities especially their languages will merely be tokenised because of this. I am generally quite cynical of politicians who claim to support a marginalised group’s advocacy in words but fail to follow through in actions. I have mixed feelings when it comes to Mr. Turnbull as he appears to be ‘playing the game too safely.’ However, I would like to give him the benefit of the doubt as I await what his next moves will be. At this point, I would like to convince myself that the Prime Minister’s gesture is a step towards the preservation and protection of Aboriginal languages.

The answer to the second question I posted is sadly in the negative. I think that the government as an institution has not yet reached that point where it is ready to fully embrace the First Nations and their languages. So far, all I have seen are half-hearted measures and passionate speeches with no concrete actions. What I find the most disturbing and heart-breaking is the fact that the constitution, the highest law of the land, still does not recognise the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. This alone delivers a crystal-clear message that the government does not yet consider the Aboriginal communities as first-class citizens and by extension, it does not see the preservation and protection of Aboriginal languages as a priority.

Posted by: Wael Walanazi, Ling 566, 18 May 2018

Content References:
• Why doesn’t Australia have an indigenous treaty? Retrieved from on May 1, 2018
• Malcolm Turnbull opens Australia Day speech with indigenous greeting Retrieved from on April 27, 2018

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I believe that Ling 366 is a unit that does not only focus on Aboriginal Languages per se; it is also one that investigates the precarious status of said languages in Australia. In the course of my study for this unit, I realised that while the Aboriginal communities are the primary drivers and caretakers of their languages, the government as well as the society at large, also play a pivotal role in providing an environment that will allow these languages to flourish. In one chapter of our textbook, we discussed the concepts as well as the realities of language maintenance, language revitalisation, language renewal and language reclamation. It is in this chapter that I came to the conclusion that we can not claim that the Aboriginal peoples have the SOLE responsibility of keeping Aboriginal languages alive.

This epiphany led me to do a research on government initiatives to protect and preserve the country’s First Nations languages and found an article written in February 2018 titled, “Calls for national legislation to protect Indigenous languages in Australia.” The author raised several points but what struck me the most was this: Australia has been identified as one of the top five endangered language hot spots in the world. What this means is that of the estimated 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, only about 120 are still spoken, while most are severely or critically endangered. This has led the head of Australia’s leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander information hub to urge the federal government to seriously consider introducing legislation to address this bleak status of the First Nation Languages.

The author also presented some of the solutions presented by different sectors including the use of technology. He highlighted what some claim as “the incredible capacity of digital technology to support the preservation and the teaching and the transmission of language.” However, he also admitted that like in other things, technology has its limits in language teaching. Following this argument, it also argued that language revival can not be done through applications (apps), but through and with people. I do agree with this view – I believe that the people are the heart of a language. And when I say people, I do not just mean the speakers of the language (the Aboriginal communities), but also those who are merely listeners or audiences. Individually, we can support the Aboriginal Australians by learning, understanding and respecting their languages. Schools can also rally behind this cause by continuing to offer units such as Ling 366 that critically examines the status of Aboriginal Languages in Australia and opens the eyes of students to the harsh realities that the Aboriginal peoples struggle with every day. However, a structural and legal framework must be put in place to ensure that everyone does his or her part in protecting and preserving the First Nation languages. This requires an unwavering political will and a really committed government. It is my hope that in the near future, Aboriginal Languages will no longer be under threat because every Australian has committed themselves to the protection and preservation of these treasures.

Posted by: Fahad Bunder Alali – Ling 366 – 18 May 2018

Article References:
Is removing ‘Aboriginal’ from birth certificates whitewashing history? Retrieved from

Calls for national legislation to protect Indigenous languages in Australia
Retrieved from

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Yumplatok: “Our Talk” is not broken

Torres Strait Creole emerged when Pidgin English was brought north following European colonization. Although Australian Creoles were born out of a necessity for communication with settlers, their status as complete and complex languages has not been recognized until relatively recently. Indeed, there are still pervasive issues concerning the language in education and other sectors.

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NSW Koori Court

A recent news article in the The Guardian reports that Indigenous elders are urging the New South Wales government to expand funding for the Youth Koori Court program in Parramatta, which has been evaluated in a recent study by the University of Western Sydney as halving detention time for juvenile offenders:

The Koori Court is a program that began in early 2015, and provides support to young indigenous people via the inclusion of elders and family in a round-table model of hearings. Its aim is to help to reduce the disadvantage suffered by young indigenous people sitting in traditional western courts, and to prevent reoffending.

Of particular interest in the report (which is a fairly lengthy document) is advice the Magistrate received in relation to the value of periods of silence in the Court, and the establishment of a conversational tone and interactive dynamics introduced by the sitting elders.

The hearings are also conducted in a level of English so that the young people participating understand and comprehend what is going on, and regular checks are made to ensure that this is the case. The report also notes that a high level of comprehension and engagement is achieved in the Koori Court.

Also to that end, a low level of jargon is used, and any necessary legal language is explained. The atmosphere of the court is such that the young people participating feel comfortable enough to ask for further clarification of things they don’t understand.

The report also highlights the value of including into future graduation hearings a ritual that reflects the work done throughout the program to establish cultural connections between the young people and country and/or other indigenous people.

Victoria is currently the only state whose Koori courts are established under legislation.
Patricia Proud-McKibben, LING366, 18 May 2018

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