Multilingualism research project at Maningrida

Maningrida is one of the most multilingual communities in the world, with over ten languages spoken in a community of around 2,500 people. As such, the question of which languages are spoken when, with whom, and why, is an interesting and complex matter. Linguist Jill Vaughan from the Research Unit for Indigenous Language at the University of Melbourne has been visiting Maningrida over the past year to record and study different instances of multilingualism in and around Maningrida. Local language experts have been working with Jill to transcribe and translate these recordings, and to help her better understand language choices in Maningrida.

Jill has been looking in particular at the ways in which people might mix more than one language together in a sentence, for example “djadji, guwa!” (“come here!” in both Ndjébbana and Burarra). This practice is known as ‘code-switching’ or ‘code-mixing’, and is of interest to linguists because it tells us about the ways is which it is grammatically possible to mix languages together, as well as how language is used dynamically in interaction, and how it reflects cultural identity.

Research like this is important because it will contribute to understanding and communicating about the rich and interesting linguistic diversity of Arnhem Land, and especially Maningrida. The essential role of community participation in the project means that it will give voice to local language speakers’ ideas and opinions about multilingualism and the value of language for cultural identity.

While in town, Jill has also been contributing to language work and doing some digitising of cultural materials at the school’s Language and Culture Centre, and is helping some community members make recordings of stories in language. She has also been working with Margaret Carew at Batchelor Institute on research and community projects.

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