Searching for Aboriginal Languages: Memoirs of a Field Worker / Edition 1

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In 1963 R. M. W. (Bob) Dixon set off for Australia, where he was to record, chart, and preserve several of the complex and nearly extinct Aboriginal languages. Beginning with his introduction to these languages while a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh and his difficulties in getting to the Australian bush, Dixon's fourteen-year tale is one of frustration and enlightenment, of setbacks and discoveries.

As he made his way through northern Australia, Dixon was dependent on rumors of Aboriginal speakers, the unreliable advice of white Australians, and the faulty memories of many of the remaining speakers of the languages. Suggestions of informants led him on a circuitous trail through the bush, to speakers such as the singer Willie Kelly in Ravenshoe, who wanted his recordings sent to the south, "where white people would pay big money to hear a genuine Aborigine sing" and Chloe Grant in Murray Upper, who told tales in four dialects of digging wild yams, of the blue-tongue lizard Banggara, and of the arrival of Captain Cook. Dixon tells of obtaining the trust of possible informants, of learning the customs and terrain of the country, and of growing understanding of the culture and tradition of his subjects. And he explains his surprise at his most unexpected discovery: that the rich oral tradition of the "primitive" Aborigines could yield a history of a people, as told by that people, that dates to almost ten millenia before.

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Editorial Reviews

Reprint. Originally published in 1983, U. of Queensland Press. Dixon (linguistics, Australian National U.) provides readers with an accessible and interesting account of his adventures and discoveries as he studied the Australian aboriginal language and culture. No index or bibliography. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226154305
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 1/1/1989
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 342
  • Product dimensions: 5.53 (w) x 8.52 (h) x 0.82 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. Setting Off
2. "Haven't you got a machine?"
3. "You never talk it to me!"
4. Full of Unforgettable Characters
5. "Time to get back to wife"
6. "Drink this!"
7. "Of course we'll keep in touch"
8. "Doing all these Jalnguy"
9. Lots of Linguistic Expertise
10. "This way be bit more better"
11. "Happiness and fun"
12. "It's not"
13. "Those are good for you"
14. Loss
15. "I think I like that language best"
Pronunciation of Aboriginal Words
Tribal and Language Names

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