Outta country: Indigenous youth identities in an Australian boarding school

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The proposed project examines the real-world significance of linguistic variation for First Nations students in an Australian boarding school, a domain characterised by immersion in a mixed cultural context outta country (away from home). Before British invasion, over 490 Australian Indigenous languages and varieties were spoken across Australia (Bowern, Forthcoming). Today, while the use of traditional Australian languages has decreased, First Nations people have added to their repertoires contact-based varieties such as Kriol and Australian Aboriginal English (AAE) (Wigglesworth, 2020: 97). As in other highly diverse contexts, young Indigenous Australians, who speak AAE as their L1 (Rodríguez Louro & Collard, 2021a), are prone to utilising stylistic resources to negotiate their identities and to signal membership within social groups. This ethnographically informed study in a West Australian boarding school will help us understand the experience of Indigenous communities in mainstream institutions, and the role language plays in constructing identities. It will also be the first sociolinguistic study in a boarding school.
Grounded in Eckert’s (1988; 2003; 2008) foundational work, and on the original scholarship that followed (e.g., Alam, 2015; Kirkham, 2013; Lawson, 2009; Mendoza-Denton, 2008; Moore, 2003), we offer an exploration of variation in the stylistic practices of First Nations teens from around Western Australia. Indigenous boarders often report having constructed a different identity in school to meet the demands of the mainstream educational system, thus having to navigate conflicting cultural identities (Mander, 2012: 161). These novel identities are attached to patterns of linguistic variation, as boarders find themselves adapting their speech to that of their interlocutors both at school and when they return home (Mander, 2012: 159). We ask: how is this achieved? What linguistic resources do boarders draw on to do so? How do they group socially (based on kin, communities of practice, or along ethnic lines)? How do they negotiate the use of linguistic variants across and within these groups?
To answer these questions, the proposed project examines how the distinctive clustering of salient AAE linguistic features, such as the invariant tag question unna, levelled was, and zero perfect aspect (Rodríguez Louro & Collard, 2021a), illustrated in (1)–(3), may function as ‘a resource of identity styling’ (Moore, 2012: 71) to index stances and construct personas that are socially meaningful in the daily lives of First Nations boarders. To this end, the researchers will work with boarders during term time for 1.5 years. In line with Moore’s (2003) approach, and to minimise asymmetrical relationships between the researcher and the participants, boarders will be recorded as they engage in conversation in an unstructured setting. Data collection will be carried out in groups to enable the group-oriented and interactive nature of AAE (Malcolm, 1994: 295). To provide a culturally safe environment and to honour Aboriginal ways of being (Tuhiwai Smith, 2013), no predetermined questions will be employed, and yarning, an Indigenous cultural form of storytelling and conversation, will be used as a decolonial method of data collection (Rodríguez Louro & Collard, 2021a; b; under contract)

(1) May as well sit down with Auntie Lydia and giver her education, unna, Sister? (VB, Female, 62, born 1957).
(2) You was in the Stolen Generation, brother. (BJP, Male, 58, born 1961)
(3) Yeah. Most of our family been in that. (WC, Male, 58, born 1961)


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Rodríguez Louro, Celeste & Glenys Collard (Under contract). Variation and change in Australian Aboriginal English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2022
EventNew Ways of Analyzing Variation 50 - Stanford University, Stanford, United States
Duration: 13 Oct 202215 Oct 2022


ConferenceNew Ways of Analyzing Variation 50
Abbreviated titleNWAV 50
Country/TerritoryUnited States


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