The making of Australian English: Contact with the Aboriginal languages habitat

Gerhard Leitner (Freie Universität Berlin)

Dialect and language contact is fundamental to the development of (mainstream) Australian English (Leitner 2004a/b). The contact with indigenous languages has so far been described mainly in terms of the lexical input of words from traditional and early contact languages. Leitner/Sieloff (1998), Ramson (2002) and a few others have widened the theme to include Aboriginal concepts such as dreamtime.

I will widen the theme further still and make two points. the first is that I will argue that the early contact was not one between speakers of English with indigenous languages but one that was based on a long history of European thought about indigneous peoples worldwide. The heritage was known to the leaders of colonialism and used to describe what they saw long before 1788. Once the colonies were set up, this European package was confronted with new experiences and, along with European geistesgeschichte , adapted and changed to cope with indigenous peoples.

The second point I will be making is that insufficient thought is given to the fact that Aborigines have developed forms of English of their own, such as Kriol and Aboriginal English. They are now accepted as varieties (sometimes dialects) of AusE. If we cope with contact today, we have to look at the interaction of these dialects with mAusE. In doing this, we will be able to bring to light the fundamental impact in terms of metaphors, code switching and other phenomena.

I will thus aim to show greater historical depth and the stylistic breadth of AusE today.