Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Cultural Scripts...

I presented a paper at a conference on Sunday ( a postgraduate conference).. But it was still relatively good fun and I was very pleased at the feedback , direct and indirect that has resulted in standing up and saying a few things about what I have been thinking about. It is interesting in someways that you can interact with a group of people everyday and yet never really talk about what you are really doing/feeling/thinking. So much interaction seems routinised- but i would never have really noticed this if I hadn't given that paper and had some people come and talk to me about how interesting it was and ask me questions and offer suggestions and realising that they are the same people working all around me all the time!

The woman chairing the session was a PhD student in History, she is an Aboriginal woman from near Bourke ( western NSW) and is ( I think) recording oral histories from some of the people on outstations in that region ( though she is living and working in Armidale now), anyway we spent all of lunch talking about our work and the difficulty of marrying academia and community responsibilities and, maybe more so for her but also for me, family obligations that develop within the community.
We got to talking because my paper titled 'Aspects of co-operative discourse in Ngukurr', had a few attempts at writing 'cultural scripts' which are influencing speech acts in natural conversational interaction ( that is to say, things that people might think that might influence how they might talk).... there are quite a few of these published for 'Anglo' i.e. whitefellas and Japanese people etc. anyway I wrote a script for 'humbug' or not really even humbug just people asking you for stuff all the time and this woman immediately understood what I was referring to and we spent a long time talking about it. Also other people in the department who weren't really sure what I was researching came and talked to me about stuff and pointed out some good things to read etc. it was very fruitful.. and I felt rewarded for all the anxiety that accompanies putting something out there that you really think ( especially in a formal conference setting). So I now recommend it to everyone who is thinking anything however unformed it maybe, good ideas really grow out of interaction and discussion with other people.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


Here is a picture of some of UNE campus, which is quite nice..
In some strange way I want to feel always plugged in to uni at the moment, since I am riding to and from uni it frustrates me some how to not have contact with the library internet all my books and various readings that I have lying around. Sometimes I wake up and really want to write and read and work, but I couldnt be bothered riding all the way to uni to do it. It is the first time I have really felt that there would be advantages of living on campus. I think the other problem is the two hills that divide my house form the uni. But I am here now happily, on a Sunday , enjoying it even more because I don't feel that I have to do work- just that I could at any time if I want to. Whenever I am at uni I feel like this is a great place to live and such a fantastic life, but then when I get home and look around at things and find myself trying to think of things to do... In some ways i just want to plunge my head into all this information from the library and it soak into my brain by osmosis- but I think like most people, I find the most interesting thing is talking to people about ideas and having some dynamic interaction. I have spent the last few days doing some research assistant work editing a dictionary or a language from Wadeye ( Port Keats) in the NT of Australia, called Ngan'gi. I am up to 'ng' ( which is a single letter) and I am really enjoying it! It is great to look through a dictionary of such a different language and see how different languages 'parse their conceptual reality' into words. Things like 'giving birth' are translated as lit. 'fall to the ground', and verbs that mean to have 'loose droopy lips' as well as common idioms and insults, some of which ( despite being in Language) are the same as English, for example being a'tight arse', means an 'ungenerous person' etc.

It is also satisfying work because it is easy to feel like you are ploughing through it and 'fixing it'. Other than that I spend mosy of my time reading about things like 'Conversational styles and intercultural communication' there is not all that much stuff around to read about it, usually a researcher who has another area of expertise gets so sick of the same problems cropping up while doing fieldwork or other research they end up writing something about it. But it is a fairly hazy area on its own, probably best called 'anthropological linguistics' or 'linguistic anthropology'. I think researchers in general find it a bit scary to research something ( on scientific grounds) so 'human' and retreat to the safer ground of something more empirical and 'objective'. But I suppose the point is that anything that anybody thinks about is going come served with various assumptions, and once you identify those assumptions you can study ( say) whatever you like!

I suppose science kind of makes things such that you have to set up a situation whereby someone else could come to the same conclusions as you if they did roughly the same thing. Which in turn suggests that everything you write about is the result of culmination of many of your lifes experiences and that you have to work hard to identify your own prejudices and assumptions so that what you are researching becomes transparent and reproducible.

It is hard not to think of your own cultural world as 'unmarked' or normal or the default, or at least to have some idea that there is a 'normal' way of living and then make comparisons to this 'normal' way of living and thinking and speaking without identifying all the aspects that make up that 'normal' way of being. The danger of not identifying this is when people start to classify other langauge and cultural practices as 'wrong' or 'better' or 'worse'. any kind of value judgement a person makes exposes that a person hasnt yet realised that their own language and culture are specifically tailored into a cultural worldview that is relevant only to their cultural world, so it is not a good basis for intepreting or really even investigating another culture (and certainly not for making value judgements of it). So the only way to research the speech practices of another cultural group is first to identify your own and then talk about them both as existing on maybe different places on a spectrum of human communication. So you dont end up with a one language being 'normal' and the other 'exotic'...anyone with any interesting stories of references for me please let me know, I am in an absorbing stage!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Some important aspects of Spring include: The river in Elands, Amanda's garden ( or just yellow flowers in general) and of course the ocean! Oh yes!


I have been here for a week, and with some concerted effort I have managed to enjoy myself. I got my brothers bike fixed up and I have been riding to uni and back which feels good, and I have been rock climbing ( on an indoor wall) which I really enjoy and feel a bit addicted too. The first night Cindy ( who I share an office with) and I spent nearly two hours ( until our arms were shaking and swollen) challenging ourselves. I think after sitting down all day reading and writing I feel a bit of a kamikaze streak in myself and want to ride my bike as fast as possible and climb as high as possible....luckily I haven't damaged myself or anyone else.
Though I have been considering just how far I could ride ( I have no car); there are a lot of beautiful gorges and bushland around here, just out of reach so to speak when riding. But i am building to the idea of riding somewhere sleeping there and riding back.
Maybe the best thing about riding around Armidale is all the beautiful gardens, often wet after rain that smell so beautiful, mingled with people cooking inside their houses and the wet road. It is so easy to forget to connect with the world around through senses.
The good thing about being at uni ( or rather the indulgent thing) is that all your time is your own. Apart from worrying about what other people might think, I have no reason to be anywhere at any time. No-one expects me anywhere, which is simultaneously liberating and lonely. At this point it is mainly liberating and I can spend as much time as I want riding home, or wandering around the library, or just lying on the grass thinking...
Soon I will start travelling again... to Melbourne and Sydney, Elands and then maybe to Newcaslte... where I will try settling down for a few months at least.

Monday, November 07, 2005


Needless to say comments of anyone who has read some of my blog are valuable to me, so please post a comment! To avoid any spam comments I have enabled a function that asks you to type a word for verification ( to prove your humaness). Please dont let this dissuade you from leaving a comment!
I have also added the links to Greg ( that munanga linguist) and Justin and Catalin's (Change Junkies) blogs so check them out if you havent already!