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An interactional-linguistic perspective on Jaru conversation

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posted on 2023-02-23, 00:16 authored by Josua DahmenJosua Dahmen

By taking an interactional-linguistic approach to language description, this thesis by publication documents and describes language use among Jaru people in the Kimberley region of northern Western Australia. Its main concern is to explore the systematicity of linguistic resources used for the accomplishment of social actions in ordinary face-to-face conversation. Natural conversation is the most fundamental form of language use, and yet only few studies of endangered, underdescribed languages consider natural conversational data – and even fewer make this the primary focus of their investigation. The diverse language ecology of the Jaru community provides a particularly interesting focus for an interactional analysis. The community is characterised by multilingualism and a situation of language shift, resulting in varied patterns of bilingual speech and codeswitching between several languages. Older Jaru people predominantly converse in Jaru, a highly endangered Pama-Nyungan language of the Ngumpin-Yapa subgroup, while most children nowadays use the English-based creole language Kriol as first language. In addition, command of Australian English is widespread, and many older people also speak one or more of the neighbouring traditional languages such as Ngardi, Warlpiri, and Kukatja. After providing introductory chapters about the Jaru language and its speakers and offering a description of the case system of contemporary Jaru, the thesis presents three interactional-linguistic studies that (i) analyse bilingual Jaru–Kriol practices in the community, (ii) show how grammatical contrasts within the Jaru pronoun inventories intersect with gaze and pointing gestures to indicate which co-participants are being addressed and which are being referred to, and (iii) explore the interactional contingencies of kinship-based respect, a fundamental feature of the organisation of many Aboriginal Australian societies. Instead of conceptualising language as decontextualised linguistic structures, the thesis analyses language use in the Jaru community via the conversational actions that linguistic structures achieve within the multimodal dynamics of human interaction. It shows how Jaru people draw on their linguistic repertoires for interactional purposes, and it explores how linguistic resources intersect with embodied resources for the accomplishment of universal and culture-specific conversational tasks. The research is based on a corpus of naturally occurring talk-in-interaction among Jaru people, recorded between 2016 and 2019 in Yaruman (in English often referred to as Ringer Soak) and surrounding communities in Western Australia. The data was analysed using the methodology of conversation analysis. The thesis does not only contribute to the documentation and description of the language use and everyday culture of Jaru people, it also makes a methodological contribution to documentary linguistics by advocating for the inclusion of more authentic conversational data, and by illustrating how interactional studies contribute to a more complete understanding of a community’s language practices. Overall, the research highlights the importance of studying talk-in-interaction across different cultural settings, typologically diverse languages, and varied language ecologies in order to broaden our understanding of the interplay between language and social interaction.


Australian Aboriginal conversational style

Australian Research Council

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction -- Chapter 2. Jaru (Australia): Language snapshot -- Chapter 3. The case system of contemporary Jaru -- Chapter 4. Bilingual speech in Jaru–Kriol conversations: Codeswitching, codemixing, and grammatical fusion -- Chapter 5. Calibrating recipiency through pronominal reference -- Chapter 6. Accomplishing deference in Jaru conversation -- Chapter 7. Discussion and conclusions -- Appendix A. Jaru verbs – The art of conjugation -- Appendix B. Ethics clearance -- Appendix C. Authorship contribution statements

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD

Department, Centre or School

Department of Linguistics

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Joe Blythe

Additional Supervisor 1

Scott Barnes


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Western Australia


313 pages

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