'Saying nothing'
: the language of joking relationships in Aboriginal Australia

  • Murray John Garde

    Student thesis: Other thesis - CDU

    Abstract

    This thesis is an analysis of the language of joking relationships in Aboriginal Australia with a special focus on the Eastern Kunwinjku language of western and central Arnhem Land. The main hypothesis is that joking relationship language as a discrete style of speech is a pragmatic index of the absence or renunciation of actual or potential affinity. It is argued that joking language also plays a phatic and sociable role in ratifying relationships. The form which joking relationship speech and interaction takes can be understood as the inversion of interactive norms observed between affinal kin who stand in relationships of constraint or 'avoidance'. Special constrained styles of marked speech and behaviour are used with actual affines but the joking style of speech is used with classificatory or 'fictive' affines with whom no actual affinal relationship obtains.

    The theoretical perspective taken is in the vein of John Gumperz and the approach known as Interactional Sociolinguistics which seeks to analyse the totality of communicative signals both linguistic and paralinguistic used to convey meaning. There is great variance between the literal meaning of joking relationship language and the intended meaning which is reflected in some Aboriginal descriptions of joking relationship language as 'saying nothing'. That is, the literal meanings of joking relationship utterances are not the intended meanings and a variety of cues and shared background knowledge disambiguate the insults of joking interaction from those used in anger or serious abuse.
    Date of AwardNov 1996
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorPatrick McConvell (Supervisor)

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