Australia’s Original Languages: An introduction
Allen & Unwin, $32.99 pb, 197 pp, 9781760875237
Bob Dixon has researched Australian Indigenous languages since the 1960s, has constructed grammars of five languages, and has written numerous scholarly books and articles on Aboriginal languages. His latest book is directed at the general reader, and it springs from his frustration at what he sees as the persistent and continuing misunderstandings in the wider Australian community about the nature and history of Australia’s Indigenous languages.
Dixon believes there is still a common view that there is only one Aboriginal language. A variant of this error is the notion that the differences between Aboriginal languages can be attributed to dialectal differences, like the differences between the dialects of Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, and Sussex. It is Dixon’s view that such misunderstandings about Indigenous languages, with concomitant judgements about the languages being ‘primitive’, have fed into other misunderstandings of Indigenous societies and cultures, enforcing the racist view of William Dampier’s 1697 description of Indigenous Australians as ‘the miserablest people in the world’, and, in Dixon’s words, becoming ‘a rationale for genocide’.