Bruce Moore reviews 'Australia’s Original Languages: An introduction' by R.M.W. Dixon

Bruce Moore reviews 'Australia’s Original Languages: An introduction' by R.M.W. Dixon

Australia’s Original Languages: An introduction

by R.M.W. Dixon

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’.


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Published in August 2019, no. 413
Bruce Moore

Bruce Moore

Bruce Moore, editor of the second edition of the Australian National Dictionary (2016), was director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre from 1994 to 2011. His recent publications include What's Their Story: A History of Australian Words (OUP, 2010), The Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary 5th edn (OUP, 2009), Speaking Our Language: The Story of Australian English (OUP, 2008), The Australian Pocket Oxford Dictionary, 6th edn (OUP, 2007), Australian Aboriginal Words in English 2nd edn, R.M.W. Dixon, Bruce Moore, W.S. Ramson, & Mandy Thomas (OUP, 2006).

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