Kriol myths debunked by PhD scholar

THERE is a lot more to linguist Greg Dickson than meets the eye.

LANGUAGE LESSIONS: PhD student Greg Dickson says Kriol is far from just “bad English”.

LANGUAGE LESSIONS: PhD student Greg Dickson says Kriol is far from just “bad English”.

Mr Dickson has spent the last 10 years of his life immersed in the rich smorgasbord of Aboriginal language and Kriols of the Top End.

Far from being a dying language, Kriol is spoken by around 20,000 people.

In fact, so prevalent is Kriol and associated dialects that it is contributing to the decimation of traditional indigenous languages.

“I think there’s still a perception amongst a lot of people that because [Kriol] is closely related to English, it is incorrect or ‘bad’ English and somehow inferior,” Mr Dickson said. 

“But actually, Kriol is a language in its own right, and it has grammatical rules, and everything that happens in Kriol is systematic and words have their own specific meanings.

“The perception of Kriol is changing for some people, but the idea that it’s just a form of broken or bad English is certainly still around.”

Locally, there is certainly a burgeoning interest in Kriol and Aboriginal languages.

At Flinders NT Katherine Campus this week, Mr Dickson conducted his first public seminar to a room filled with curious Katherinites and linguists.

Attendees received an overview of the history of Kriol usage in the region, some of the cultural and social elements to be aware of, as well as common myths and misconceptions.

Front and centre were four visiting speech pathology students, in town to undertake practical coursework at Clyde Fenton Primary School.

There, the students will work with children to improve their English.

Practical student Vanessa Greenberg said she believed it was important to be aware of unique elements of Kriol in order to better understand the way children learn English.

Some examples include natural pausing, which can be longer and more prolific in Kriol and indigenous languages than in English.

“I think there is a real growing interest and appreciation for Aboriginal languages, and an understanding that so many languages have been lost in Australia, and we should be doing more to document languages before they disappear and promote their use,” Mr Dickson said. 

Across the whole Katherine region, there were about 20 to 30 distinct languages.

In 2014, there are many local languages that are down to just a few elderly speakers.

Mr Dickson aims to complete his PhD studies with Australian National University later this year.