Dr Ruth Singer has just returned from a fieldtrip doing research at Warruwi Community School, Goulburn Island, Arnhem Land. The school is very proud to have its first ever year 12 student this year, Janet Mardbinda. Community members who completed year 12 previously did so at boarding schools in Darwin and elsewhere. Janet is doing a VET year 12 with teacher Anne Broadbent and she has three subjects that involve gaining experience working with the local radio station, health clinic and learning about language work with Ruth Singer.
During the fieldtrip Janet assisted Ruth with her fieldwork, interviewing year 10 students about their attitudes to languages used at Warruwi Community. This trip extended previous research with adults and with schoolchildren aged 6-10. Ruth explained to Janet the procedures for informing parents about the research and asking for permission to record their children. Then Janet helped explain to the research to the parents using English, Mawng and Kunwinjku as appropriate. Together Ruth and Janet recorded interviews with six year 10 students. The interviews were very illuminating. Students discussed the languages they speak, the languages they identify with from their ancestors but don’t speak and the languages they are still learning. The students main languages included English, Mawng, Torres Strait Creole, Kunwinjku and Yolngu-matha varieties. Most spoke more than one language fluently.
Janet also recorded a conversation she had with another student, in which she spoke in Kunwinjku and the other student replied in English and Mawng. This was a good example of the practice of ‘receptive multilingualism’ which is very common at Warruwi Community and may actually assist the maintenance of smaller languages. Janet addressed the other student in Kunwinjku, who replied sometimes in Mawng and sometimes in English. This practice of people addressing one another in different languages, while understanding each other perfectly is sometimes called receptive multilingualism.
Ruth with continue to mentor Janet through email and phone contact, and they will work together again at Warruwi Community in July.