Conversational Interaction in Aboriginal and Remote Australia (CIARA)

Project chief investigators: Joe Blythe, Macquarie University; Ilana Mushin, UQ; Professor Lesley Stirling, The University of Melbourne and Rod Gardner, UQ

Funded by an ARC Discovery Project grant (DP180100515) which commenced in 2018, this project aims to provide the first large-scale exploration of conversational style in Australian Aboriginal communities, and compare this with conversational practices in Anglo-Australian communities. This work will:

  1. Contribute to the documentation of endangered languages, and
  2. Provide an evidence base for comparing differences in conversational styles - widely recognised to underpin communication problems between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians, particularly in the contexts of institutional and service encounters

The project takes prior ethnographic observations as a starting point for a systematic investigation that compares similarities and differences between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal conversational style, using the methodology of Comparative Conversation Analysis, sometimes called Pragmatic Typology, state-of-the-art digital technologies and the microanalytical tools of Conversation Analysis.

The project will focus on three crucial aspects of the way people engage with others as they manage the local organisation of social relations in everyday culture:

  1. Turn-taking and action sequences (how and when do people negotiate when they should take a turn at talk and what they should say next, particularly in multiparty interactions?)
  2. Storytelling in conversation (how and when do people take opportunities to talk in a longer way about their experiences, and how do others receive such accounts?); and
  3. Knowledge management (how and when do people negotiate their rights and responsibilities with respect to knowledge, in order to communicate what they know?)

To answer these questions, the project will investigate ordinary conversations from three linguistic communities speaking Murrinhpatha, Garrwa, Jaru and the contact language Kriol, and compare these with analogous non-Aboriginal conversations in Australian English in remote and regional locations.

The project expects to provide new evidence to explicate Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal conversational norms, pinpointing differences which may lead to intercultural miscommunication. Expected outcomes include new endangered language documentation, and evidence-based findings to disseminate to service providers, to communities and to Aboriginal organisations to improve ways of engaging with each other. In addition, the project will benefit Aboriginal communities with new approaches to language revitalisation.