Chief investigators

Professor Gillian Wigglesworth, Dr Patrick McConvell (AIATSIS), Dr Jane Simpson (University of Sydney)


ARC Discovery Grant (2004-2007)


Visit the ACLA2 research project website

The Aboriginal Child Language Project was funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant. The project investigated the type of input children receive in multilingual environments that include a traditional language, a contact variety of English and code-mixing between languages and speech styles. It involved case studies of three Aboriginal communities and was designed to address the following questions:

  • RQ1: what kind of language input do indigenous Australian Aboriginal children receive from traditional indigenous languages, Kriol and varieties of English, and from code-switching involving these languages as used by adults and older children?
  • RQ2: what effect does this have on the children's language acquisition and how the input is reflected in their productive output?
  • RQ3: what are the processes of language shift, maintenance and change which may be hypothesised to result from this multilingual environment, as evidenced by the children's input and output and the degree to which this reflects transmission of the target languages, the loss of traditional languages, or the emergence of new mixed languages?

To address the complexity of these questions, this project brought together people with expertise in three different, but related, fields: Central Australian languages (Disbray, McConvell, Meakins, Moses, O'Shannessy and Simpson), first language acquisition (Wigglesworth), and historical change and language maintenance (McConvell and Simpson).

The research team collected the data for the study in four main locations: Kalkaringi, Lajamanu, Tennant Creek, and Yakanarra. We identified the kinds of interactions young children are involved in, the language they use at different ages, and the breadth and variety of language the children are hearing. Additionally Carmel O'Shannessy (then PhD candidate at MPI, Nijmegen and University of Sydney) studied children's acquisition of Light Warlpiri and Warlpiri at Lajamanu.

Samantha Smiler Nangala-Nanaku telling a story to her son based on a picture-prompt book

Samantha Smiler Nangala-Nanaku telling a story to her son based on a picture-prompt book