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Australia’s Original Languages: An introduction (R M W Dixon, A&U)

Bob Dixon has an impressive academic and publishing career, which includes 50 years of researching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages. Dixon’s latest book combines linguistics, colonisation history, anthropology and personal anecdotes. The content is enhanced by Dixon’s field trips and continuous engagement with numerous communities, contribution to Indigenous language preservation, and international expertise in linguistics. However, this book does not offer a fresh approach to the subject matter. Instead, it is reminiscent of non-Indigenous-authored anthropological resources of the late 1900s. Theory and dating of First Peoples’ migration patterns and occupation is situated at the conservative end of the spectrum. Dixon’s use of contested identity terminology and his labelling of First Peoples’ languages as ‘Australian languages’ could be unsettling for some readers. His use of past tense to describe continuous cultural practices of living peoples is also off-putting. Themes are presented erratically, and the writing style jumps from overly simplistic or informal to complex. These issues could have been resolved with a more polished edit. It is a challenging read in some parts, mainly because of the issues mentioned above, but this book might appeal to readers that have an interest in languages. It could also be of benefit to students studying anthropology or linguistics.

Karen Wyld is a freelance writer and author

 

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