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Language and Research protocols

Language Protocol

The use of incorrect, inappropriate or dated terminology is to be avoided as it can often give offence in Indigenous Studies. Many terms in common usage some years ago are not now acceptable although they can be used in 'quotation marks' to indicate their original context.

 Terms that fall into this category include 'nomads', 'native', 'savage', 'half-caste', 'full-blood', 'part-Aboriginal', 'coloured', 'primitive', 'lubra', 'gin', 'nigger'. This is despite the fact that in some parts of northern Australia both Indigenous and non- Indigenous people continue to use such terms in popular language.

 The 'tribe' or 'tribal', 'chief', and 'nomad' have specific meanings derived from foreign societies and are not necessarily applicable to Indigenous Australians. Alternative terms depending on circumstances include 'language group', 'community', 'clan', and 'totemic unit'.

 The terms 'tradition' and 'traditionally-oriented' are widely used, sometimes in combination with the contrasting descriptions of 'non-traditional' or 'urban' etc. While you will probably want to employ these terms in your assignments, take care to avoid implying either the pre-contact Aboriginal societies were unchanging or that only those Aborigines who retain to a large extent their 'traditional' culture, language and lifestyle are to be considered 'real' Aborigines (see Langton, 1981).

 The word 'aborigine' as opposed to capital A, 'Aborigine', refers to an Indigenous person from any part of the world. Eve Fesl comments: “As the name of a group of people is non-descriptive, placing us into hodgepodge of peoples, without giving us a named identity… Never refer to Australian Aborigines except with a capital 'A'.It is also preferable that a capital ‘I’ is used in Indigenous as this signifies that who is being referred to are humans as against ‘indigenous’ fauna or flora.”

 The terms Aborigine/Aboriginal are often used to include Australia's other Indigenous people, the Torres Strait Islanders, whose language and culture differs considerably from those on the mainland. It is preferable to either say Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders or use Indigenous Australians.

Increasingly English words are being replaced by self-descriptive terms such as Koori(e)  (Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales), Murri (Queensland and New south Wales), Nunga (South Australia), Noongar (Western Australia), Anangu (Central Australia), Yolngu (Arnhem Land). In other contexts, specific language or land-holding or clan names are used to refer to particular communities, for example, Noonuccal refers to some of the people of Stradbroke Island or Gu Gu Yimidthirr which refers to the people of Hopevale in Cape York.

 Similar problems apply when referring to people other than Aborigines. Are we to call them 'Europeans' (even if born in Australia), 'British', 'whites', or 'the settlers', or 'non-Aborigines'  (who may be non-white, for example the Chinese)? What about various regional terms used by Aborigines such as 'gubba', 'balanda', ‘munanga’, or 'kringkri'? There are no absolute recommendations except to recognise that since the arrival of the first (white) fleet there has been an 'ethnically' diverse population. When making a 'simple' comparison the adjective 'non-Aboriginal' is probably preferable. Somewhere between 70,000 and 120,000 years ago the first fleet arrived on the shores of North Australia. So in many senses it is true to say that white Australia has a Black history.

 Other words can also be problematic, for instance, 'pre-history' (implying before or without history), when 'pre-contact history' or 'before the invasion' is meant, or when archaeology is meant. The arrival of the British colonists is seen by some as an 'invasion', and by others as ‘peaceful settlement', or 'founding of a nation', or even the cause for the 'celebration of a nation'.

 The official (if itself problematic) definition of an Aborigine or Torres Strait Islander since 1978 is as follows: “a person of Aboriginal descent who identifies as an Aborigine and is accepted as such by the community  in which he or she lives”

Web Resource

Appropriate Terminology - Indigenous Australian Peoples appropriate language guidelines developped by Flinders University