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New insights into Australian conversational styles

New insights into Australian conversational styles

Photo Josh Dahmen

An ARC Discovery Project led by Dr Joe Blythe from Macquarie University is investigating the similarities and differences in Aboriginal conversation and non-Aboriginal conversation. The 'CIARA' project – standing for 'Conversational Interaction in Aboriginal and Remote Australia' – is the first large-scale exploration of conversational style in Australia.

The project is investigating everyday conversation, comparing social interaction across different languages, cultures and geographic locations. Using modern Conversation Analytic/Interactional Linguistic techniques, the research team aims to re-examine claims that Aboriginal Australians conduct conversations in different ways to Anglo-Australians. A field trip conducted by Dr Joe Blythe in Halls Creek and Ringer Soak has already recorded and transcribed multiparty conversation in the Jaru language, while partner investigator Professor Lesley Stirling from The University of Melbourne is collecting multiparty conversations in Kimberley varieties of Australian English, as spoken by gardiyas (non-Aboriginal people) in Kununurra and Halls Creek. 

The research is collecting the evidence to explicate Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal conversational norms, pinpointing differences which may lead to intercultural miscommunication. Such differences in expectations surrounding interactional norms have led to disadvantage for certain Aboriginal people within legal, educational and medical settings. The research team will disseminate the findings to service providers within these sectors, to Aboriginal communities and to Aboriginal organisations, in the hope of improving the quality of intercultural engagement.


A conversation being recorded for the project. From left to right: Bonnie Nyaburru Seela, Nida Nangari Tchooga and Clara Nanagu Yundi. Image Credit: Josh Dahmen.

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