Inaugural Barb Kelly Prize and 2023 Michael Clyne Prize awarded
The 2023 Michael Clyne Prize for the most outstanding postgraduate research thesis in immigrant bilingualism and language contact (awarded jointly with Applied Linguistics Association of Australia) has been awarded to Van Tran of Charles Sturt University for her thesis Home language maintenance among Vietnamese-Australian families. We note that this thesis was also awarded CSU's Research Thesis of the Year. ALS congratulates Tran on receiving the 2023 Clyne Prize. The applicants for the Prize this year presented a field of very high quality theses, and all are congratulated on their research achievements. A summary of Tran's thesis can be found below.
This year also saw the inaugural Barb Kelly Prize for the most outstanding postgraduate research thesis in any area of linguistics. This Prize honours the late Barb Kelly, an exceptional scholar and inspiring mentor to students, who unexpectedly passed away in December last year. It is appropriate that ALS recognise her contribution to our profession with this named award. The recipient of the inaugural Barb Kelly Prize is Sasha Wilmoth for her University of Melbourne thesis The dynamics of contemporary Pitjantjatjara: An intergenerational study. The field of applicants for the Kelly Prize was particularly large and impressive, and the panel was faced with a selection of very high quality theses that speak to the exceptional standard of postgraduate research work in Australia today. The panel particularly commends the other shortlisted theses: Van's Clyne Prize winning work; Josua Dahmen's thesis An interactional perspective on Jaru conversation (Macquarie); and Elena Sheard's thesis Explaining language change over the lifespan: A panel and trend analysis of Australian English (ANU). ALS congratulates Wilmoth on receiving this inaugural prize, and congratulates all the applicants on their work. A summary of Wilmoth's thesis can also be found below.
The dynamics of contemporary Pitjantjatjara: An intergenerational study. Sasha Wilmoth
This thesis investigates several areas of Pitjantjatjara grammar, drawing attention to how the language varies between and within generations, and how it is being both adapted and maintained by young adults. The primary goal is to find out how young people are speaking Pitjantjatjara today, against a backdrop of rapid social change and language contact. How does their language use differ in comparison to older generations, and to previous descriptions, and what areas of the grammar are being changed or maintained? Pitjantjatjara is one of only a dozen Australian Indigenous languages that have been continuously transmitted since colonisation and are still being acquired by children as a first language today. Many Pitjantjatjara speakers have noticed that the language is changing and are concerned about its future.
In light of speakers’ concerns, which are presented at length, this thesis investigates six topics in the language: phonetics/phonology, verbal morphology, case-marking, possession, nominalisation, and negation. Each presents a different picture of a dynamic system in constant flux, with different patterns of variation and change, maintenance and innovation, simplification and complexification. To investigate these issues, a corpus of over 40,000 words was recorded in Pukatja/Ernabella (SA). This was designed to capture spontaneous speech among different generations of women. A combination of qualitative and quantitative methods is used to investigate variables and grammatical structures of interest.
In some areas, such as the phonetics/phonology, there are numerous differences between generations; over a dozen variables are described. In the verbal morphology, there is variation in both derivational and inflectional morphology. This appears to be system-internal, not motivated by language contact, and shows an overall maintenance of a complex and interesting system. The syntax of case is fully maintained, although there is some change in allomorphy, and an innovative use of the inclusory construction, that is not elsewhere documented. Possession is an area where contact-induced change has been reported in many languages, including Pitjantjatjara. However, variation in this domain appears stable between generations, and influenced by subtle semantic, pragmatic, and lexical factors. Nominalisation shows significant morphosyntactic complexity, which is described in detail. Complex sentence structures utilising nominalisations are being fully maintained, with no reduction in the range or use of subordination constructions among young people. Negation is also an area with significant complexity in Pitjantjatjara, and is typologically unusual in many respects. While there is currently no variation in negation between generations, there are some differences to previous descriptions, and this can shed light on broader questions of how negation constructions evolve. Overall, the findings do not point to a radical break between ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’ Pitjantjatjara, or to any significant grammatical borrowing from English.
The thesis makes a descriptive and analytical contribution to our understanding of Pitjantjatjara phonology, morphology, and syntax, pointing out several areas of typological interest. It adds to the growing body of work describing variation, change, and contact in contemporary Aboriginal language varieties. The findings illustrate the benefits of embedding the study of variation and young people’s language within language documentation.
Home language maintenance among Vietnamese-Australian families. Van Tran
Home language maintenance is of importance in culturally and linguistically diverse societies including Australia, where more than 300 languages are spoken and over one-fifth of the population speak a language other than English at home. While home language maintenance is associated with academic, social, cultural, and economic benefits for both individuals and societies, it can be a challenge for multilingual families due to child, parent, community, and society level factors.
Underpinned by Spolsky’s language policy theory, which comprises language practices, language ideologies, and language management, the purpose of this mixed methods research is to explore home language maintenance among Vietnamese-Australian families. To achieve this purpose, this thesis aims to explore how factors related to demographics, language practices, language ideologies, and language management are associated with: (1) Vietnamese-Australian children’s proficiency and use in Vietnamese and English, (2) Vietnamese-Australian parents’ language use with their child and in social situations and their attitudes towards home language maintenance, and (3) Vietnamese-Australian parents having language policies. Additionally, it aims to: (4) describe Vietnamese-Australian families’ language policies in relation to home language maintenance, and (5) explore successful experience of home language maintenance among Vietnamese-Australian families.
To achieve these aims, data were collected from a questionnaire completed by 151 Vietnamese-Australian families and a focus group discussion with seven parents from five families. All the families had children under 18 years of age. Survey data were analysed using Pearson’s correlation, analysis of variance (ANOVA), and multiple regression models. An inductive thematic analysis using NVivo was applied to the focus group discussion to explore successful home language maintenance.
The results from these analyses were presented in four published papers. The first paper highlights that children’s home language maintenance does not negatively impact English proficiency and is significantly dependent on parents’ language use and attitudes towards home language maintenance. The second paper indicates that parents’ language use with their children is positively linked to their language use in social situations. This in turn is higher when parents are younger, have higher Vietnamese and lower English proficiency, and attend community events more frequently. Parents’ attitudes towards home language maintenance correlate with their perceptions of cultural identity, beliefs in the importance of English maintenance and in the benefits of home language maintenance, and their age. The third paper highlights that only a third of the families had a family language policy. Having a family language policy is associated with parents’ Vietnamese proficiency, parents’ language use with children, and their intention of future residence in Vietnam. The fourth paper concludes with an in-depth investigation of families’ successful experiences of home language maintenance. It presents parents’ motivations, challenges, practices and strategies, and recommendations for support in home language maintenance.
This PhD research found that home language maintenance is dependent on parents’ efforts including persistent language input, positive attitudes towards home language maintenance, and consistent reinforcement of a family language policy. The research also highlights parents’ desire for the inclusion of home language maintenance in formal education. This research is expected to raise public awareness of the importance of home language maintenance, promote multilingualism, and support multilingual families in Australia and around the world.