Friday, September 18, 2009

Problems with English Grammar

Since starting hieroglyphics, youngest has been complaining bitterly about the failure of her school to teach her any English grammar. No doubt some of it was there, but she managed to get through the entire twelve years of schooling without absorbing any of it. The matter came to a head when she failed a hieroglyphics grammar test because she did not properly understand basic grammatical concepts.

I solved the problem by giving her a book to read that contained a short and very simple explanation of key grammatical terms. However, the solution caused some laughter amongst her friends.

Only in this rather strange household would a problem in understanding English grammar required to understand ancient Egyptian grammar be solved via a section of a book on an Aboriginal language! It may sound odd, but in trying to explain the language spoken by the Kamilaroi to a general readership Michael O'Rourke provided a very useful short grammatical crib.

I can understand Clare's difficulty. I did do grammar at school, the idea of grammatically correct English was then very important, but I really had forgotten the nuances. In looking at the Aboriginal languages of Northern NSW I am not trying to learn to speak them, simply to understand something about their structure. I cannot do this without some understanding of grammatical structures. Like Clare, this has forced me to revisit grammar.

Just at the moment I am taking notes on aspects of social life in Aboriginal New England - things like time, counting, even what you would find in a women's dilly bag. Influenced by Geoffrey Blainey's Black kettle and full moon : daily life in a vanished Australia, in telling the story of life in Aboriginal New England, I do want to talk about the purely domestic.

Sitting on the bus yesterday morning, I started experimenting with the possibility of writing some short posts that were in effect short stories set in Aboriginal New England. This is a way of getting me to ask new questions.

Many years ago I went on one of Isabel McBryde's digs in a rock shelter at Graman near Inverell. This is not a big shelter. It would at most have accommodated a small extended family. But I know what the country here looks and feels like. I know the light, the night and the morning cold. So I jotted down some words on the camp waking up.

Last night I watched part of an ABC Q&A program on the past and present in Australia. The transcript is not yet available. An Aboriginal women complained about lack of knowledge of Aboriginal history. She is right, of course.

Part of the problem lies in the fact, I think that it is a fact, that there is not a lot of written history available. More precisely perhaps given the thousands of work, there is not a lot that is easily accessible to a general audience.

I need to be careful here in terms of words because I do not want to revisit certain cultural debates.Let me limit myself to one central point: if you want people to understand a certain stream of history, then you have to make it available in a form that people will want to read.


As so often happens with my posts, after thinking about it I feel the need to add some qualifications. There are some good book, I have referred to some before, and searching around I found more today.

I still think that part of the problem is good and especially accessible material. Part of the problem, too, is that a very large number of Australians have simply tuned out. There comes a point where people simply don't listen to messages any more, especially where the subject matter is so entwined with current problems.

One of the things that I notice in going through the references is just how many people I know or know of. That's actually a bit of a worry. I shouldn't, given how long it is since I worked in the area.

Perhaps the most enduring history book on Aboriginal life remains Geoffrey Blainey's Triumph of the Nomads. This was published in 1975. Two of the best prehistory books and two still in print in upgraded form were published long ago: John Mulvaney in 1969, Josephine Flood in 1983.

Makes one think!

No comments: