Sunday, August 28, 2011

In which Dr Clam watches TV

Like many people, I have never had much occasion to think about Christine Anu. My in-laws saw her once when she appeared in a shopping centre in Coffs Harbour in the last years of the last century, and I remember them reporting that her dissing of One Nation fell flat with that audience, and that's about all I can think of.

At my in-laws place the other night we saw this nifty programme about her researching her ancestors. There was one thing that impressed me that none of the effusive commenters on the programme remark on. During the course of her investigations she talked to all sorts of different people, and I was impressed how effortlessly she adapted the way she talked to who she was talking to. She wasn't just swapping between two dialects, but sliding along a continuum. With her close relatives who spoke slightly non-standard Australian English, she talked like them; the more non-standard the speech of whoever she was talking with, the more she changed to fit in with them. Some older people on Saibai required subtitles and spoke a creole peppered with non-English words, and there she talked like them. I have talked to plenty of people who can swap naturally between a standard English and a local dialect; but I had never seen anyone who seemed so naturally to inhabit a whole continuous expanse of linguistic space like that. I was impressed.

The other thing that surprised me was that she didn't know where Merauke was, when her researches uncovered the fact that her grandfather had been stationed there during the Second World War.

Since Merauke is in fact the closest large town to Saibai.

I suppose that, (a), though places might look close together on the map from where I sit, when you get there 300 km is a long way, and (b) for a long time the attention of the Torres Strait has been directed south and east to the other British possessions, and for almost half as long there has been an impermeable border between West Papua and East Papua.

Wikipedia tells me that Merauke was established as a fort by the Dutch authorities to keep these people - who seem like they would fit right into a Sheri S. Tepper novel with a little tweaking - from raiding into British territory.

I still haven't forgotten about the Roddenberry utopia. Every so often I get up from what I am doing and forlornly look about for my copy of David Gerrold's "The World of Star Trek". I may have to order another one from the interwebz.


Marco said...

Yes. As a person that can speak two languages fluently, but have a great deal of trouble switching between the two for translation purposes, it is an awe-inspiring skill.

I remember having philosophical discussions with my grandfather in Italian, and taking an immense time to explain it to my english speaking friends.

Dr Clam said...

Yes, I well remember you asking me to shut the light! :)

I didn't quite work it into the post above, but my impression was that at the far non-English end Christine Anu could understand the original language of Saibai reasonably well, but was not a fluent speaker - at one stage after listening to a song she asked the singer what a particular word meant.