Laura Rademaker

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This article investigates the ways local mission and national politics shaped linguistic research work in mid-20th century Australia through examining the case of the Church Missionary Society's Angurugu Mission on Groote Eylandt in the Northern Territory and research into the Anindilyakwa language. The paper places missionary linguistics in the context of broader policies of assimilation and national visions for Aboriginal people. It reveals how this social and political climate made linguistic research, largely neglected in the 1950s (apart from some notable exceptions), not only possible, but necessary by the 1970s. Finally, it comments on the state of research into Aboriginal languages and the political climate of today. Until the 1950s, the demands of funding and commitment to a government policy of assimilation into white Australia meant that the CMS could not support linguistic research and opportunities for academic linguists to conduct research into Anindilyakwa were limited. By the 1960s, however, national consensus about the future of Aboriginal people and their place in the Australian nation shifted and governments reconsidered the nature of their support for Christian missions. As the 'industrial mission' model of the 1950s was no longer politically or economically viable, the CMS looked to reinvent itself, to find new ways of maintaining its evangelical influence on Groote Eylandt. Linguistics and research into Aboriginal cultures - including in partnership with secular academic agents - were a core component of this reinvention of mission, not only for the CMS but more broadly across missions to Aboriginal people. The resulting collaboration across organisations proved remarkably productive from a research perspective and enabled the continuance of a missionary presence and relevance. The political and financial limitations faced by missions shaped, therefore, not only their own practice with regards to linguistic research, but also the opportunities for linguists beyond the missionary fold. The article concludes that, in Australia, the two bodies of linguists - academic and missionary - have a shared history, dependent on similar political, social and financial forces.


Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry

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Journal Article

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