I’m not a happy pappy. I had to wait until a conference on Australian Languages to hear that I’ve picked a pretty bad title for my blog. I’m not going to name names, but D. Nash – no wait, that’s a little too obvious, let’s just say… David N., – pointed out to me at the annual informal gathering of Australian Language specialists known as Blackwood, held over the weekend, that The Bloviator is a little stupid. In retrospect, he’s probably right.

I have another name that I’ve been quietly ruminating over for a few days but I’m still undecided. I am tending towards a Wagiman phrase, since it’s the first language I’ve worked on as a linguist and I feel attached to it in some respect.

The front-running candidate at the moment is mamin matjjin-nehen¹ and it means literally a (white) man (or a devil, funnily enough) without a language, or even simply matjjin-nehen ‘language-less’. It is meant to be a comment on my effective monolingualism². I grew up in an English-only household in Sydney and pretty much never gave a thought to the vastness and diversity of the languages of the world until university, and certainly knew nothing of the languages of Australia until well into university.

The role of language in my life thus never went beyond being a means of communication. So when I did my first research fieldtrip to study the Wagiman language, one of the most striking things was the cultural salience and identity attached to language. In fact, such was the importance of language to culture that it made me feel bereft of both language and culture.

So when I say I’m a man without language, I mean that I lack the sort of rich cultural background that values and connects language, land and kin. I’m taking the concept matjjin ‘language/story/word’ to metaphorically represent all this.

So that’s the front runner for the time being, but I’m not going to make the mistake of changing to it until I feel it’s the right one.

Feedback on this will be welcomed.


¹The tjj is a fortis palatal stop, but it sounds to the European ear like a voiceless alveolar affricate, like at the end of much. The h in nehen is a glottal stop, but it usually reduces to a long vowel ne:n.

²Yes, I’m aware that being monolingual doesn’t make me ‘language-less’ as such; I’m speaking metaphorically. And yes, I’m well-aware of the irony of describing myself as ‘language-less’ in another language, but of course, it isn’t my language, it’s theirs; they’re just allowing me speak it a little.