“A Whole Alternative Universe”: Language and Space in David Malouf’s “The Only Speaker of His Tongue”

Deborah Scheidt

Abstract


By displacing Aboriginal communities, interfering with their migratorial routes and sacred sites and forcing them into sedentary practices, European colonialism disrupted the closely-knit links between people, space and language that had characterised life in Australia for 40,000 years prior to the arrival of the British. In linguistic terms that meant the disappearance of hundreds of languages, the devitalising of traditions that had been based mainly on orality and, ultimately, the silencing of thousands of voices. In the short story “The Only Speaker of His Tongue”, David Malouf addresses the threat that the loss of a language poses to cultural diversity. The plot consists of a skilful incursion into the mind of a Nordic lexicographer as he meets the object of his curiosity:  the last speaker of a certain Australian language. Although the encounter is fictitious and the story is extremely concise, it reaches much beyond its fictional status by, both directly and indirectly, raising issues related to the past and present treatment that Australia has dedicated to its Aboriginal peoples, to the complexities of the field of salvage linguistics and to the functions of language itself.     


Keywords


David Malouf; The Only Speaker of His Tongue; Space; Language Death

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5007/2175-8026.2016v69n2p33

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