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Taboo by Kim Scott


by Kim Scott

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Almost the first thing Kim Scott talked about, when I had the good fortune to meet and have more than a brief chat with him at the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards night in 2011, was language…

Australians are getting comfortable with the meaning of the word ‘language’ in Australian Aboriginal English: like ‘country’, it is spoken without an article or a descriptive adjective. ‘Talking in language’ means speaking the indigenous language of a particular place and ‘being on country’ means being on the land on which they belong. I like this adaptation of the English that I speak (which is neither British nor Australian English, making me one of many here who have a hybrid language of our very own) because it means (amongst other things) both the language and a language and the country and a country. In a land like ours where there have always been multiple languages across multiple countries inhabited by multiple nations, the use of these words in this way is a reminder that for upwards of 60,000 years, the languages spoken by the Noongar or the Wiradjuri or the Bunerong did not need to be differentiated from a dominant, mainstream, default language, nor from the multiple languages other than English, which have been imported via European settlement and have flourished in greater variety since postwar migration. ‘Language’ and ‘country’ have an historic and cultural significance when used in this way.

On that night in 2011, the year that Scott’s novel That Deadman Dance won every award you can think of including his second Miles Franklin Award, Scott talked to me not about his book but about his involvement in the project to revive the language of the Noongar peoples from the southwest corner of Western Australia. I went home thinking about language in a different way (and I bought two of the bilingual children’s picture books that Scott had mentioned, and read them with the kids at school). Huge progress has been made in the revival of the Noongar language, (and I do urge you to check out this website to learn more about it) but Scott, in the Afterword to Taboo – noting that Noongar has been upgraded from ‘extinct’ to ‘living’ in a linguistics catalogue – still describes it as fragile, spoken at home by only 369 people in 2011, the year of our conversation. He says it is stronger than that, but still endangered.

So it is not surprising that language is central to the preoccupations of this novel. Languages matter. In the Afterword in which he talks about Taboo as a narrative of identity, Scott references an Irish author called Tim Robinson who says of Ireland and its indigenous language:

‘In talk about land and language, there is always a whiff of a third element, blood. The three have historically made up a deathly stew.’ (Tim Robinson, quoted by Scott on p284)

The ‘deathly stew’ in Taboo takes place in a world away from the redemptive possibilities of That Deadman Dance.

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2017/08/08/taboo-by-kim-scott/ ( )
1 vote anzlitlovers | Aug 8, 2017 |
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One may as well begin, ?Once upon a time ? ? We thought to tell a story with such momentum; a truck careering down a hillside, thunder in a rocky riverbed, a skeleton tumbling to the ground. There must be at least one brave and resilient character as its centre, Tily Coolman (one of us), and the story will speak of magic in an empirical age; of how our dead will return, transformed, to support us again and from within. Except this is no fairy tale.… (more)

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