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Indigenous paintings decorating a tiled wall.

Aboriginal English and other Indigenous languages in the media

Using a novel linguistic lens to study Australian media representations

An opportunity for a commencing PhD student to join a linguistic research project analysing media representations of Aboriginal English and other Indigenous languages in fictional film/television.

Scholars in the Department of Linguistics and in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research are engaging in new linguistic studies of representations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people(s) in the factual and fictional media. This project focuses on fictional media, namely Australian film and television.

Both Indigenous and non-Indigenous screen creatives have told Aboriginal stories and history in the narrative mass media. In the last decade or so, there has been a dramatic turnaround in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander characters on Australian screens. These characters vary in their use of Standard Australian English, varieties of Australian Aboriginal English, and traditional Indigenous languages. The way such languages and the people who use them are represented in the media has important social consequences. Research has shown that media representation can impact on Indigenous people’s self-esteem, goal-setting and community worth, and influences stereotype formation.

For many non-Indigenous viewers, television characters are a major source through which they may experience Australian Indigenous languages, including varieties of Aboriginal English. Sociolinguistics has demonstrated that media language draws on and circulates beliefs and ideas about language, known as language ideologies, which in turn influence decision-making and behaviour. Yet we lack comprehensive knowledge of the types of scripted and performed language practices that are transmitted to audiences in Australian film and television, how they are created, and how they are received.

Has increasing Indigenous creative involvement, as well as cultural and ideological awareness, had positive effects regarding language diversity, stereotypes and ideology? What opportunities are there for further improvements? Understanding the values embedded in the linguistic media landscape is crucial for public understanding and debates around diversity and representation, Indigenous programming, curriculum design, and media literacy.

In its analysis of media representation, our research puts language front and centre. Not only do we aim to systematically describe the linguistic characteristics of existing media representations, but we also aim to use interviews with screen creatives as well as audience research to examine how such linguistic representations are created and received.

The particular approach for this PhD project will be selected based on the student’s expertise, background, and interest.

This project aims to understand media representations and the complex ways in which they interact with language ideologies, social meanings, audience perceptions, and mass media industry constraints.

Opportunity to work with leading academics on a socially significant and under-examined research theme, with multiple implications for real-world applications. Involvement with innovative and emerging themes in international sociolinguistic research. Dedicated mentoring towards publication.

To be successful in your PhD application you will have previous experience in Linguistics and/or relevant professional experience in the Australian film/television industry (e.g. scriptwriting, script producing, cultural consulting, dialect coaching, etc).

We strongly encourage Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander candidates to apply.

Professor Monika Bednarek and Professor Jakelin Troy will co-supervise the student, bringing together their different areas of expertise.

The successful PhD candidate will be based in Australia. The preference is for full time candidates, but part-time candidates will be considered where there are extenuating circumstances such as carer responsibilities or work commitments.

Applicants are invited to submit a proposal for PhD research that aligns directly to this project.

Prospective candidates may qualify for direct entry into the PhD program if their research proposal (see above) is accepted and they satisfy at least one of the criteria listed below.

  • Bachelor's degree with first- or second-class honours in an appropriate area of study that includes a research thesis based on primary data not literature review
  • Master's degree by research in an appropriate area of study that includes a research thesis that draws on primary data
  • Master's degree by coursework, with a research thesis or dissertation of 12,000–15,000 words that draws on primary data not literature review, with a grade-point average of at least 80 per cent in the degree.
  • Demonstrated appropriate professional experience and alternative qualifications in the field of study.

For more information regarding applying for a PhD refer to the course details for Doctor of Philosophy (Arts and Social Sciences).

Please also refer to guidelines for preparing a research proposal.

A number of scholarships are available to support your studies:

These scholarships will provide a stipend allowance of $35,629 per annum for up to 3.5 years. Successful international students will also receive a tuition fee scholarship for up to 3.5 years.

For other scholarship opportunities refer to Faculty Research Scholarships (Domestic) or Faculty Research Scholarships (International).

For further details about the PhD project, contact Professor Monika Bednarek at monika.bednarek@sydney.edu.au.

Professor Monika Bednarek

Professor, Department of Linguistics