Speaker: Associate Professor Felicity Meakins, UQ

A/Prof Felicity Meakins is an ARC Future Fellow at the University of Queensland and a CI in the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language. She specialises in the documentation of Australian Indigenous languages in northern Australia and the effect of English on these languages. Meakins has worked as a community linguist and academic for the past 20 years, facilitating language revitalisation programs, consulting on Native Title claims and conducting research into Indigenous languages. This work has provided the basis for four dictionaries, five books of translated texts, Case-Marking in Contact (Benjamins, 2011), A Grammar of Bilinarra (with Rachel Nordlinger, Mouton, 2014), Understanding Linguistic Fieldwork (with Jennifer Green & Myfany Turpin, Routledge, 2018) and numerous papers on language contact.

Topic: Searching for a sixth sense with Gurindji people

Like most First Nations languages, Gurindji does not use right/left to express spatial relations, but use cardinal directions instead, for example “put the flour north of the vegemite” or “there’s a fly on your west shoulder”. This attention to geocentric cues has cognitive effects that show that Gurindji people have an extraordinary mental map of the world anchored in the trajectory of the sun, but which is constantly in operation regardless of the time of day. One question is whether this unique attention to geocentric cues is reflected neurologically, i.e. whether Gurindji people have a hard-wired magneto-reception ability akin to migratory animals. Human neurophysiology has been shown to contain a geomagnetic sensory system (Wang et al 2019). Small rotations in the magnetic field triggered drops in the brain’s EEG alpha-wave power. However, no participants were consciously aware of these magnetic field shifts. All participants tested spoke English, which uses a left/right system, with cardinal terms marginal in everyday speech. On the other hand, the Gurindji spatial orientation ability is so casual and accurate, we propose that they might be consciously aware of the geomagnetic field – a new human 6th sense. 

About Linguistics Seminar Series

The Linguistics Seminars are an opportunity to hear from guest speakers, UQ staff and HDR students working in the field of Linguistics. If you are interested in presenting in our series, please contact Linguistics Discipline Coordinator Ilana Mushin

Seminars are generally held fortnightly during semester and are free to attend. UQ staff and students, staff and students from other universities, and members of the general public are welcome to attend. If you would like to be included on our mailing list, please contact the SLC Events team via email.


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