The World is a Handkerchief: Our Favourite Idioms from Different Languages

Earlier this week we published a post by the author of our new book, Idiomatic Mastery in a First and Second Language, Monica Karlsson. This got us thinking about the idioms we’ve come across in different languages. Here are some of our favourites…

Laura

I like this one from German, which I think means that you’re mad. It is particularly poignant here as we do have all our cups in the cupboard! We must be a very sane office 😊

“Sie hat nicht alle Tassen im Schrank.” – She doesn’t have all her cups in the cupboard.

I also like “Être gourmand comme un chat” as it roughly translates as to eat like a pig, but has the added element of having high standards about what you eat, possibly reflecting the more stereotypical French appetite compared with the English one!

 

 

Flo

The French idiom “Poser un lapin à quelqu’un”, literally “To put a rabbit to someone”, or “Stand someone up” has always stuck with me… it makes something mean sound a lot cuter!

I like it when idioms reflect the culture of the country that language is spoken in, like the Russian “Любишь кататься – люби и саночки возить” – “If you like sledging, you’ve got to like pulling the sledge”, the idea that in order to do something we love, we have to do things we don’t – there is no pleasure without pain!

Another one is “Ни пуха, ни пера.” – “К чёрту!” This is like the English “Break a leg” whereby you wish someone bad luck in the hope it will bring them good luck, but in Russian it’s a hunting metaphor – you say “Neither down, nor feather” and they respond “To hell!”

 

Tommi

Finnish is rich with idioms…

Like “Katosi kuin pieru saharassa” – “Disappeared like a fart in the Sahara”…. Most recently used by film director Aki Kaurismäki to describe the leaders of the Brexit leave campaign who, when faced with any real responsibility, “disappeared like a fart in the Sahara”….

Or “Ei oo kaikki muumit laaksossa” – “To not have all the Moomins in the valley” – i.e. “One can short of a six pack”

Or “Juosta pää kolmantena jalkana” – “To run with your head as a third leg” – or to be in a massive rush but not really be very effective at it…

 

Rose

My favourite Somalian phrase, which I feel is my life’s motto:

“Canjeelo siday u kala korreyso ayaa loo cunaa” – As the pancakes are piled, so they should be eaten.

 

Elinor

My favourite Spanish idiom is: “El mundo es un pañuelo” which literally means “The world is a handkerchief” meaning “It’s a small world”.

In German, I like the phrase: “Man kann nicht auf zwei Hochzeiten tanzen” which literally means “You can’t dance at two weddings” or “You can’t have your cake and eat it.”

 

 

 

For more information about Idiomatic Mastery in a First and Second Language please see our website.

It Takes a Village to Write a Book: Mastering Idiomatic Expressions

This month we published Idiomatic Mastery in a First and Second Language by Monica Karlsson. In this post the author explains the inspiration behind the book and talks us through the thinking behind each chapter.

Some years ago I was teaching a proficiency class, when my student teachers and I came across some idiomatic expressions in a text that one of my students had brought with her. Her intention was to use the text in one of her own teaching sessions as it dealt with a topic relevant to a particular lesson, but she had problems understanding a few sections of it. Quite a long discussion ensued which, to begin with, was concerned with meaning only, but, when meaning had been resolved, came to be more about how exciting it would be to deal with such vocabulary on a more regular basis. This discussion with my students was the very first step in an extended process that has now resulted in the book Idiomatic Mastery in a First and Second Language.

Setting to work, the first thing I did was to explore differences between comprehension in a first and second language, so that I would get a better understanding of problems related to second language acquisition specifically. In this respect, the research literature clearly shows that there are four main facilitators: age, context, transparency and frequency, and so the second chapter came to deal with these basic concepts, as well as exploring L1 and L2 quantitative and qualitative differences.

Next I wanted to investigate how I could teach these kinds of items in a way that would promote both comprehension and retention, as well as give an understanding of how my students could approach these kinds of expressions in their own L2 classrooms in the future. Chapter 3 is therefore concerned with multimodal and visualization techniques that may help L2 learners of different ages and proficiency levels.

One of the idioms found while searching for suitable scenes from various TV shows to be incorporated in the multimodal tests implemented in the third chapter was paint the town beige. During testing, I realized that this type of manipulated idiom warranted its own chapter, as it caused students to experience quite a few additional problems. The fifth chapter hence deals only with L2 learners’ comprehension of these twisted relatives.

While testing groups of informants, I also noticed that even if many of the expressions were understood and remembered with the help of multimodal and visualization techniques, many more idioms regrettably remained very difficult to grasp, and so, to enhance learning further, it also felt important to deal with persisting ignorance and various types of misinterpretations in a structured way. Chapter 4 is thus dedicated entirely to these tokens.

Presenting my results on L1 and L2 idiom comprehension to a group of other researchers, the last part of a discussion with them came to be about idiom production, at which point I felt I had more to learn. Reading up on the research literature, I found that while sentence completion tasks have been comparatively frequently researched, very little has been done in connection with free composition writing. The sixth chapter therefore focuses entirely on an analysis of L2 learners’ use of idiomatic expressions when writing essays, often considered one of the last frontiers of L2 mastery.

Lastly, it is usually said that it takes a village to raise a child. Based on the above, I now realize that the same can be said about writing a book, during the process of which comments, ideas and input from students, colleagues and friends certainly help decide what would be important parts of a book on a specific topic. I sincerely hope that you will find this book as interesting to read as I found it interesting to write.

Monica Karlsson
monica.karlsson@hh.se

For more information about this book please see our website

A Case for Multilingual Open-Access Academic Publishing

An open access Farsi translation of our 2016 book Who’s Afraid of Multilingual Education? by Amir Kalan was recently made available. In this post the author explains why the publication of this translation is so important. 

The English and Farsi editions side by side

Although English academic writing has facilitated communication between scholars from different parts of the world, it has at the same time contributed to complex forms of academic imperialism, which harmfully interferes with knowledge creation and dissemination in languages other than English. In 2016, I published a book with Multilingual Matters about dominant discourses regarding mother tongue-based multilingual education in the Iranian context. The book, entitled Who’s Afraid of Multilingual Education?, was written based on interviews with influential scholars of multilingual education and language rights in order to contribute ideas to the mother tongue education debate in Iran. The open access publication of the Farsi translation of the book recently became possible thanks to Multilingual Matters – who provided the copyright – and University of Dayton – who published the ebook. In this blog post, I briefly write about the significance of the publication of the translation of the book.

Academic publishing in English has created a global community of scholars who share thoughts and experiences about a wide range of topics including global issues that occur outside the English speaking world. Academics working in the Anglo-American world write about other people’s cultural practices, languages, literature, art, and education. Western scholars even write the histories of non-western populations in English, the de facto academic lingua franca. On the other hand, non-English speaking international researchers are also pressured to publish in English for promotion, a trend encouraged by university ranking dynamics. This trend, on the bright side, has been a blessing in that we become aware of issues and conversations in many parts of the world. There is, however, a darker side to this status.

The journal industry and academic publishing apparatus are practically at the service of promoting a commercialized higher education, which uses researchers’ work for marketing purposes as well as knowledge dissemination. Academics’ publications in this sense become the window of the higher education marketplace in the West for potential shoppers. This approach has serious consequences for knowledge creation and consumption. Most accessible knowledge today is packaged in English, which has practically made non-English academic texts be perceived as less reliable. Also, university libraries have become the main customers of publishers because the books are sold at high prices, alienating public audiences – including non-English speaking populations. For researchers, this means investing their lives into books and papers that would only be read by a small number of readers, or even not read at all. At the same time, academics are pressured to publish more and more, resulting in a focus on quantity and repetition rather than quality and originality.

When it comes to international scholars the situation is even worse. International scholars whose research focuses on local contexts beyond the English speaking world are typically required by their institutions to publish in English. International scholars have to write in a language other than their mother tongue and compete with English speaking scholars who are often already connected with the English academic publishing and journal industry. Just as problematically, international researchers’ work often involves local issues, but because their findings are published in English, local populations have almost no access to the results of the research that was conducted for studying their cultures. This phenomenon raises serious epistemological questions about knowledge dissemination and the positionality of researchers as well as significant conversations about ethics of academic publishing.

The Farsi translation of Who’s Afraid of Multilingual Education? bent this model in favour of the population that the book was written about and, to a large degree, written for: Iranian educators. With the situation of mother tongue-based multilingual education in Iran in the background, the book brought together prominent scholars of language policy and linguistic rights in different parts of the world to respond to the doubts and questions of Iranian educators and ethnic mother tongue activists. Although the outcome of this conversation was an analysis of sociopolitical discourses that are meant to undermine the role of minoritized languages all over the world, the catalyst of our conversations was the challenges minoritized students are facing in today’s Iran. Thus, one ideal audience among others for this book would naturally be Iranian teachers eager to learn about effective policies and practices in other parts of the world. Nevertheless, the academic publishing industry has not been designed for interaction with native populations.

Iranian language teachers – especially those in disadvantaged provinces where minority languages are suppressed – would never be able to afford the English book. In some cases the price of one copy of the book would equal an Iranian teacher’s monthly income. Even if an enthusiastic teacher decided to make such an investment, he or she still would have no access to the book. A combination of western sanctions and the Iranian government’s strict censorship policies has practically made the distribution of the book in Iran impossible. Most foreign publishers have no active presence in Iran; online retailers such as Amazon do not provide service in Iran; and western credit card companies have no reach within the country and its banking system, which makes online shopping impossible. In these circumstances, the educators who practically own the conversation which the English book presents have no access to the text written about their lives.

The English version of Who’s Afraid of Multilingual Education? was not funded in any form. The book was not connected to the participating scholars’ sponsored research. The publication was the fruit of personal commitment and interest of researchers who deeply cared about minoritized students. The translator of the book similarly decided to pen the Farsi version out of personal passion without our knowledge. He had finished the translation months before he contacted me to share news about his work. When I approached Multilingual Matters and the University of Dayton about the possibility of open access publication of the book and highlighted the fact that such a move could break the current mode of elite academic publishing, they did not hesitate to support the free online publication of the Farsi version and worked hard to guarantee the high quality of the publication. Multilingual Matters generously provided the translator with the rights to the Farsi version and offered moral support. The manager of University of Dayton’s E-scholarship also worked hard to release the book in the best possible format as soon as possible.

I am grateful to Multilingual Matters and University of Dayton for supporting the open access publication of the translation of my work. Apart from my personal interest in the project, their decision, I believe, has had important ideological, sociocultural, and economic implications. The translation resists the English-only stance of mainstream academic publishing industry. It provides access to local educators who are the real owners of the book content and invites them to share their thoughts about the debate. In other words, the conversation is no longer about them but with them. Additionally, the free online distribution of the book creates access for native teachers who are often financially disadvantaged. It is fair to see this experience as an example of how we can democratize the academic publishing industry and perhaps remedy some of the effects of the current academic colonialism.

Amir Kalan

 

For more information about Who’s Afraid of Multilingual Education? please see our website. You can access the Farsi translation of the book here.

Missionary Kids and Colonialism

We recently published Growing up with God and Empire by Stephanie Vandrick. In this post Stephanie speaks about her experience writing the book as a ‘missionary kid’ herself.

I grew up as a ‘missionary kid’ (child of North American Protestant missionaries) in barely post-Independence India. Little did I know that decades later I would become fascinated by the memoirs of other missionary kids (MKs), now adults, about their childhoods in various countries at various times during the past century, and would write a book analyzing 42 of those memoirs through a postcolonial lens. Writing this book has been a personal and scholarly odyssey for me, bringing together my own missionary kid background, my love of memoirs, and my academic interest in the consequences of colonialism and empire.

At the same time, this topic was a deeply fraught one for me. Some of the questions I struggled with were as follows:

  1. How do my dual roles as an insider (a ‘missionary kid’ myself) and an outsider (a critical researcher) fit together?
  2. Can I balance a fair portrayal of the very concrete good that many missionaries, including my own parents, did, on the one hand, with my concerns about deeply problematic aspects of being part of colonialism, on the other?
  3. Is it appropriate for me to weave my own MK experiences into my analysis of the 42 memoirs?
  4. Since I have strong criticisms of colonialism, why am I so nostalgic about my childhood in barely post-British India, and why am I so attracted to all things British (afternoon tea, British novels, English accents)?
  5. How will other missionary kids feel about my book and its thesis? Will they think it is unfair of me to take excerpts from the memoirs of unsuspecting former missionary kids to make points, sometimes negative, about the role and behavior of missionaries in India, China, Nigeria, Brazil, the Philippines, and several other countries? Will they be offended?

I concluded that I had to tell what I perceived was the truth, as revealed during my study of the memoirs and of other sources. At the same time, I had to candidly acknowledge the conflicts and the concerns. I tried to do so throughout this book, especially in my ‘personal epilogue.’

I don’t want to end this post with the impression that researching and writing this book consisted mostly of painfully conflicted feelings and angst! In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in these fascinating MK memoirs, so various and yet with so many common themes and experiences, and in the historical, religious, political, cultural, and linguistic contexts I investigated. The memoirs are intriguing, adventurous, happy, sad, open, guarded, artful, artless, naïve, professionally written, amateur, shaped by their times (mostly mid-20th century), full of engaging and surprising stories, sometimes exhilarating and sometimes heartbreaking. I am happy to have been able to explore and provide a window into the so far very under-examined lives of missionary kids and what their perspectives reveal about the missionary project.

Stephanie Vandrick, University of San Francisco

vandricks@usfca.edu

 

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Spirituality and English Language Teaching edited by Mary Shepard Wong and Ahmar Mahboob.

New Year, New Books!

Happy New Year! We’re starting 2019 as we mean to go on with a whole host of exciting new books coming out in January and February! Here are the new titles you can look forward to…

January

Early Instructed Second Language Acquisition

This book examines which factors lead to success in foreign language learning at an early age in instructional settings. The studies investigate learners aged between three and ten, their parents and teachers, and focus on the development of speaking and reading skills and how attitudes and motivation impact on the teaching and learning process.

Idiomatic Mastery in a First and Second Language

The comprehension, retention and production of idiomatic expressions is one of the most difficult areas of the lexicon for second language learners to master. This book investigates this under-researched and interesting aspect of language acquisition, shedding light on conventional uses of idiomatic expressions as well as creative variant forms.

Investigating Content and Language Integrated Learning

This book provides a unique longitudinal account of content and language integrated learning (CLIL). Giving voice to both learners and teachers, it offers insights into language learning outcomes, learner motivation among CLIL and non-CLIL students, effects of extramural exposure to English, issues in relation to assessment in CLIL and much more.

English-Medium Instruction and Pronunciation

This book offers new insights into the language gains of adult learners enrolled in an English-medium instruction degree programme. It provides longitudinal evidence of the phonological gains of the learners and investigates whether increased exposure to the target language leads to incidental learning of second language pronunciation.

Critical Reflections on Research Methods

This book explores the challenges involved in conducting research with members of minoritized communities. Through reflective accounts, contributors explore community-based collaborative work, and suggest important implications for applied linguistics, educational research and anthropological investigations of language, literacy and culture.

 

February

Early Language Learning and Teacher Education

This book investigates both the theoretical and practical aspects of teacher education for early language teachers. It focuses on the complexity of teacher learning, innovations in mentoring and teacher supervision, strategies in programme development and perceptions, and knowledge and assessment in early language learning teacher education.

Aspiring to be Global

This book makes a novel contribution to the sociolinguistics of globalization by examining language and social change in the tourism destination of West Street, Yangshuo, China. It explores the contingencies and tensions in the creation of a ‘global village’ and reveals ambivalent struggles inherent in this ongoing process of social change.

Critical Inquiries in the Sociolinguistics of Globalization

This book seeks to examine the notions of ‘linguistic diversity’ and ‘hybridity’ using new critical theoretical frameworks embedded within the broader discussion of the sociolinguistics of globalization. The research took place in contexts that include linguistic landscapes, schools, classrooms, neighborhoods and virtual spaces around the world.

Conversation Analytic Perspectives on English Language Learning, Teaching and Testing in Global Contexts

This book contains 10 empirical studies of English language learning, teaching and testing where English is an additional language. Focusing on English-as-a-Foreign-Language contexts, they involve varied learner populations, from children to young adults to adults, in different learning environments around the world.

Perspectives on Language as Action

This edited volume has been compiled in honour of Professor Merrill Swain who, for over four decades, has been one of the most prominent scholars in the field of second language acquisition and second language education. The range of topics covered in the book reflects the breadth and depth of Swain’s contributions, expertise and interests.

 

For more information about any of these titles or to place an order, please visit our website.

The Motivations of Adult Language Learners in Continuing Education Settings

We recently published Identity Trajectories of Adult Second Language Learners by Cristiana Palmieri. In this post the author explains what inspired her to conduct this research.

The reasons I became interested in conducting the study presented in my book are connected to both my professional and personal life. Having an academic background in social sciences with a specific interest in the nexus between languages and cultures, I have always been very interested in the relation between L2 language learning and processes of identity development, to better understand how languages influence the way we think and interact with other people. My interest in this area has been compounded by my personal experience as a second language speaker and my professional practice as a teacher. In my role as an educator I have taught a variety of subjects, including Italian language and culture, both in Italy and Australia. When I started teaching Italian as a second language in Australia I realised that the Australian sociocultural context presented specific characteristics connected to the history of Italian migration to this country. I was surprised to discover that my native language is one of the most widely-studied languages in Australia, in spite of the large geographical distance that separates the two countries. What makes this finding particularly remarkable is the fact that Italian is spoken by a relatively small percentage of the world population, about 64 million speakers in Italy and in a few other countries in Europe and Africa, which equates to less than 1% of the world population. Moreover, it is not considered a language of business, and its command it is not an essential requisite for Australian travellers visiting Italy.

Having been myself a second language learner, I am very well aware of the fact that strong motivation is needed in order to sustain the effort and to cope with the frustration that the learning process sometimes brings about. In my case, my motivation was relatively easy to frame: I wanted to learn English, a global language, to be able to live and work in English-speaking countries, and to travel the world with an international language as a passport at my disposal. While teaching Italian to adult learners in Australia, looking at my students, highly committed individuals striving to master a second language which is not an international language, I could not stop wondering about the factors sustaining their motivation.

This book explores the motivations of adult second language learners in continuing education settings. It focuses on their learning trajectories and related dynamics of identity development triggered by the learning process. By presenting an in-depth analysis of motivational drives and their interconnectedness with the sociocultural settings in which the learning process occurs, the book contributes to boosting our understanding of adult second language learning, a rapidly expanding field of research of language and identity in multicultural contexts. In a nutshell, this book is about the fascinating experience of learning another language and understanding another culture.

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Language Teaching and the Older Adult by Danya Ramírez Gómez.

The Fascinating World of Linguistic Landscapes

We recently published Expanding the Linguistic Landscape edited by Martin Pütz and Neele Mundt. In this post the editors talk about the International LAUD Symposium that inspired the book.

This edited collection entitled Expanding the Linguistic Landscape is the result of the 37th International LAUD Symposium held in the spring of 2016. The book focuses on linguistic landscapes in public spaces and the emplacement of multimodal signs (visual, auditory, haptic, olfactory) in multilingual inscriptions as they are represented in diverse societies around the world, such as in Europe, Africa, Australia/Oceania and Asia. The symposium, hosted by LAUD (Linguistic Agency University of Duisburg), represented a biennial international event which took place for the 9th time at the University of Koblenz-Landau (Landau Campus). In the past, LAUD was instrumental in organizing numerous conferences on various facets of multilingualism and the sociology of language, such as language contact and conflict, language choices, ideologies and language policies, multilingual cognition and language use, endangered languages and now, in 2016,  Linguistic Landscapes (henceforth LL). Therefore, in retrospect and for the purpose of this blog, a few remarks about the beginnings of LAUD and its further development and expansion are in order.

The Symposium on LL (LAUD 2016) was posthumously devoted to the founder of LAUD, Professor René Dirven, the great scholar and spiritual mentor of cognitive linguistics who died in August 2016. Back in 1973, together with his colleague Günter Radden (University of Hamburg), René Dirven established a linguistic clearing-house, the Linguistic Agency at the University of Trier (LAUT). The Linguistic Agency provided an institutionalized forum that allowed René to organize an impressive series of international linguistic symposia. The world’s most distinguished scholars were invited to present their work at the newly founded University of Trier, which overnight became known as a destination of pilgrimage in modern linguistics. The series of symposia was opened in 1977 with papers by Charles Fillmore, followed by John Searle, William Labov, Michael Halliday, George Lakoff, Ronald Langacker, Joshua Fishman, Suzanne Romaine and many other well-known scholars of linguistics. By now LAUD is internationally known and its acronym is strongly associated with linguistic innovation, a wide scope and the name of its founder, René Dirven. He leaves behind numerous students and colleagues throughout the academic world who have learned much from him about language and linguistics.

An example of linguistic landscape in Cameroon

What motivated the editors of this volume to organize a symposium on linguistic and semiotic landscapes was first of all their common research interest in the cultural, ideological and multimodal spaces of the African continent with special reference to multilingual Cameroon. Having spent and enjoyed somewhat longer research stays in the country we were fascinated by the sheer array of linguistic and semiotic tokens which characterize its urban and rural areas in public spaces. Certainly, the linguistic landscapes of Asian megacities such as Hong Kong have much more to offer semiotically especially when it comes to a glittering, world-class commercial center where Chinese culture, British colonial influences and modern day high-technology blend together. Still, the diversity of languages we are confronted with in politically unstable and tense societies like Cameroon and other African nations likewise arouses interest in LL analyses and interpretations. Leaving the Africa-based LL discussions and debates aside, the remaining chapters are likewise testimony of a rich array of new findings on methodology, translanguaging, semiotic assemblages and multimodality in or outside the city, be it in Australia/Micronesia, Germany, Taiwan, or Lithuania. We are hopeful that the reader will enjoy diving into this fascinating world of linguistic and semiotic landscapes just as we did during the somewhat longer, but efficient, process of conceptualizing and editing this volume.

Martin Pütz
Puetz@uni-landau.de

Neele Mundt
Mundt@uni-landau.de

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Engaging Superdiversity edited by Karel Arnaut, Martha Sif Karrebæk, Massimiliano Spotti and Jan Blommaert.

Laura and Sarah: Christmas Book Q&A

In the final instalment of our Christmas-themed blog posts, Laura and Sarah team up to talk about Father Christmas and Anne of Green Gables.

Which book characters would you like to have Christmas dinner with?

Sarah: I always wanted to have dinner with the Blythe family from the Anne of Green Gables books. The most fun Christmas dinner guests would have to be the Weasley twins and Merry and Pippin 😊

Do you have any Christmas book traditions?

Laura: As a child we used to read Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs many, many times over. I think I still know the words off by heart!

What book would you like to receive on Christmas day?

Laura: I’ve asked for Oh My God What a Complete Aisling as it has been recommended to me by several friends who say it resonates with our generation while being funny and light-hearted too. Fingers crossed Father Christmas delivers!

Which book would you give as a Christmas present?

Laura: I heard and thoroughly enjoyed the serialisation of Becoming by Michele Obama so I am giving that to my sister this Christmas (fingers crossed she doesn’t follow the blog and see this spoiler!)

Sarah: I gave Anne of Green Gables to my friend’s daughter last year which was lovely – she then read it to me next time I babysat!

Favourite/least favourite book you read in 2018?

Laura: I’ve just started reading the complete Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis ahead of a trip to Belfast (his place of birth) in January. I’m really into them but the only problem is, Elinor accidentally told me a major plot spoiler!

Sarah: I really enjoyed The Astonishing Colour of After (Emily X.R. Pan), Love, Hate & Other Filters (Samira Ahmed), How to Stop Time (Matt Haig) and The Watchmaker of Filigree Street (Natasha Pulley) – difficult to pick one! 😊

My least favourite was The Bricks that Built the Houses (Kate Tempest) – it wasn’t awful but I didn’t particularly enjoy it.

The Role of ‘The Road’ in the Australian Imagination

This month we published Roads, Tourism and Cultural History by Rosemary Kerr. In this post the author explains how ‘the road’ inspired her book.

As the summer holiday season approaches in Australia, many people will take to the road – visiting family and friends; heading up or down the coast for some rest and relaxation; revisiting favourite spots, or exploring new places off the beaten track. The road trip looms large in Australian culture. Distance and mobility have shaped the nation’s history and character, but until now the role of ‘the road’ and road tourism in the Australian imagination has been relatively unexplored.

From sacred Aboriginal ‘songlines’; trails blazed by explorers and pioneers; to the rise of the road trip in the early 20th century, as cyclists, motorists and caravanners answered the ‘call of the open road’; to modern-day backpackers and grey nomads following ‘Highway One’ around and through the country on journeys of national and self-discovery; to four-wheel-drive adventurers, who dream of getting off the road altogether, this book examines how roads and road travel beyond urban settings are imagined, experienced and represented by travellers, writers, poets and film makers. Through detailed studies of iconic routes, including the Birdsville Track, Stuart Highway and Great Ocean Road, it asks, how and why have some roads become more famous than others? What are the implications for heritage preservation and tourism interpretations of these routes?

Based on my doctoral research, completed at the University of Sydney in 2012, the topic was inspired partly by my work as a historian and heritage consultant, where I was involved in several projects studying the heritage of roads and bridges. This work focused on assessing the physical fabric of roads and infrastructure as well as their historical context and significance. Questions such as: ‘how and why were they built? Where did they go? Who travelled them?’ and ‘Why are they important?’ made me think about the layers of history, memory, meaning and mythology embodied in roads. I wanted to explore the idea of the road in broader Australian culture.

Travel narratives, tourism literature, fiction, poetry and feature films reveal the Australian road to be a space of contrasts and contradictions between: Aboriginal and European conceptions of space, road and off-road, coast and outback, nostalgia and modernity, nature and technology, freedom and constraint, memory and forgetting, dream and nightmare.

As well as representing adventure, escape and opportunity, the road also has a dark side. The much-anticipated holiday road trip often ends in tragedy, and Australia has one of the highest incidences of road trauma in the world. Terms like ‘horror stretches’ and ‘accident black spots’ attest to the spectre of death which haunts the nation’s highways. Disturbing – and often bizarre – cases involving murders and disappearances of hitchhikers, backpackers and other travellers on outback and regional highways contribute to the image of the road as a ‘badlands’. These images have also entered our cultural consciousness, inspiring road movies such as The Cars that Ate Paris, Mad Max and Wolf Creek.

 Yet, the ‘weirdness’ and ‘melancholy’, which often characterised representations of the Australian bush and outback can be attributed partly to Australia’s history as a settler colonial society. It reflected the sense of dislocation and alienation experienced by many, both convict and free, who found themselves far from ‘home’ in an unfamiliar and often threatening environment; and the violent dispossession of Indigenous peoples which the process of colonisation entailed. That history has had a lasting and ongoing impact on imaginings, experiences and representations of the Australian road.

By exploring ‘the road’ as both a physical and imagined space, the book delves deep into the Australian psyche, revealing much about underlying Australian culture including relationships to landscape, modernity, national identity and colonialism. It offers a new way of thinking about roads and road tourism as important strands in a nation’s cultural fabric.

Rosemary Kerr

Consulting Historian

rtk@tpg.com.au

 

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Histories, Meanings and Representations of the Modern Hotel by Kevin J. James.

Anna: Christmas Book Q&A

Merry Christmas! Here’s the third instalment in our Christmassy book Q&A in which Anna talks Wind in the Willows, poetry and pulling a cracker with Professor McGonagall. 

What is your favourite Christmas scene in a book?

A snowy view from Anna’s window

I do really like Chapter 5 of Wind in the Willows which is about many things, but includes an impromptu party thrown for carol-singing field-mice by Ratty and Mole. The chapter ends with Mole drifting off to sleep, thinking about the importance of having a community and a place to call home, which seems especially apt at this time of year and in 2018:

He did not at all want to abandon the new life and its splendid spaces, to turn his back on sun and air and all they offered him and creep home and stay there; the upper world was all too strong, it called to him still, even down there, and he knew he must return to the larger stage. But it was good to think he had this to come back to; this place which was all his own, these things which were so glad to see him again and could always be counted upon for the same simple welcome.

Do you have any Christmas book traditions?

We have a book with a short poem or extract from a book for every day of Advent, and I try and buy a new Christmas book for the girls each year (this year is Grandpa Christmas by Michael Morpurgo). I also try and find time on Christmas Eve to read A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas aloud to Alys and Elin…

All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find. In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea, and out come Mrs. Prothero and the firemen.

What book would you like to receive on Christmas day?

I’d be happy with just about any book to be honest, but I would really love ‘Honey and Co. at Home’ or ‘The Phantom Atlas’, which is about mistakes on maps.

Which book characters would you like to have Christmas dinner with?

Mrs Cratchit, Professor McGonagall and Becky Sharp.

Which book would you give as a Christmas present?

Jeanette Winterson’s ’Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days’

Favourite/least favourite book you read in 2018?

I hate giving up books, but I did abandon ‘Judas’ by Amos Oz this year. I felt like I had already read enough books about middle-aged men and their obsessions with beautiful and unobtainable women.

Some of my favourite authors have published new books this year, so it’s been a good year for favourite books, but I’d probably pick ‘The Underground Railroad’ by Colson Whitehead. It’s a brutal read, but utterly engrossing and the central character Cora is a force of nature.