Meaningful Rituals: A Linguistic Analysis of Acknowledgements of Country

Publication Name

Journal of Australian Studies


This article presents a linguistic analysis of Australian Acknowledgements of Country, an ancient Indigenous practice now increasingly prevalent in Australian public life. Acknowledgements of Country are typically spoken at the beginning of events by either Indigenous or non-Indigenous people. While celebrated as a practice that gives voice and primacy to Country, Indigenous peoples and their cultural practices, they have also attracted criticism for being tokenistic and minimising the severity of the genocide and continuing exploitation of Indigenous peoples. Supporting a body of work that critically engages with the values and structure of Acknowledgements of Country, we deploy a variety of tools from systemic functional linguistics to analyse 20 examples (both spoken and written), using the lexicogrammatical and discourse semantic systems of agency, transitivity and appraisal. Our findings show that there are both obligatory and optional parts in the Acknowledgments of Country, and that these linguistic choices can illuminate contemporary power dynamics and political stances. Our intention here is to the highlight the language choices that place obligations and duties on speakers in delivering their Acknowledgements of Country.

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