Linguistic Spatial Violence: The Muslim Cameleers in the Australian Outback

Joshua Nash

Architectural space can be both absent or present. Architectural absence in previously architected space represents a manifestation of violence and removal. Whether through human, temporal, or natural induction, the disappearance and elimination of architectural form reveals the role of process in creation–deconstruction of both the linguistic and the architectural. I pose linguistic space as the absence of the architectural. The Muslim cameleers in the Australian outback built and forged their architecture and spatial behaviour in the un(der)privileged foundations of what was for these camel drovers a foreign land. While most of their architecture is now gone, helped through apparently violent instruments of time and neglect, their linguistic spatiality protrudes unfadingly in the form of personal names and placenames (toponyms) embedded in the(ir) cultural landscapes-cum-archiscapes. In these remote and removed bivouacs, our subjects built with force and were driven to the edges of their towns to eke out their livelihood. They travelled far, spoke their languages, redistributed creole cants and architectural vernaculars, and used local means to devise their own miniature organisational vehemence (read: spatial violence through building). I use the methodology of (linguistic) spatial writing to link the presence of linguistic landscape ephemera in the namespace/namescape to the absent architectural traces of our amateur builder exemplars. This narrative should be of interest not only to scholars of architectural spatial writing but also linguists of minority languages, students of the linguistic landscape, and historians of violence in colonial localities.

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Joshua Nash is an islophilic generalist-cum-linguist working on the language of Pitcairn Island. He writes about ethnography, the anthropology of religion, architecture, pilgrimage studies, and language documentation. He has conducted linguistic fieldwork on Pitcairn Island and Norfolk Island, South Pacific, Kangaroo Island, South Australia, and New Zealand; environmental and ethnographic fieldwork in Vrindavan, India; and architectural research in outback Australia. He is concerned with philosophical and ontological foundations of language and place.

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