Researchers at Charles Sturt University (CSU) are examining childhood speech and language diversity in Fiji with the goal to help develop culturally and linguistically sensitive services for Fijians with communication disabilities.
PhD student at the University's Research Institute for Professional Practice, Learning and Education (RIPPLE), Mrs Suzanne Hopf, was recently awarded the 2015 Gerhardt Laves Scholarship from the Australian Linguistic Society. The scholarship is designed to encourage postgraduate researchers in the field of Indigenous languages by helping cover fieldwork expenses.
"Understanding Fiji's unique culture and communication environment is essential to providing best-practice services to support the speech and language development of Fijian children," Mrs Hopf said.
"My research will describe Fijian children's multilingual spoken and written language, and determine whether there are differences in language use and proficiency due to children's age, gender, school year and home language. It will also describe the community's beliefs, attitudes, and support for children with speech, language and literacy needs."
Mrs Hopf returned to Australia in 2015 after six years living in Fiji. During this time, she observed a complex cultural and linguistic environment, and a lack of speech-language pathology services. She became interested in how she could use her expertise to guide the community in the development of sustainable and evidence-based practices for supporting Fijians with communication disabilities.
Since beginning her PhD at CSU, Mrs Hopf has undertaken fieldwork with 75 children, their caregivers, 22 teachers, and more than 100 community members in Fiji. The next phase of fieldwork will see her return to the South Pacific nation in early 2016 to interview key community members about Fijian cultural practices for supporting children's speech, language and literacy development.
"The 2015 Gerhardt Laves Scholarship will help fund this next phase of research to understand and appreciate the unique nature of Fijian communication so that I can support educators and clinicians around the world working with Fijian children," Mrs Hopf said.
Read more about Mrs Hopf in CSU News here.