Searching for a sixth sense with Gurindji people

Event details


Date & time

Monday 07 June 2021


Hedley Bull Lecture Theatre 1


Professor Felicity Meakins


CHL Communicate

Additional links

Synapse Trans-Disciplinary Seminar Series by the School of Culture, History & Language


Like most First Nations languages, Gurindji does not have words for right/left, but expresses spatial relations according to cardinal directions, for example “put the our north of the Vegemite” or “there’s a y 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 sixth sense.

About the Speaker

Professor 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 and numerous papers on language contact.

**This event will be hosted face to face as well as online, via Zoom – register at Eventbrite for details on how to join.

This is a public seminar and will be recorded.

The recording will be made available after the event through the Synapse Trans-Disciplinary Seminar Series page.

Updated:  7 July 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, Culture, History & Language/Page Contact:  CHL webmaster