> June 2007 - Transient Languages & Cultures

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June 2007

The only fluent speaker of the Thaynakwith people's language, Dr Thanakupi Gloria Fletcher, has just produced a dictionary "that includes the traditional stories, songs and art of the Thaynakwith people" of western Cape York, with the help of other community members, and Bruce Sommer and Geoff Wharton. It was praised by Peter Beattie - wonderful to see a major government figure interested in Indigenous languages.

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On Wednesday 20 June last week PARADISEC held a very successful Open Day for staff and students of the University of Sydney.

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Thoughts from a student after surviving our Field Methods course.

The decision to take this unit of study came easily to me. Having had Field Methods recommended by fellow linguistic-loving students as one of the best linguistics classes EVER!!!! I was pretty much sold even before I knew the class was on offer. And as prior to this class the only world of linguistics I knew was a theoretical one with data being presented on a nice little platter for me to pick up and analyse with no thoughts or concerns as to how the data actually made its way to me in the first place, I thought it might make a nice change for me to personally go through the elicitation process. Plus, this way I didn't actually need to deal with the sand and dirt that generally goes hand in hand with field work, as I could get some experience in the field right here in our beloved intransient Transient Building.

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(1) Details of changes to 7,000 people's wages
On 1 July seven thousand Australian Indigenous participants in Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) are set to lose their wages. A few will have the CDEP positions converted into real jobs. But most will not.

There's a worrying lack of detail as to how the Federal Government proposes to manage the transition and the immediate problems caused by lack of money in communities in which CDEP may be the main income. This is highlighted in the Social Justice 2006 report by Tom Calma, the Social Justice Commissioner. The report which was sent to the Attorney-General on 5 April 2007 contains an alarming indictment of the Federal Government and the Federal bureaucracy's general ability to manage Indigenous affairs. It seems to have got buried in the publicity surrounding Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle “Little Children are Sacred”.

Backtracking, in Western Australia, police in Broome have already blamed changes in CDEP payments for drawing people into towns from the communities.

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Concern has been expressed about the re-posting of the Randalls' statement about Mutitjulu which was sent to me for circulation. So I've removed it. You can read it here at Crikey, and it is commented on in The Age. See also this article in the Brisbane Times, in which Donald Fraser, a community member, is quoted:

"We look up to the Government to help us.Now the Government has become a camel, and kicked us out."

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Last time John Howard's ship came in, it was a Norwegian freighter, as Max Gillies observed. Today's Crikey has a Special edition: Howard's Aboriginal emergency, which suggests that this time, he's running the Aboriginal flag up the masthead.

Ten years ago when Howard came to power, his new Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Senator John Herron, said that his predecessors had got it all wrong. He wanted Aboriginal 'self-empowerment and said that the Howard government would adopt 'practical, commonsense policies' on health, housing, education, employment and improve Aboriginal people's lives.

That didn't happen.

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[From Peter K. Austin, Endangered Languages Academic Programme, SOAS]

[I began this blog on Saturday 9th June while sitting in Taipei Airport at the end of five extremely interesting but rather exhausting days in Taiwan. I was reflecting on the International Conference on Austronesian Endangered Language Documentation (held at Providence University (PU), and especially the two day post-conference excursion to Sun Moon Lake and Puli. I put the finishing touches to this post on Saturday 16th June sitting in Narita Airport, Tokyo, thanks to a four hour delay in the departure of my BA flight back to London.]

The International Conference on Austronesian Endangered Language Documentation, which was organised by Victoria Rau, Meng-Chien Yang, Yih-Ren Lin, and Margaret Florey brought together around 40 people from Taiwan, Australia, the Philippines, Thailand, UK and USA working on endangered Austronesian languages.

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LingFest 2008 will be held at the University of Sydney, Australia, 1 – 13 July 2008. LingFest is a series of linguistics conferences and the Winter Linguistics Institute.

In conjunction with LingFest 2008 , the Indigenous Languages Strand will run between 7 – 11 July 2008. It will be held at the Koori Centre of the University of Sydney. The Indigenous Languages Strand will be a useful forum for a wide range of people working in the area of the revival and maintenance of Australian Indigenous languages.

More details follow, or download the form for expressions of interest here - deadline Friday August 24.

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Lewis O'Brien continues to be one of the mainstays of Kaurna Warra Pintyandi, the Kaurna language movement. There's a favourable review in the Sydney Morning Herald of a book about him And the clock struck thirteen - assembled by the linguist Mary-Anne Gale from conversations and archival research. Nothing on the language in the review - but read the book to find out more...

[From Gail Woods, Lecturer, Centre for Australian Languages and Linguistics, Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Education, with respect to the Languages in Crisis summit]

Whilst the discussion paper is clearly focused on Languages Other Than Australian (LOTA) and the inherent security and economic risks associated with monolingualism, its sentiments could/should be subversively harnessed to develop the case for the maintenance of Australian languages.

For example, the pertinent benefits relating to studying a second language such as the increased rate of literacy development (as opposed to the myth that maintaining Australian languages decreases the uptake of English); the consistently high performance levels achieved by European children (who study second and third languages) as opposed to Australian children, in comparative literacy and numeracy tests; and “the cognitive benefits such as divergent thinking processes and more efficient uses of brain functions” could be equally fed into a proposal to reinstate properly resourced bilingual programs in schools where students’ first language is other than standard English.

That the industries of tourism and international education rely on a notion that Australia is “a tolerant society that welcomes people from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds”, must be seen as laughable when we have demonstrated such a poor record of Indigenous language preservation and maintenance. Australian language and culture programs in schools are miserably underfunded, if in fact they operate at all. They are then held up as failures, with the blame squarely placed on Indigenous communities. And when the dollars are tight they are the first to go.

Certainly, as stated in the discussion paper, schools should not be seen as a monolingual habitat and never was this more true than in remote community schools throughout Australia.

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A link here [thanks to Simon Musgrave!] to international linguistic opinion on Mal Brough's and John Howard's poorly informed English-only push. Here's Geoff Pullum at Language Log today, Punishing speakers of Aboriginal languages:

Plenty could be done to improve the lot of aborigines in Australia without doing anything to insist on their learning English (which is probably going to happen anyway, along with the extinction of the aboriginal languages). Australia has a lot to atone for. Such atonement will probably not occur.

The Australian Greens are better informed than the Government about the language loss that's happening:

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The Transient Building, symbolising the impermanence of language, houses both the Linguistics Department at Sydney University and PARADISEC, a digital archive for endangered Pacific languages and music.
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