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Among the people invited to share ideas at the 2020 Summit on visions for Australia's future are several speakers of traditional Indigenous Languages, Jeannie Nungarrayi Egan, Raymattja Marika and Thomas Jangala Rice. Apart from them, as far as I can see, linguists haven't got a look in. Our ideas aren't part of the vision for Australia. Sigh, so what's new?

Australia's language capacity has declined. This includes the capacity to speak the languages of our neighbours, the loss of Australia's Indigenous language heritage, and the fact that Indigenous children in remote communities are not learning Standard English. Changes in policy are needed to rebuild our ability as a country to learn and use languages. It'd be great if the summit considered this as something to push for.

Locally, this could include: maintaining Indigenous languages in communities with first language speakers through creating a climate where they can used, improving access to interpreters and translators, improving understanding of why many Aboriginal children don't learn standard English, and improving the teaching of Indigenous languages more generally in Australia (more on this in a later post).

In our region, we could improve our resources for learning our neighbours' languages. It is appalling that there are so few resources for learning the main language of Papua New Guinea (Tok Pisin) and other languages of our near neighbours. And we could be better neighbours by helping poorer countries preserve their endangered languages through documentation and work with digital archives (such as PARADISEC!)

BUT, at least some linguists at Monash University have tried to get some recognition for the speakers of Aboriginal English through their submission to the 2020 summit, reported in The Australian today.

"The submission argues that formal recognition of Aboriginal English as a distinct dialect is required to overcome disadvantage and problems indigenous people have accessing services."

The really tricky thing will be what gets recognised - where do the breaks get made in the continuum that exists between a heavy creole at one end, and non-standard rural English at the other. In some remote and rural areas, the ways in which local Aborigines and local non-Aborigines speak are so close that classifying one as a dialect and the other as not-a-dialect will cause tensions. But, that's not a reason not to think about it and work on it.


But non English native speakers have contributed a lot to Australian language capacity, despite the racism theys ometimes face. Second generations of immigrant could be bilingual or trilingual (*in the third generation, it is very hard to keep language heritage in an English dominant society.) Australia is flourishing with many languages from all over the world. On the other hand, some English speakers show off their ONLY language, English, as if it were a birth certificate of genuine Australianness. How poor their language capacity is! The real issue is native English speakers' language capacity. I sincerely hope the Government takes initiative to respect non English languages that include Aboriginal people's languages. That gives speakers self-esteem and opens a way for kids to the future.

"The head of the Commonweath intervention taskforce says the Federal Government underestimates cross-cultural communication in its dealings with Aboriginal people." Major-General Dave Chalmers on 17 April (where some term like "pitfalls" is elided from the object of the ABC journalist's use of "underestimates").

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About the Blog

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.


Papua New Guinea FAQs from Eva Lindstrom Papua New Guinea (New Ireland): Eva Lindstrom's tips for fieldworkers

Australian Languages Answers to some frequently asked questions about Australian languages

Papua Web Information network on Papua, Indonesia (formerly Irian Jaya)

Hibernating blogs

Indigenous Language SPEAK

Langguj gel Australian linguistics and fieldwork blog

Interesting Blogs

Omniglot Writing systems and languages of the world

LingFormant Linguistics news

Language hat Linguistics news and commentary

Jabal al-Lughat Linguistics news and commentary on a range of languages

Living languages Blog with news items and discussion of endangered languages

OzPapersOnline Notices of recent work on the Indigenous languages of Australia

That Munanga linguist Community linguist blog

Anggarrgoon Claire Bowern's linguistics and fieldwork blog

Savage Minds A group blog on Anthropology

Fully (sic)

Language on the Move Intercultural communication and multilingualism

Talking Alaska: Reflections on the native languages of Alaska

Culture matters: applying anthropology Australian anthropology blog: postgraduates and staff

Long Road ethnography and anthropology blog - including about Australia

matjjin-nehen Blog on Australian linguistics, fieldwork, politics and the environment.

Language Log Group blog on language and linguistics


E-MELD The E-MELD School of Best Practices in Digital Language Documentation

Tema Modersmål Website in Swedish with links to sites on and in many languages

Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project: Language Documentation: What is it? Information on equipment, formats, and archiving, and examples of documentation

Indigenous Peoples Issues & Resources a worldwide network of organizations, academics, activists, indigenous groups, and others representing indigenous and tribal peoples

Technorati Profile

Technology-enhanced language revitalization Include ILAT (Indigenous Languages and Technology) discussion list.

Endangered languages of Indigenous Peoples of Siberia

Koryak Net Information on the people of Kamchatka

Linguistic fieldwork preparation: a guide for field linguists syllabi, funding, technology, ethics, readings, bibliography

On-line resources for endangered languages

Papua New Guinea Language Resources Phonologies, grammars, dictionaries, literacy, language maps for many PNG languages

Resource network for linguistic diversity Networking practitioners working to record,retrieve & reintroduce endangered languages


ACLA child language acquisition in three Australian Aboriginal communities

DELAMAN The Digital Endangered Languages and Musics Archives Network

PARADISEC The Pacific And Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures

Murriny-Patha Song Project Documenting the language and music of public songs and dances composed and performed by Murriny Patha-speaking people

PFED The Project for Free Electronic Dictionaries

DOBES Endangered language documentation and archiving, funded by the Volkswagen Foundation and sponsored by the Max Planck Institute, Nijmegen.

DELP Documenting endangered languages at the University of Sydney

Ethno EResearch Exploring methods and technology for streaming media and interlinear text