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Re-awakening languages: Theory & practice in the revitalisation of Australia’s Indigenous languages

Proposals are invited for an edited volume that will include contributions from a broad range of authors involved in the revitalisation of Australian languages. If you, your colleagues or your students are participants in Indigenous languages revitalisation anywhere in Australia you are strongly encouraged to contribute.

The book will be independently edited by a panel consisting of John Hobson (University of Sydney), Kevin Lowe (NSW Board of Studies), Susan Poetsch (NSW Board of Studies) and Michael Walsh (University of Sydney) and be published by Sydney University Press (SUP). It is intended that the final product will be a significant Australian resource comparable to Hinton & Hale (eds.) (2001) The Green Book of Language Revitalization in Practice.

All contributions will be edited by the panel. Scholarly chapters will be subject to a more rigorous editorial process and be eligible for DEST/DEEWR research quantum as B1. Copyright will be vested in the authors with a licence to publish granted to SUP. Chapters will be publicly available free-to-download directly from the Sydney eScholarship Repository.

While there is scope for the structure and content of the volume to develop as contributions are received, the editors have proposed a number of potential sections:

Analysis and documentation
Language in communities
Language in education
Language and technology
Literacy and oracy
Language centres and programs
Policy and planning

(An expanded explanation of each of these headings is included at the end of this email to provide a stimulus for prospective contributors.)

A particular ambition for the book is to privilege Indigenous community and practitioner voices and give them equal standing with those of academics and theorists. On this basis we are open to a broader range of contributions than might normally be expected and encourage the inclusion of different types of texts such as transcripts of dialogues, lectures and speeches, case studies and reports. Other types of contribution will also be considered.

We are also very keen to foster collaborations between academics and community members and between teachers and students. We wish to recognise expertise at all levels, regardless of whether the authors hold formal qualifications. Teachers, linguists and allied professionals are urged to participate by fostering community contributions as well as providing their own.

We especially invite papers that document successful (and unsuccessful) strategies for languages revitalisation and education, and intend that all contributions should suggest future directions for others to follow. However, please note that the focus of the volume will be the revitalisation of endangered languages, rather than the maintenance of relatively strong ones.

While it will not be possible to publish any item that has previously been published elsewhere, some authors may wish to consider contributing developed papers from past conference presentations, or revising and updating articles. Students may also wish to consider developing past essays in the field into more substantial papers, particularly with the collaboration of their teachers.

The provisional schedule for contributions is as follows:

Call for contributions closes January 2, 2009
Final drafts due March 27, 2009
Final Edited versions due July 3, 2009.

If you are interested in contributing to this exciting project, please contact the following editors to discuss your proposal and obtain a copy of the proposal form:

John Hobson (02) 9351 6994, john.hobson At usyd.edu.au
Susan Poetsch (02) 9367 8147, susan.poetsch AT bos.nsw.edu.au

Finally, please note that this volume will not make a profit and will require granted funds and the donation of the editors’ time by their employers to permit its publication. There is therefore no prospect of individual authors being paid by the editors for their contribution or receiving royalties from the book.

Potential sections (expanded):

Analysis and documentation
The documentation of endangered languages by linguists has historically emphasised
the elicitation of data to produce technical reference grammars,
often to the disappointment of later generations of speakers intent on
revitalising their languages who find these materials largely inaccessible.
Recently linguists have come to recognise this issue and that the
documentation of a language by its users can produce in a richer and more
diverse range of texts that are potentially as useful to those who wish to
restore the true flavour of their spoken language as they are to analysts.
What opportunities are there for Indigenous Australian communities and
linguists to work in partnership to help bring languages back now and in the
future and what action can we take to facilitate them?

Language in communities
While school programs are increasingly taking a leading role in stimulating
the revitalisation of many languages across the nation, the places where
languages truly live are in the family and the community. Furthermore,
communities must take a leading role in ensuring their children acquire
their languages in the home before they reach the school if the continued
dominance of English is to be resisted. But this is easier said than done.
How are languages being revitalised in communities now and what more can be
done to support this process? What ways are there to encourage and support
Indigenous communities to speak their language every day?

Language in education
School, TAFE and university programs are currently responsible for the
majority of growth in materials and speaker populations in Indigenous
Australian languages undergoing revitalisation. What successes and failures
are being experienced in this process that practitioners new to the field
can learn from and avoid repeating the errors of the past? How can classroom
practice be informed by theory and methods from the fields of languages
education and linguistics? What works, and what doesn’t? Is immersion the
ultimate answer and are there really any ways to accelerate learning a
language, or must it necessarily involve great effort? How can universities,
TAFE and schools work more cooperatively to support communities in the
revitalisation of their languages?

Language and technology
Language revitalisation has always had a heavy reliance on technology, in
documentation and analysis as well as in teaching. Increasingly each new
technological development is seen as the next great hope for revitalising
dying languages. But, how practical and cost-effective are they and can the
best technologies really perform as well as a competent teacher or the
simple act of speaking a language to another person? How can technology best
be used to facilitate communicative learning strategies and engage learners
in effective acquisition processes, rather than making languages and
learners its captives? What technologies afford the most resource effective
production of resources with the maximum portability across revitalising

Literacy and oracy
As in many parts of the world, Indigenous Australian languages existed for
millennia in only oral forms. However, the modern world places great
emphasis on literacy and many revitalisation programs seem to favour written
language over spoken, or find it simpler to deal with. There has also been
much debate and misunderstanding over the process and outcome of developing
writing systems. Why can’t Aboriginal languages be written ‘in English’ and
who or what determines the best writing system to use? What techniques are
available to ensure revitalising languages are spoken again and how can we
best assist English-speaking Indigenous Australians to master the sounds of
their ancestral languages when they may not have heard them spoken in their
lifetime? How do we assess fluency in revitalising languages, who is fluent
enough to teach, and who decides?

Language centres and programs
The provision of a language centre or program is often a key milestone in
the revitalisation of languages that greatly enhances prospects for success.
As well as providing documentation, analysis and generating materials they
can offer a community focus and take a leading role in facilitating
languages education. How have groups of interested individuals worked to
bring such agencies into existence and what advice can they offer others
following in their path? What scope is there for language-specific, regional
or state-based Indigenous language authorities to develop and work together
in future? What makes for a successful language centre or program?

Policy and planning
Language policy is often perceived to be the province of government and for
many years there have been calls for the formulation of a national
Indigenous Australian languages policy. NSW is one state that has
implemented its own. But language communities can have their own policy too
and the often-cited ‘protocol’ is really just that, policy, albeit usually
unwritten. However, with government policy there are normally both strings
and funds attached that exert control over the actions of individuals. What
policies exist and how can they best be navigated to produce the outcomes
communities desire? As in all fields, planning is essential to be able to
recognise when goals have been achieved and what steps are required along
the way. Yet, language revitalisation activities are often piecemeal and
disconnected. What are the key concepts of language planning and how can
they be applied to achieve the best outcomes for Australia’s revitalising



John Hobson
Indigenous Languages Education
Koori Centre
Old Teachers College, A22
University of Sydney, NSW, 2006
Phone: (02) 9351 6994
Fax: (02) 9351 6924

"When you lose a language, you lose a culture, intellectual wealth, a work
of art. It's like dropping a bomb on a museum, the Louvre."
Comment by the late Kenneth Hale cited in The Economist (November 3, 2001).

The Authors

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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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