> March 2009 - Transient Languages & Cultures

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March 2009

The first few weeks of semester have been a game of snakes and ladders, and I've tumbled down some very long snakes. So it's good to report on a few ladders.

First was the Kioloa Australian Languages Workshop, of which more below.

Then there was the launch of Gayarragi Winangali, an electronic version of the Gamilaraay Yuwaalaraay Yuwaalayaay Dictionary at the Koori Centre, University of Sydney. It's a wonderful resource which features a lot of data, a lot of sound, and a lot of ways of accessing the data. (Not to be compared with the expensively produced Multilocus Indigenous language CDs, most of which are depressingly data-light...).

And finally, ANU ePress have republished The Land is a map, a collection of papers on place-names in Australian Indigenous speech communities. (Bizarrely and sadly, they had to scan the book because their predecessor, Pandanus Press, wasn't into digital archiving).

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[From an ESL expert working in the public service outside the NT]

I have heard a great deal about how bilingual programs in the NT have once again been targeted for demolition- personally, I think this is completely and utterly wrong. I would hasten to add, however, that I think that the language situation for Indigenous students in classrooms throughout much of Australia is also generally totally undesirable - ie, not just because bilingual school programs are being stopped/limited...

In my opinion, the best-case scenario for any children who are learning new information/concepts/knowledges is that they understand the language in which this new material is being presented to them. Students' "strongest language" - the language variety in which they are understanding the world, thinking deeply, communicating fluently etc - is what I would recommend as the most effective language of instruction... I support the NT bilingual school programs because they have been utilising students' "strongest language" for teaching junior school information/concepts/knowledges including literacy. Students have been gradually introduced to English literacy in a structured way, bridging from pre-existing first language literacy skills into second language (English) literacy.

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In the chaos of starting first semester, three excellent events have passed unnoticed in this blog (but not in my thoughts): Tony Woodbury's Master class and workshop on speech play and verbal art T (February 13 2009) at ANU, National symposium on assessing English as a second/other language in the Australian context (20-21 February 2009) at UNSW, and the State Round of OzCLO, the High School Computational and Linguistic Olympiads at the University of Sydney (starring Wemba-Wemba, Pitjantjatjara and a brilliant problem on Japanese braille).

What must be passed on, however, is this message from the Reverend Dr Djiniyini Gondarra. Longterm readers of the blog will remember his appalled and very moving reaction to the heavyhandedness of the Intervention in the Northern Territory in 2007. Things have not improved.


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Peter K. Austin
Linguistics Department, SOAS
2 March 2009

Endangered Languages Week 2009 has come and (just) gone, ending on Saturday with the second day of the workshop on Ideology and Beliefs on endangered languages. It was a fun, if exhausting week (made even more exhausting by having to teach our regular classes this year as it took place during term time), marked by having lots of visitors from as far away as New Zealand, Australia, the USA and Canada, as well as more local visitors from throughout Europe and the UK. The nice thing was that quite a number of people came to London for the whole week to participate in the various events.

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