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The "Understanding Children's Languages Project" of the Queensland Department of Education is developing a very rich website, (yay Denise!), which will have heaps of resources and sensible explanations of what's going on with Indigenous children's languages. Really useful if you have to explain things to teachers, parents, community members, or anyone who goes to sleep at the drop of a noun. A lot of the content is still under development, but they have uploaded some interesting interviews with Queensland Indigenous people about language histories (Under "Language awareness") .

There's lots to think about in the interviews, but I'll just single out 2 things which intrigued me. Very relevant to the current English literacy push is Val Wallace's comment

I think the kids need a pat on the back really. That is just a part of living biculturally really regardless of the language you speak at home and what you are taught at school. English should be seen as picking up another skill rather than it being something that is 'the be all and end all' of you getting an education. There has to be a reason for learning English. You shouldn't actually just tell people to do something without giving a reason as to why they are doing it.

We are in danger of forgetting that kids should learn other things than English at school - and if the focus is all on learning to read English, when do they learn about science, dinosaurs, geography, their family's history, the country's history, law-making, and all the things that we take for granted that English-speaking teachers will talk about with English-speaking kids from early on.

And an entirely different point - it's worried me for a long time that we may be overemphasising the substrate influence from local Indigenous languages on new Indigenous languages such as Kriol, Broken and so on. The structures of the traditional languages vary considerably - especially if you add Tok Pisin from Papua New Guinea as Cherry Royee does

There are a lot of Torres Strait Islanders here and they use the word Creole to name their talk. Pidgin is another name I've heard - my husband is Papua New Guinean so they speak that or Broken. I just call it Murri Talk or Murri Way, I never really thought about it. Is there a proper way? I never heard about it!

In other words, in contrast with traditional languages across mainland Australia, the Torres Strait and PNG, all these new languages is so similar, that it is easy to learn one if you know one of the others. So, to find substrate effects, we have to look at more subtle differences - i.e. look at regional differences among new languages and see if they correlate with regional differences in the older languages.

Comments

I totally agree. As an ESL tutor I make time to learn some of the basics of the languages that the students speak~ most of them speak more than one already! so like our (Australian) indigenous communities. And yet the emphasis is on English being the "be all". Most of us migaloos can only speak one! and we wouldn't know a present continuous word from a gerrand anyway :-) It will be great when indigenous nations, within Australia and within the Pacific Rim (anywhere really) are able to learn in their first language. I attended a symposium in Palau where the topic of teaching in language was highlighted; especially in light of other nations such as Japan and Europe learning in their first language~ and not English.

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