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Indigenous Australian languages have been in the news recently. On the positive side, Liza Power has a long piece in The Age, The new songlines which looks at Indigenous languages and music [thanks Myf!], and brings in Nick Evans' new book Dying Words. It's in my bag waiting to be read when I get through oh the Mound of marking and stuff.....

Four Corners did a program on the decision to abolish bilingual education in the NT, focussing on Lajamanu, but with some footage at Yirrkala. They’ve also come up with a good set of links and resources, and extended interviews with Djuwalpi Marika (Chairman Yirrkala School Council), Wendy Baarda (former teacher-linguist, Yuendumu) and Gary Barnes, CEO NT Education Department. Barnes' most quotable quote:

GARY BARNES: We absolutely want our young indigenous people to become proficient in the use of English language... It's the language of learning, it's the language of living, and it's the language of the main culture in Australia.

And a quotable one-worder from the Chief Minister and Minister for Education:

DEBBIE WHITMONT (to Paul Henderson): Is it fair to expect that children who are trying to learn in a second language should meet the same benchmarks at the same time as children in other parts of the country who are learning in their first language?


The comments on the ABC opinion section are very interesting – thoughtful comments both pro and anti. The general opinion among my (biased) acquaintances is that the program is “very good but very depressing”. One heartfelt comment from a friend:

If the Intervention were serious the commonwealth might think about taking over education again. The NT government is clearly unable to provide adequate schooling irrespective of the language question. The high turnover of teachers, poor quality of many principals, pitiful curriculum with all sorts of deficits (no music or decent sport programs, rarely any science, teachers who don't know how to make language lessons work, one could go on).


I am stunned that Gary Barnes claims without any hesitation that English is the language of learning.

I'm sorry, but if the first language you learned as a toddler is Kriol or Murrinh Patha or Kunwinjku or Tiwi or Pitjantjatjara then this is the language you think and learn in. No matter how much Gary closes his eyes and wishes that these kids' language of learning is English, it just isn't. It just isn't.

If what he really means is that English is the language of the education system, then say it that way.

But he'd probably then use his other favourite line: "It's not an either/or thing" - whatever that means...

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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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