Pap smears, footy and language/culture teaching

My colleagues teaching modern European languages are really into plaiting/braiding — recycling bins, speed dating, Tintin cartoons, Dante, and revolutionary songs in Uruguay are entwined with their language teaching.

So now, if you were going to work with Aboriginal people to make a language/culture plait, what would it contain?

I found an answer thanks to Bruce Birch who – much appreciated! — sent me No. 1 and 2 in a series of guides to the language and culture of the Iwaidja-speaking people of northwestern Arnhem Land (mostly Minjilang on Croker Island): Audio CDs accompanying! And available online from Skinnyfish.

No.1 Kindi ngamin nuwung? “What do I call you?” has a lovely structure (there must be a better word than ‘lovely’, but my internal thesaurus has gone to sleep).

  • family words (you and your parents/siblings/grandparents)
  • what skins are
  • how they relate to marriage
  • how you introduce people, greet them and say goodbye
  • AND pronouns, and dialogues, and traditional story and a map
  • AND it’s elegantly laid out

Perfect! It could save other language groups heaps of time as a useful model. No need to agonise and reinvent.

No. 2 is at first glance surprising, but makes sense. It’s Nganduka angmaju? “Where does it hurt?” The balanda (non-Aborigines) who have the most life-and-death need to talk with Iwaidja people are medical people. And there’re lots of interesting things that can be done with health words – possession, body-part syntax, psych word syntax, transitivity. That’s for the language strand. The socio-cultural strand includes important advice on asking for body fluid samples, pap smears, and giving instructions for tablets, washing, ointments etc.

Again, a book that could save other language groups heaps of time by giving different ways of explaining complex ideas.

The books are published by Iwaidja Inyman, and funded through the Maintenance of Indigenous Languages and Records (MILR) program. It has got to be one of the better MILR projects.

Following the Skinnyfish link revealed other interesting-looking books on Aboriginal languages on sale online. One that looks promising, given what I’ve seen of the interests of young Aboriginal people is: Tiwi Footy by Monica Napper, Peter Eve and Andrew McMillan. It’s a piccy book with a 6,000 word essay which is said to have been translated into Tiwi. Wow! Up there with Kaurna footy talk and the Arrernte footy (natural language generation in Arrernte).


  1. Felicity says:

    It is nice to see an Australian language learning book laid out in a way that combines grammar and culture. Certainly this is the way that most German etc course books are laid out. The topic of each chapter is a likely cultural encounter a newby might have (e.g. health, eating out, way-finding, looking for a flat, job hunting) and then relevant grammatical categories which are likely to come up in these cultural encounters are explained. It’s a fun and very culturally embedded way of learning language.

  2. Claire says:

    Joe Blythe’s Kija Phrasebook is really good for this too.

  3. Helen Bredson says:

    Thesaurus and dictionary are really useful tools, I sometimes use them in different cases.
    By the way, I also use few online tools, for example english thesaurus. I prefer online tools, because no need to install any applications and they avaliable anywhere, where I can get Internet access.

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