What a good decision in today’s Australia Day honours to make Laurie Baymarrwangga Senior Australian of the Year 2012! Read Claire Bowern’s post for an appreciation of her and her work documenting the Yan-nhaŋu language and getting it written down. She sounds a delightful person.
2012 is also National Year of Reading. Everyone with a reading-scheme in their revolver will be lobbying the government for funds to smelt and fire their silver bullets. Will the glitter of silver blind officials to the evidence as to whether they can hit the target?
How about for a change we read Yan-nhaŋu, Warlpiri, Enindilyakwa, Arabic, Vietnamese…? And for an even greater change, fund the production of reading material and decent language enrichment programs in these languages? Which brings me to a quibble about the description of Ms Baymarrwangga’s achievements:
Speaking no English, with no access to funding, resources or expertise, she initiated the Yan-nhangu dictionary project. Her cultural maintenance projects include the Crocodile Islands Rangers, a junior rangers group and an online Yan-nhangu dictionary for school children.
‘initiate’ is a slippery word, which then slithered into the ABC report as’establishment’.
Another is her establishment of the Yan-nhangu dictionary project, without any funding, resources, expertise or the ability to speak English.
This is a dangerous inaccuracy. Others were involved in the Yan-nhaŋu dictionary work who had access to resources. Ignoring their contribution lets governments off the hook. They want us to believe that love is all you need to maintain a language and create an online dictionary for it. Not schools, not interpreters or translators, not curricula or interesting stuff to read, not web-hosting or software, not linguists or programmers, nothing that needs paying for. Certainly nothing that would cost as much as some of the silver bullet reading-schemes.