2020 vision (maybe) on Australia’s language capacity

Among the people invited to share ideas at the 2020 Summit on visions for Australia’s future are several speakers of traditional Indigenous Languages, Jeannie Nungarrayi Egan, Raymattja Marika and Thomas Jangala Rice. Apart from them, as far as I can see, linguists haven’t got a look in. Our ideas aren’t part of the vision for Australia. Sigh, so what’s new?
Australia’s language capacity has declined. This includes the capacity to speak the languages of our neighbours, the loss of Australia’s Indigenous language heritage, and the fact that Indigenous children in remote communities are not learning Standard English. Changes in policy are needed to rebuild our ability as a country to learn and use languages. It’d be great if the summit considered this as something to push for.

Locally, this could include: maintaining Indigenous languages in communities with first language speakers through creating a climate where they can used, improving access to interpreters and translators, improving understanding of why many Aboriginal children don’t learn standard English, and improving the teaching of Indigenous languages more generally in Australia (more on this in a later post).
In our region, we could improve our resources for learning our neighbours’ languages. It is appalling that there are so few resources for learning the main language of Papua New Guinea (Tok Pisin) and other languages of our near neighbours. And we could be better neighbours by helping poorer countries preserve their endangered languages through documentation and work with digital archives (such as PARADISEC!)
BUT, at least some linguists at Monash University have tried to get some recognition for the speakers of Aboriginal English through their submission to the 2020 summit, reported in The Australian today.
“The submission argues that formal recognition of Aboriginal English as a distinct dialect is required to overcome disadvantage and problems indigenous people have accessing services.”
The really tricky thing will be what gets recognised – where do the breaks get made in the continuum that exists between a heavy creole at one end, and non-standard rural English at the other. In some remote and rural areas, the ways in which local Aborigines and local non-Aborigines speak are so close that classifying one as a dialect and the other as not-a-dialect will cause tensions. But, that’s not a reason not to think about it and work on it.

2 thoughts on “2020 vision (maybe) on Australia’s language capacity”

  1. But non English native speakers have contributed a lot to Australian language capacity, despite the racism theys ometimes face. Second generations of immigrant could be bilingual or trilingual (*in the third generation, it is very hard to keep language heritage in an English dominant society.) Australia is flourishing with many languages from all over the world. On the other hand, some English speakers show off their ONLY language, English, as if it were a birth certificate of genuine Australianness. How poor their language capacity is! The real issue is native English speakers’ language capacity. I sincerely hope the Government takes initiative to respect non English languages that include Aboriginal people’s languages. That gives speakers self-esteem and opens a way for kids to the future.

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