A noteworthy correlation

For young people in remote areas of Australia, there’s a correlation between speaking an Indigenous language and better well-being. That’s today’s message from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Here’s their media release.

“The report found that in 2008, almost half (47%) of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth (aged 15–24 years) in remote areas spoke an Indigenous language. These young people were less likely to engage in high risk alcohol consumption and illicit substance use, than those who did not speak an Indigenous language. They were also less likely to report being a victim of physical violence.”

What lies behind this correlation is complex and needs a lot of thought. But at the very least it suggests that:
1. policy-makers need to think twice before steam-rollering through English-only programs in schools where children speak an Indigenous language as their first language.
2. they should think twice about the longterm costs of policies that drive Indigenous people out of remote communities into the fringe camps of towns, with all the consequent loss of language, connectedness, and sense of belonging, and the easy access to solace in alcohol and drugs.

Thanks to Howard Morphy for showing me this.


  1. I posted my own thoughts on this over on my personal blog: http://danielhieber.com/2011/04/30/a-noteworthy-correlation/

    In sum, I think Jane’s questions are astute because they target the deeper causal factors at play. But the report itself gives the impression of a correlation partially in the wrong direction. Successful language transmission is, generally speaking, more likely to be a result of other forms of well-being, and not always the cause. Clearly good language policies and programs can and do help improve overall well-being, but it seems like a certain amount of social stability and well-being is required first.

  2. Ruth Singer says:

    Thanks Jane – have already included this in a grant application!

  3. Jane Simpson says:

    Good luck Ruth – Daniel’s blogpost has some useful points on it.

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