Thursday, March 6, 2014

Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where the "Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages" is being launched. Professor Michael Christie, Charles Darwin University gave an overview of "‘Aboriginal languages, literatures and technologies in the Northern Territory since the 1970s’". This is in conjunction with the 13th Australian Languages Workshop. Also mentioned was the IKRMNA Project.

Professor Christie criticised the current trend to require aboriginal students to use English for a specified period per day, driven by the requirement to meet nationally standardised test requirements. He instead described a process where students create the content for the curriculum based on recording local knowledge. He also said there were a lot of good funded projects in community centres and libraries, using mobile and digital technology. Also some linguists at the NT Department of Education may be used to adapt some indigenous materials for teaching. Professor Christie said that many within the Department of Education were unhappy with the direct of new policies which minimise aboriginal language.

Another aspect mentioned was the role of aboriginal teachers in teaching subjects such as mathematics in a way the indigenous students could relate to.

This was an inspiring presentation and  one where some of the setbacks due to Northern Territory and Australian Government education policies policies were looked on with sadness, rather than anger. This is all the more remarkable as academics in the field of indigenous education are expecting an epidemic of youth suicides due to the new government policies.

Recently I have been looking at the use of computer for education in remote indigenous communities in Australia and Canada. Perhaps there are some lessons for Australia which can be learned from elsewhere. During the discussion this afternoon, comparisons were made with Canada, where 30 times as much was spent on preserving indigenous languages. One positive point was the role of universities.

Sharman Stone MP,, Member for Murray officially launched the new archive. She was deputy chair of a parliamentary committee which produced ‘Inquiry into language learning in Indigenous communities (2012). She commented that one problem was where the language the students actually speak is ignored and they are taught as if they spoke English.

Public lecture
Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages: Launch and public lecture
The Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages (LAAL) ( will be launched by The Honorable Sharman Stone, Member for Murray. Dr Stone was deputy chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs which in 2012 produced the report ‘Inquiry into language learning in Indigenous communities’

A public lecture entitled ‘Aboriginal languages, literatures and technologies in the Northern Territory since the 1970s’ will be given by Professor Michael Christie from Charles Darwin University following the launch. Professor Christie will reflect on over 40 years involvement with bilingual education, linguistics and literature production in the Northern Territory, and the ways in which Aboriginal philosophies and pedagogies have influenced the production and use of literature over the years.

LAAL, an ARC-funded project, contains thousands of books in Australian Aboriginal languages produced in the Northern Territory during the era of bilingual education that are now digitised with permission for public access.

The archive has been devised to be of use to both the remote Aboriginal communities of origin in the intergenerational transmission of traditional knowledge, and to the international research community interested in working collaboratively with Aboriginal languages, texts, and their owners.

The archive contains books in over 25 Indigenous languages from 20 different communities, and includes traditional stories, language instruction, histories, songs, experience stories, ethno-scientific texts and others.

Stage two of the archive project has been funded to radically extend the range of texts, and to engage language owners, educators, and researchers in exploring, enriching and engaging with the archive.

The event is part of a larger workshop on Aboriginal languages sponsored by ANU.

For information visit

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