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Community, identity, wellbeing: the report of the Second National Indigenous Languages Survey,

Authors:
Community, identity, wellbeing:
the report of the Second National
Indigenous Languages Survey
Doug Marmion
Kazuko Obata
Jakelin Troy
© Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies 2014
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any
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under the Act.
The views expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect
the official policy or position of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Studies.
Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS)
GPO Box 553, Canberra ACT 2601
Phone: (61 2) 6246 1111
Fax: (61 2) 6261 4285
Email: research@aiatsis.gov.au
Web: www.aiatsis.gov.au
National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry
Author: Marmion, Doug, author.
Title: Community, identity, wellbeing : the report of the Second
National Indigenous Languages Survey /
Doug Marmion, Kazuko Obata and Jakelin Troy.
ISBN: 9781922102249 (ebook : pdf )
Notes: Includes bibliographical references.
Subjects: Aboriginal Australians--Languages--Government policy.
Torres Strait Islanders--Languages--Government policy.
Australian languages.
Other Authors/Contributors:
Obata, Kazuko, author.
Troy, Jakelin, author.
Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.
Dewey Number: 499.15
For information on the Second National Indigenous Languages Survey project, contact Dr
Jakelin Troy, Director of Research, Indigenous Social and Cultural Wellbeing, AIATSIS,
jaky.troy@aiatsis.gov.au
This project was funded by the Ministry for the Arts, Attorney-General’s Department.
Contents
Contents iii
List of figures v
List of tables vi
Abbreviations and conventions vii
Acknowledgements ix
Executive summary x
Key Findings xii
Recommendations xiv
1 Introduction 1
1.1 Aims of the project . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
1.2 Language Activity Survey and Language Attitude Survey . . . . . . . 3
1.3 Structure of the NILS2 Report and supporting documents . . . . . . 4
2 Current language situation 5
2.1 Overview . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
2.2 Declining traditional languages . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
2.3 Traditional languages which have gained speakers . . . . . . . . . . . 11
2.4 Traditional languages which have been stable . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
2.5 Every traditional language is at risk . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
2.6 Recently developed Indigenous languages . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
3 Activities supporting languages 19
3.1 Goals of language activity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
3.2 Key elements for language activities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
3.3 Challenging environment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
4 Views about the most effective types of language action 26
5 People’s attitudes and aspirations 28
5.1 Language, identity and self-esteem . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
5.2 Keep traditional language strong through use and transmission . . . 31
iii
5.3 Traditional language at school . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
5.4 Traditional language in the wider community . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34
5.5 Recently developed Indigenous languages . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
6 Key findings, discussion and recommendations 40
6.1 List of key findings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40
6.2 Discussion and recommendations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41
6.3 Coordination . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55
6.4 Future surveys . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57
Bibliography 60
iv
List of figures
3.1 Goals of language activities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
3.2
Six most frequently mentioned factors for successful language activities
(percentage out of 86 activities) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
3.3
Five most frequently mentioned factors that prevent language activities
from succeeding (Percentage out of 86 activities) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
5.1
Responses to the statement, ‘The use of traditional language is a strong
part of my identity as an Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander person’ (per-
centage out of 288 respondents) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29
5.2
Responses to the statement, ‘The use of traditional languages improves
the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’ (percent-
age out of 288 respondents) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30
5.3
Reasons why use of traditional languages improves wellbeing of Abori-
ginal and Torres Strait Islander people (percentage out of 281 respondents)
30
5.4
Top three factors that keep traditional languages in use by people within
a community (percentage out of 288 respondents) . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32
5.5
Responses to the statement, ‘Traditional languages should be taught in
school’ (percentage out of 288 respondents) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34
5.6
Responses to the statement, ‘The use of traditional languages helps Ab-
original and Torres Strait Islander people succeed at school’ (percentage
out of 288 respondents) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35
5.7
Responses to the statement, ‘It is okay for non–Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander people to learn traditional languages’ (percentage out of
288 respondents) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35
5.8
Responses to the statement, ‘Only Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
people should teach traditional languages’ (percentage out of 288 re-
spondents) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
5.9
Place of recently developed Indigenous languages within Australia as a
whole (percentage out of 288 respondents) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38
5.10
Responses to the statement, ‘There is too much support for recently
developed Indigenous languages such as Kriol, Yumplatok, or Aboriginal
English (percentage out of 288 respondents) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39
5.11
Responses to the statement, ‘It is more important to be able to speak
recently developed Indigenous languages such as Kriol, Yumplatok, or
Aboriginal English than traditional languages’ (percentage out of 288
respondents) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39
v
List of tables
2.1 Frequency of language use categories, NILS1–NILS2 equivalences . . . 7
2.2 Number of speakers by proficiency level and age group—Anmatyerre . 9
2.3 Frequency of language use, NILS1–NILS2 comparison—Anmatyerre . . 9
2.4 Number of speakers by proficiency level and age group—Wik Mungkan 10
2.5 Frequency of language use, NILS1–NILS2 comparison—Wik Mungkan . 10
2.6 Number of speakers by proficiency level and age group—Badimaya . . . 11
2.7 Frequency of language use, NILS1–NILS2 comparison—Badimaya . . . 11
2.8 Number of speakers by proficiency level and age group—Dharawal . . . 12
2.9 Frequency of language use, NILS1–NILS2 comparison—Dharawal . . . 12
2.10 Number of speakers by proficiency level and age group—Wajarri . . . . 13
2.11 Frequency of language use, NILS1–NILS2 comparison—Wajarri . . . . . 14
2.12 Number of speakers by proficiency level and age group—Murrinh-Patha 14
2.13 Number of speakers by proficiency level and age group—Warlpiri . . . . 15
2.14 Frequency of language use, NILS1–NILS2 comparison—Warlpiri . . . . 15
2.15 Number of speakers by proficiency level and age group—Anindilyakwa 16
2.16 Number of speakers by proficiency level and age group—Tiwi . . . . . . 17
2.17 Number of speakers by proficiency level and age group—Yumplatok . . 18
2.18 Frequency of language use, NILS1–NILS2 comparison—Yumplatok . . . 18
vi
Abbreviations and conventions
ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation
ABS Australian Bureau of Statistics
ACARA Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority
ACT Australian Capital Territory
Activity Q Language Activity Survey question
AIATSIS
Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Studies
Attitude Q Language Attitude Survey question
AUSTLANG Australian Indigenous Languages Database
Australian languages
Wthin linguistics this is the standard term to refer to the Indi-
genous languages of Australia
ATSIC
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ceased
functions in 2003)
ATSIS
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Services (ceased
functions in 2003)
BIITE Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education
CDU Charles Darwin University, Darwin, Northern Territory
DCITA
(former) Department of Communications, Information
Technology and the Arts
ESL English as a second language
FATSIL
Federation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages
FaHCSIA
Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and
Indigenous Affairs
HORSCATSIA
House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander Affairs
ILS
Indigenous Languages Support, a program of the Ministry for
the Arts, Attorney-General’s Department (formerly known as
Office for the Arts, OFTA)
MILR
Maintenance of Indigenous Languages and Records program
(now known as ILS)
vii
NAATI
National Accreditation Authority for Interpreters and
Translators
n.d.
‘no date’—used in the bibliography to indicate the item in
question has no publication date
NILS1 (the first) National Indigenous Languages Survey
NILS2 Second National Indigenous Languages Survey
NITV National Indigenous Television http://www.nitv.org.au
NSW New South Wales
NT Northern Territory
OCHRE
Opportunity, Choice, Healing, Responsibility, Empowerment
(NSW government program)
OZBIB
A Bibliography of Aboriginal Australia and the Torres Strait
Islander languages and linguistics
PARADISEC
Pacific and Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered
Cultures
QLD Queensland
RNLD Resource Network for Linguistic Diversity
SA South Australian
SBS Special Broadcasting Service http://www.sbs.com.au
TAS Tasmania
TAFE Technical and Further Education
UNESCO
United Nations Educational Cultural and Scientific
Organisation
VIC Victoria
WA Western Australia
viii
Acknowledgements
The authors were well supported by our team from the AIATSIS Centre for Australian
Languages (ACAL). Many people contributed to this work directly and indirectly.
For various reasons not all can be named, but we extend our gratitude to everyone
who has been involved in this project. We are grateful to all the individuals and
organisations that participated, and could not have conducted the project without
the support of the many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations who
are at the heart of language work in Australia.
We would particularly like to thank staff from the Ministry for the Arts, Attorney-
General’s Department, who contributed to the initial discussions about the aim and
purpose of the survey, to the development of the instruments used for the survey,
and who ultimately provided ongoing feedback as the report took shape.
We also thank our Principal, Russell Taylor, who has supported the project and
provided us with advice and encouragement throughout.
In designing the surveys and the project we were supported and advised by the
NILS2 Reference Panel: Faith Baisden, Jeanie Bell, Karina Lester, Kevin Lowe and
Paul Paton. We also had the support of a focus group who piloted the question-
naires, and advice from external readers.
No one part of any effort is more important than another and we are grateful to
all who have ensured this project has been a success.
ix
Executive summary
Across the world Indigenous peoples are taking action to protect, preserve and
revitalise their languages. Yet every few weeks, at least one language is dying
(Moseley 2012, p. 3). In 2007, National Geographic published a map of the top
five language endangerment hotspots (Anderson and Harrison 2007) and tragically
Australia is one of those five.
In order to keep Australian languages strong, Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander communities are engaging in numerous language activities, and gov-
ernments are providing significant support. The first ongoing national funding
for Australian languages began in 1992. This national program has now grown to
approximately $10 million annually for funding language activities, particularly at
the community level, to create and support projects that ensure the continuation,
revival and survival of Australian languages. Nationally, there is an increase in
forums for those interested in Australian languages, for example, Puliima—the
biennial National Indigenous Language and Technology Forum, dedicated sessions
at the Australian Linguistic Society annual conference, mailing lists, websites and
other local and international forums.
In this, the report of the Second National Indigenous Languages Survey (NILS2),
we offer key insights for governments and communities into the current situation
of Australian languages, how they are being supported and how best to continue
this support. Crucially, it complements and coincides with a renewed policy focus
on supporting Australian languages, in particular Our land our languages: lan-
guage learning in Indigenous communities (House of Representatives Standing
Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs 2012 [HORSCATSIA]),
the new National Cultural Policy Creative Australia (Australian Government 2012),
which includes new funding to support Australian languages, the development by
the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) of the
Framework for Aboriginal Languages and Torres Strait Islander Languages within
the Australian Curriculum—Languages (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and
Reporting Authority 2013a), and the development by the Australian Government of
a National Framework for Indigenous Interpreting and Translating.
NILS2 follows on from the first National Indigenous Languages Survey (NILS1)
conducted by AIATSIS in 2004–5, which had a much broader scope than the current
project. The NILS1 report (Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Studies and Federation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages
2005 [henceforth AIATSIS/FATSIL]) included a recommendation for a national
survey of Indigenous language programs. NILS2 provides, in essence, this timely
survey, together with a survey of language attitudes.
NILS2 was funded through an agreement with the Ministry for the Arts,
x
Executive summary
Attorney-General’s Department, through the Indigenous Languages Support (ILS)
program and undertaken by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Studies (AIATSIS). The agreed aims for the project were to build a better
understanding of:
1. the current situation of Australian languages
2. activities supporting Australian languages
3. people’s attitudes towards and aspirations for their languages, and
4. views about the most effective types of language action.
These aims are addressed in the list of 18 recommendations.
Significantly, NILS2 demonstrates that among Indigenous people across the
country and of all ages, there is an overwhelming desire to strengthen traditional
languages. As one survey facilitator commented, ‘I was surprised that young people
who don’t speak language and who didn’t show interest in getting involved in
language programs still expressed strong feelings about the importance of their
language’. The survey data also highlighted the connection between language and
I believe that if we were to revive our sleeping
language, we could not only gain recognition
in the Aboriginal and wider community but
we could also regain our sense of identity, we
could start to become a strong community
and family again.
Jenna Richards
Barngala descendant
identity, and between language
and community. When survey
participants talked about keeping
language strong, they were not
just talking about the number of
speakers or their proficiency level.
They often spoke about their de-
sire for the language to have a
stronger presence in their own
and wider communities, noting
that this in turn strengthens identity and connection with Country and heritage. It
is not surprising that, given the strength of community support for languages and
language activities, the NILS2 survey results highlight the need for more work and
further funding of activities involving traditional languages.
Ultimately the intention of this report is to provide a basis for future discussions
involving both governments and communities on how best to support Australian
languages through building on current initiatives.
Finally, it should be noted that the focus of NILS2 was on language activities and
language attitudes among organisations currently undertaking language activities.
In contrast, NILS1 was focused on measuring levels of endangerment across as
many languages as possible. This means that the two surveys are quite different,
making comparisons difficult. Nevertheless the following section (Key Findings)
presents a comparison between the broad levels of language endangerment identi-
fied in the two surveys.1
1
The terms used to describe the levels of endangerment are defined in the NILS1 report, for
example on pages 24 and 31.
xi
Key Findings
The findings in NILS2 show a complicated picture with ongoing decline but
also some definite signs of recovery.
The previous NILS1 survey found that of over 250 Australian Indigenous
languages about 145 were still spoken, with about 110 severely or critically en-
dangered and that about 18 languages were strong, still spoken by all age groups
and being passed on to children.
Examination of the NILS2 data allows us to make the assessment that there
are now only around 120 languages still spoken. Of these about 13 can be con-
sidered strong, five fewer than in NILS1. These five are now in the moderately
endangered group, while some languages from that group have moved into the
severely/critically endangered category. There appear to now be around 100
languages that can be described as severely or critically endangered, but at the
same time a fair number of languages in this category, perhaps 30 or more, are
seeing significant increases in levels of use as a result of language programs.2
Language situation
Some of the traditional languages considered to be ‘very strong’ are showing
signs of decline.
Some traditional languages are gaining more speakers. Mostly these are
languages which have not been spoken for some time but have been gradually
brought back into use.
There are traditional languages which have a substantial number of full
speakers and are in a stable state of vitality.
There is great variety in the situations of traditional languages, but regardless
of their situation all traditional languages are at risk of declining.
Recently developed Indigenous languages, such as Kriol and Yumplatok, have
the largest speaker numbers, in the thousands.
Language activities and actions
The Language Activity Survey found that language activities are not just
aimed at increasing speaker numbers and revitalising or maintaining lan-
guages, they are also about helping people to connect with language and
culture and improving the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
people.
2These figures are estimates based on limited data so should be used with caution.
xii
Key Findings
The survey data indicates that key elements for the successful delivery of lan-
guage activities are that community members are involved and committed,
that there is adequate funding, and there is access to language resources.
Many survey respondents have high ambitions for their language activities,
with multiple goals, and they are carrying out these activities in a challenging
environment, especially with regard to funding and skills.
The survey data shows that there is a wide range of needs and demands
in relation to traditional language, and people are delivering a wide variety
of language activities throughout Australia. These include resource devel-
opment, teaching, policy development, and promotion. However, more
research is required to identify what language activities or language actions
are most effective in what circumstances.
Among activities surveyed there was only one instance each of master–
apprentice programs and language nest programs despite the international
literature indicating these are among the most effective programs. This may
be changing, at least for the master–apprentice approach.3
Aspirations and attitudes towards Indigenous languages
The survey data shows that traditional language is a strong part of Indigenous
people’s identity, and connection with language is critical for their wellbeing.
Survey respondents were largely unanimous in their opinions about tradi-
tional languages: they want traditional languages to be strong well into the
future; they want to have their language taught in school and feel that learn-
ing traditional language will help students succeed at school; they also want
their languages to have better recognition within Australia. A large majority of
respondents indicated that they feel it is okay for non–Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander people to learn traditional languages.
The survey data indicates that active use and transmission of languages is
the key to strengthening or maintaining traditional languages, while lack of
opportunities prevents respondents from learning traditional languages.
There were different opinions on recently developed Indigenous languages
among survey respondents.
3
Towards the end of the survey period a workshop took place to train people from across Australia
in the master–apprentice model of language revitalisation; this has led to a number of such programs
starting up in various locations.
xiii
Recommendations
Recommendation 1
Funding bodies should support communities that wish to implement master–
apprentice and language nest programs. Community groups should be encouraged
to consider these programs.
Recommendation 2
A study of the different types of language activities should be conducted, especially
to examine what types of activities might be suitable for what situations. The study
needs to take into consideration the different language situations as well as the
community’s goals.
Recommendation 3
Further research into the connection between language and wellbeing is necessary.
Organisations with a special interest in Indigenous health and wellbeing should
consider funding studies to examine this issue.
Recommendation 4
All Australian state and territory governments should provide dedicated ongoing
funding for language work, especially targeting community-led language programs.
Recommendation 5
The Australian Government should include allocation of funding to language activ-
ities as part of health and justice programs.
Recommendation 6
The Australian Government, and state and territory governments should allocate
funding for the development and delivery of programs to train language workers,
interpreters and language teachers.
Recommendation 7
Language centres and universities should cooperate to identify opportunities for
students of linguistics to gain experience in working with community-led language
programs. We particularly support the provision of scholarships for Indigenous
students of linguistics.
xiv
Recommendations
Recommendation 8
All levels of government should allocate funding to collecting institutions which
hold material on traditional languages for digitisation, preservation and access.
Recommendation 9
All levels of government should support projects to collate information about
language material, particularly that held in small, local and private collections
which may not be listed in public collection catalogues, and make the information
available online. Ideally this would be done on a national level as a single project.
Recommendation 10
The Australian Government, and state and territory governments should allocate
funding to the recording of languages which are poorly documented.
Recommendation 11
Funding bodies for language activities should make it a condition of funding that
a copy of any materials produced with their funding will be archived at AIATSIS.
The importance of archiving materials should be promoted more generally to those
who are running language programs.
Recommendation 12
The Australian Government and language advocacy groups should widely promote
the importance of using traditional languages at home, and especially with children.
Recommendation 13
All levels of government should consult local communities to identify and imple-
ment appropriate measures that increase the use of traditional languages in local
areas; for example, in dual place naming.
Recommendation 14
All levels of government should engage translators and interpreters of traditional
languages for communication between governments and community people whose
first language is an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language, as well as in legal,
health and other situations where effective communication is paramount.
Recommendation 15
Traditional languages should be recognised in the Australian Constitution as the
first languages of Australia. All levels of government should promote Australian
languages as a fundamental part of the unique heritage of Australia.
Recommendation 16
All education systems should work together with Indigenous communities to im-
plement traditional language classes in schools, and schools should work with
xv
NILS2 REPORT
local Indigenous groups and communities to develop appropriate ways to give
recognition to the languages of their region.
Recommendation 17
Speakers of recently developed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages such
as Kriol, Yumplatok and Aboriginal English should be given appropriate support,
including interpreter/translator services and first-language education (bilingual
education).
Recommendation 18
The Australian Government should commission a project to develop a model for a
coordinated approach to language work and a funding mechanism that supports
this model.
xvi
1 Introduction
This is the report of the second National Indigenous Languages Survey (NILS2)
project. It presents the results of a survey of work being done throughout Australia
on Australian languages, and reports on the attitudes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander people towards their languages and their aspirations for them.
NILS2 follows on from the first National Indigenous Languages Survey (NILS1),
conducted in 2004. The NILS1 report (AIATSIS/FATSIL 2005) helped to lay the
groundwork for the Australian Government’s development of the first National
Indigenous Languages Policy (Garrett and Macklin 2009), released in 2009. The
NILS1 survey asked a wide range of questions about language situations, resources
and programs. As well as updating some of the information collected under
NILS1, NILS2 collected additional types of information, in particular details about
language activities and people’s views about languages and language activities.
NILS2 was undertaken by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Studies (AIATSIS) under a funding agreement with the Ministry for the
Arts, Attorney-General’s Department, which administers the Indigenous Languages
Support program (ILS), formerly known as Maintenance of Indigenous Languages
and Records or MILR.4
NILS2 employed a very different methodology and survey instrument from
NILS1 (the NILS2 and NILS1 survey methodology and instruments are described in
Appendix 1 and Appendix 4 respectively), which was developed through discussions
between AIATSIS and the Ministry for the Arts in addition to wide-ranging com-
munity consultation. These discussions and consultations strongly indicated that it
would be most beneficial and valuable to both the government and those involved
in language work for NILS2 to focus on collecting information about languages and
language activities, and on people’s views about languages and language activities.
The NILS2 report comes at a time when Australia’s Indigenous languages are
being discussed more widely than ever before. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
people across Australia are speaking out about the need to protect, preserve and
strengthen their languages. Indeed there is a wave of activity across Australia,
with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in many places actively working
to learn more about their languages, to use and strengthen them, and to ensure
they are passed on to the next generation. This activity encompasses individuals
collecting materials and educating themselves about their own heritage language,
Indigenous groups and organisations setting up a great variety of projects to access
and make use of existing (often archived) materials, language classes for children
4
For the purposes of this report, the two terms ‘ILS’ and ‘MILR’ are interchangeable, but the term
appropriate to the point in time will be used in each instance.
1
NILS2 REPORT
and adults, and formal and informal networks to make language knowledge more
widely available.5
At the same time, Australian languages are receiving unprecedented public
attention. For example:
the release of Our land our languages (HORSCATSIA 2012), the report of
the inquiry by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Abori-
ginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs into language learning in Indigenous
communities
the Australian Governments new national cultural policy, Creative Australia
(Australian Government 2012), which incorporates action on Australian
languages, including new funding
the development of the Draft Framework for Aboriginal Languages and Torres
Strait Islander Languages, part of the Australian Curriculum—Languages
(Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority 2013a)
the discussion of Australian languages in work such as FaHCSIAs Footprints in
time: the Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children (Department of Families,
Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs 2013b)
Closing the Gap Prime Minister’s Report 2013 (Department of Families, Hous-
ing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs 2013a)
the National Framework for Indigenous Interpreting and Translating, cur-
rently under development by FaHCSIA
the long-running debate about bilingual education in the Northern Territory
the NSW Government’s Indigenous languages strategy (New South Wales
Government n.d.)
increased media attention on ABC, SBS, NITV, as well as on commercial
media networks
dual-naming policies being adopted by state governments
These examples demonstrate that the value of Australian Indigenous languages
is becoming more widely understood among governments, policy makers, aca-
demics and activists, as well as the wider public. This NILS2 report assembles
valuable information about Australian languages that can be used for policy devel-
opment by governments and those planning language projects across the spectrum
of community and government organisations.
1.1 Aims of the project
The aims of the NILS2 project are to build a better understanding of:
the current situation of Australian languages
activities supporting Australian languages
people’s attitudes towards and aspirations for their languages, and
5
See the Our Languages website (Our Languages 2011) for different types of language programs
delivered, and also the website of the Ministry for the Arts (Office for the Arts 2013a) for case studies
and short clips of examples of language programs from the ABC.
2
Chapter 1. Introduction
views about the most effective types of language action.
These terms of reference are the result of discussions between AIATSIS and
the Ministry for the Arts. They are also informed by community consultations
conducted by AIATSIS, with the hope that the information collected will help com-
munities and governments to make future plans that support Australian Indigenous
languages. The results coming out of the project provide information that will help
communities and governments to strengthen traditional languages.
1.2 Language Activity Survey and Language Attitude
Survey
The purposes of the project fell into two broad categories: to establish the nature of
language activities, and to canvass peoples opinions on Australian languages and
effective language programs. This approach required two methodologies, therefore
NILS2 employed two surveys: a Language Activity Survey and a Language Attitude
Survey.
The Language Activity Survey asked organisations about the sorts of
community-based Australian language activities that they have run or are run-
ning. Survey questions addressed:
type of language activity
output of language activity
goal of language activity
resources required for language activity, and
state of the language.
Seventy-five organisations participated in the Language Activity Survey, yield-
ing information for 86 language activities. These organisations were primarily
Indigenous organisations but also included universities and other non-Indigenous
bodies.
The Language Attitude Survey asked Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
individuals for their thoughts about their languages. The questionnaire asked:
how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people feel about traditional
languages—languages that arose in Australia before 1788
how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people feel about recently de-
veloped Indigenous languages—contact languages, such as Kriol, Yumplatok
and varieties of English that have arisen since 1788, and
the language background of the person.
A total of 288 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people participated in the
Language Attitude Survey. Questionnaires for each of these surveys can be found
in Appendix 2, while a description of the survey methodology and intended reach
is in Appendix 1.
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NILS2 REPORT
1.3 Structure of the NILS2 Report and supporting
documents
The documents resulting from NILS2 consists of three parts: the NILS2 Report, the
NILS2 Survey Results, and the Appendices.
Chapters 2–5 of the NILS2 Report present the key findings which arose from
the analysis of survey data, while Chapter 6 sets out a discussion of these findings
and recommendations. The NILS2 Report consists of:
Chapter 2 ‘Current language situation
This chapter presents key findings that
address the project aim ‘To build a better understanding of the current
situation of Australian languages’.
Chapter 3 ‘Activities supporting languages’
This chapter presents key findings
addressing the project aim ‘To build a better understanding of the activities
supporting the languages’.
Chapter 4 ‘Views about the most effective types of language action’
This
chapter presents key findings addressing the project aim ‘To build a better
understanding of views about the most effective types of language action.
Chapter ‘People’s attitudes and aspirations’
This chapter presents key findings
that address the project aim ‘To build a better understanding of people’s
attitudes towards and aspirations for their languages.
Chapter 6 ‘Key findings, discussion and recommendations
This final chapter
presents a discussion of key findings and the recommendations that emerge.
The NILS2 Survey Results document presents the detailed results for each
question asked in each of the Language Activity Survey and the Language Attitude
Survey. This document lays out the data that underpins the findings presented in
the NILS2 Report.
The Appendices consist of the following sections:
Appendix 1 NILS2 project An overview of the NILS2 project.
Appendix 2 Survey questionnaires A copy of the survey questionnaires.
Appendix 3 Language surveys
A list and review of language surveys conducted
around the world.
Appendix 4 NILS1 project
An overview of the NILS1 project and an update on the
status of the recommendations listed in the NILS1 report.
4
2 Current language situation
Key findings
Some of the traditional languages considered to be ‘very strong’ are showing
signs of decline.
Some traditional languages are gaining more speakers. Mostly these are lan-
guages which have not been spoken for some time but have been gradually
brought back into use.
There are traditional languages which have a substantial number of full
speakers and are in a stable state of vitality.
There is great variety in the situations of traditional languages, but regard-
less of their situation all traditional languages are at risk of declining.
Recently developed Indigenous languages, such as Kriol and Yumplatok,
have the largest speaker numbers, in the thousands.
2.1 Overview
A key aim of the project was to develop ‘a better understanding of the current
situation of Australian languages, with a focus on language use and proficiency
against speaker numbers. The reach of the Language Activity Survey was restricted
to those organisations currently undertaking language activities, so it does not
examine all languages and language situations.
To address this aim the NILS2 Language Activity Survey asked respondents to
provide information on speaker numbers, proficiency, frequency of language use,
and intergenerational language transmission. Despite its restricted reach the survey
does give revealing information about the current situation of Australian languages.
All of these—not just speaker numbers, but also levels of language knowledge and
use—are important indicators of the language situation. In addition, the Language
Activity Survey sought the number of people who identify with each language.
Four age groups were used to measure the language situation in the survey
questionnaire:
01–19 years
20–39 years
40–59 years
60+ years.
Three proficiency levels were used in the questionnaire:
can only say some words and simple sentences
can have a conversation in limited situations—not able to express everything
in the language (part-speakers)
5
NILS2 REPORT
can have a conversation in all situations—able to express almost everything
in the language (full speakers).
Frequency of language use was divided into five categories:
• always
• often
• sometimes
• rarely
• never
Language transmission categories used in the survey questionnaire were:
The language has not been used as an everyday language for some time, but
some people are now learning the language.
The language is known to very few speakers, mostly of the great-
grandparental generation. Only people in this generation are fluent in the
language.
The language is used mostly by the grandparental generation and older. Only
people in the grandparental generation and older are fluent in the language.
The language is used mostly by the parental generation and older. Only
people in the parental generation and older are fluent in the language.
The language is used by most children in limited situations, but some children
can use it in all situations. Some children and older people are fluent in the
language but some children are not fluent.
The language is used by all age groups, including children. People in all age
groups are fluent in the language.
There are no speakers left.
The Language Activity Survey received 102 responses, covering about 79 indi-
vidual languages (some languages appeared more than once). It should be noted
that not every respondent answered every question. The analysis of responses
shows that:
Of the 54 languages for which responses were received to this question, 32
were said to have full speakers in at least one of the age groups. The number of
full speakers varied from one full speaker to a few thousand. Other languages
had part-speakers and/or people who can only say some words and simple
sentences.
The survey data shows a wide cross-generational decline in usage; for ex-
ample, one language has ‘always’ for the 60+ age group, declining through
each generation to ‘rarely’ for the 0–19 age group. However, there are also
languages where some younger age groups are said to have a higher usage
than the older groups.
Of 102 responses received, 15 respondents answered that people in all age
groups are fluent in the language, while six respondents answered that there
are no speakers left. Twenty-six responses indicated that these languages
have not been used as an everyday language but some people are now learn-
ing the language. Others are spoken by some generations but not all.
6
Chapter 2. Current language situation
Responses given in the NILS2 surveys were analysed and compared to NILS1
data and census data, where possible, with regard to numbers of speakers, speaker
proficiency levels and frequency of language use. The NILS2 Language Activity
Survey used slightly different categories from NILS1 for frequency of language use,
but for the purpose of analysis the following equivalences can be assumed.
Table 2.1: Frequency of language use categories, NILS1–NILS2 equivalences
NILS1 NILS2
All day, most days Always
Often Often
Some words a day Sometimes
Few times a week
On special occasions Rarely
Not at all Never
The proficiency categories used were also different between NILS1 and NILS2.
NILS1 used the following categories:
don’t speak or understand
understand some and speak some
understand well and speak some
understand well and speak fluently
• N/A.
Moreover, NILS1 simply asked for the total number of speakers, and it was
often not clear whether a response included the number of full speakers only or all
proficiency levels. To resolve this issue, NILS2 asked for the number of speakers of
different proficiency levels and across each age group.
Thus the NILS1 and NILS2 data sets are not completely comparable. The census
data is also not comparable to NILS1 or NILS2 data as it is based on the total number
of individuals who use the language at home and does not contain questions about
proficiency or frequency of use.
6
The data collected for both NILS1 and NILS2
only represents individual understandings of the language situation. In only a few
cases were there multiple respondents for the one language. Furthermore, NILS2
respondents were unlikely to be the same as for NILS1.
Comparisons between NILS1, NILS2 and the census data present methodolo-
gical problems. Nevertheless we applied comparisons as this is the only data of its
6
The exact question used in the census is, ‘Does the person speak a language other than English
at home?
Mark one box only
If more than one language other than English, write the one that is spoken most often.’
7
NILS2 REPORT
kind available. Our view is that the comparison still provides valuable insights into
the situations of the languages surveyed and the changes they have undergone.
The analysis of NILS1, NILS2 and census data indicates that some languages are
showing signs of decline, some have been stable and some have gained speakers.
We also found that among the traditional languages surveyed there is great variety
in how each language situation has changed since NILS1, including in terms of:
number of speakers, levels of proficiency, frequency of use, and language trans-
mission. This variety indicates that while categories such as ‘languages under
revitalisation’ or ‘languages in the maintenance situation’ can be useful in broad
discussions, work to strengthen a language requires a detailed understanding of
that language on its own terms, its history, its status, the attitude of the community,
etc. It is not sufficient to simply assign a language to an endangerment category
and use that as the basis for action.
It should be mentioned here that all of the languages surveyed have associated
language activities and these activities may have contributed to the current situ-
ation of each of these languages. For example, the language of the Adelaide Plains,
Kaurna, had not been spoken on a daily basis since the 19
th
century, and had no full
or even part-speakers throughout most of the 20
th
century. But over the last three
decades there has been much intensive and dedicated work on reviving Kaurna
(Amery 2010), resulting in a small number of people who can say some words and
sentences.
In the following sections of this chapter we present evidence found in the survey
data against each of the key findings above, with specific examples to illustrate the
findings.7
2.2 Declining traditional languages
A language may be said to have declined or be declining when it is spoken by more
limited age groups, less frequently by certain age groups, by fewer speakers, or
a combination of these. A language may also be said to be declining if speakers’
proficiency levels have declined.
The survey data shows that even some of the traditional languages considered
to be strong—they have a relatively large number of full speakers in all age groups—
are declining. The data also indicates that some traditional languages are at risk of
losing full speakers completely.
The following examples present detailed information on several languages
which currently have full speakers but are showing signs of decline. The languages
were selected to illustrate the variety of situations.
2.2.1 Anmatyerre
Anmatyerre is a language from central Australia that is reported to have comparat-
ively large numbers of full speakers in all age groups. It can therefore be considered
7
In cases where NILS1 does not have information on frequency of language use, there is no
comparison table.
8
Chapter 2. Current language situation
to be a ‘strong’ language but it is showing signs of decline. The NILS2 survey data
shows that there are more speakers of Anmatyerre in the younger age groups—322
full speakers in each of the 0–19 and 20–39 age groups, with 230 full speakers in the
40–59 age group and only 46 in the 60+ age group. This could be a reflection of how
the population is distributed across age groups. According to the census (Australian
Bureau of Statistics 2012) the 0–24 age group has the highest population among
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, so if, as seems likely, all Anmatyerre
persons speak the language, we would expect more speakers among the younger
generations.
Table 2.2: Number of speakers by proficiency level and age group—Anmatyerre
0–19 years 20–39 years 40–59 years 60+ years
Full speakers 322 322 230 46
Part-speakers Unsure Unsure Unsure Unsure
Words and sentences No answer No answer No answer No answer
The total number of full speakers is 920. The respondent reported that there
are between 501 and 1000 people who identify with Anmatyerre. If these 920 full
speakers all identify with Anmatyerre, it means that most of the 1000 people who
identify with Anmatyerre are full speakers. In the NILS1 report the number of
speakers in 2005 was estimated at 900, so there is little change.
When only the number of speakers is considered, Anmatyerre appears to be
strong and healthy, but when the frequency of language use by different age groups
is taken into account, the language shows signs of decline. The NILS2 survey
data shows that only the oldest age group, 60+ years, speak the language ‘always,
while the other age groups speak the language ‘often’. This appears to be due to
the dominance both of English and another traditional language, Warlpiri. The
respondent who provided the information for Anmatyerre commented that a lot of
speakers are multilingual and switch between Anmatyerre, Warlpiri and English,
with Warlpiri being the primary language.
Comparison with the NILS1 data also indicates that people are speaking the
language less often compared to the situation in 2004.
Table 2.3: Frequency of language use, NILS1–NILS2 comparison—Anmatyerre
0–19 years 20–39 years 40–59 years 60+ years
NILS1 Often Often All day, most days All day, most days
NILS2 Often Often Often Always
This age distribution suggests that for languages like Anmatyerre to remain
‘strong’, younger generations need to speak the language more often. It is also
essential for these languages to be properly documented while full speakers are
around so that their knowledge can be kept and passed on to future generations.
9
NILS2 REPORT
2.2.2 Wik Mungkan
Wik Mungkan is a language from regional Queensland. NILS 2 data shows that it
has full speakers in all generations, but comparison with NILS1 data on the number
of full speakers and part-speakers in each age group, and also the frequency of use
in different age groups, reveals signs of decline. One NILS2 respondent reported
that in the youngest group (0–19 years) there are more part-speakers (200 speakers)
than full speakers (50 speakers).
Table 2.4: Number of speakers by proficiency level and age group—Wik Mungkan
0–19 years 20–39 years 40–59 years 60+ years
Full speakers 50 300 200 80
Part-speakers 200 150 50 No answer
Words and sentences No answer No answer No answer No answer
The response shown in Table 2.4 gives a total of 1030 speakers while the sole
respondent for this language reported that more than 1000 people identify with the
language, making it difficult to know what proportion of the total are speakers. The
NILS1 report gave the number of speakers in 2004 as 1500 while the 2011 census
reports that 1355 people indicated that they use this language at home. Although it
is problematic to compare these numbers they suggest that the number of speakers
may be declining.
The level of language use also appears to be declining between generations
with NILS2 data demonstrating that only the oldest group (60+ years) ‘always’ speak
the language while other age groups speak the language ‘often’. Again, comparison
to the NILS1 data indicates that speakers are using the language less often.
Table 2.5: Frequency of language use, NILS1–NILS2 comparison—Wik Mungkan
0–19 years 20–39 years 40–59 years 60+ years
NILS1
All day, most
days
All day, most
days
All day, most
days
All day, most
days
NILS2 Often Often Often Always
We suggest that to address the declining use of languages like Wik Mungkan
by younger generations it is important to support community activities which
encourage the use of the language in a wide range of domains. Young people
are more likely to want to maintain the use of their language if it is relevant to
the activities in which they are particularly engaged, such as multimedia devices,
school, music and sport. Again, it is essential for these languages to be properly
documented while there are still full speakers to ensure the knowledge is preserved
and passed on to future generations.
10
Chapter 2. Current language situation
2.2.3 Badimaya
Badimaya is a language from Western Australia. According to the NILS2 respondent,
this language has declined to the point that there is only one full speaker left and
it is at risk of losing full speakers completely. The one remaining full speaker is
over 60 years of age. There are some other speakers in older age groups (40–59
and 60+ years) who can have a conversation in limited situations. The response
also suggests that there could be people who can say several words and simple
sentences—the respondent wrote ‘unsure’ instead of ‘0’.
Table 2.6: Number of speakers by proficiency level and age group—Badimaya
0–19 years 20–39 years 40–59 years 60+ years
Full speakers 0 0 0 1
Part-speakers 0 0 55
Words and sentences Unsure Unsure Unsure Unsure
The respondent reported that the number of people who identify with this
language is in the range 51–250, which means that only a small percentage of these
people speak the language. The NILS1 report gives an estimate of three speakers
in 2005 but it is not clear whether this number includes part-speakers. Regardless,
unless full knowledge of the language is passed on to the younger generation by
this one remaining speaker, this language will soon have no full speakers. This
appears to be almost inevitable, as the language is little used. The one remaining
full speaker, as well as part-speakers in the 60+ age group, use the language ‘rarely’
and other age groups do not use the language at all. This is less frequent than
before—the NILS1 data indicates that people used to use the language more often.
Table 2.7: Frequency of language use, NILS1–NILS2 comparison—Badimaya
0–19 years 20–39 years 40–59 years 60+ years
NILS1
On special occa-
sions
Few times a
week
Few times a
week
Some words a
day
NILS2 Never Never Never Rarely
Clearly, Badimaya is critically at risk of losing all full speakers, if not all speakers,
with the total number of full and part-speakers being so small. We note that efforts
have been made to record languages like Badimaya, develop language resources
and run teaching and transmission activities but further effort is required to ensure
that the language knowledge is recorded and can be passed on to future generations.
2.3 Traditional languages which have gained speakers
Among the survey data there is evidence of some traditional languages having
gained speakers. These languages include those which have not been spoken for
11
NILS2 REPORT
some time but have been brought back into use by community people. This does
not necessarily mean that they are becoming stronger, as the number of speakers
is only one indication of language health—other indicators might reveal signs of
decline. It may be that the increase in the number of speakers is the result of
language activities, an outcome that should be celebrated.
2.3.1 Dharawal
Dharawal is a language from coastal New South Wales. This language has gained
speakers in the youngest age group, 0–19 years.
The NILS1 report estimated the number of speakers of Dharawal in 2005 to
be four. No number was reported in either the 2001 or the 2006 census, but in
the 2011 census 16 people indicated that they use this language at home. A NILS2
respondent reported many more speakers (50 in total, all in the youngest group)
using the language ‘often, though their proficiency level is low, able to say only
some words and simple sentences.
Table 2.8: Number of speakers by proficiency level and age group—Dharawal
0–19 years 20–39 years 40–59 years 60+ years
Full speakers No answer No answer No answer No answer
Part-speakers No answer No answer No answer No answer
Words and sentences 50 No answer No answer No answer
This is still a very small percentage of the people who identify with Dharawal;
the respondent reported that over 1000 people identify with this language.
Although the respondent gave no number for other age groups (20–39 years,
40–59 years and 60+ years), these age groups were reported to use the language
‘rarely’. This suggests that there are speakers in these age groups as well.
Comparison to NILS1 data also indicates that the younger age groups (0–19
years, 20–39 years and 40–59 years) are using the language more frequently. In
fact, the NILS1 data indicates that these age groups did not use the language at all
previously.
Table 2.9: Frequency of language use, NILS1–NILS2 comparison—Dharawal
0–19 years 20–39 years 40–59 years 60+ years
NILS1 Not at all Not at all Not at all
On special occa-
sions
NILS2 Often Rarely Rarely Rarely
Dharawal was reported not to have been used as an everyday language for
some time. There are other languages which belong to this category but have
gained speakers, although they may have very limited proficiency. We ascribe this
achievement to community people’s efforts to bring the languages back to life.
12
Chapter 2. Current language situation
However, these languages could easily lose speakers and quickly decline if efforts
to strengthen the languages are not maintained.
2.3.2 Wajarri
Wajarri is a language from the Murchison region of Western Australia. The respond-
ent for Wajarri reported that the language is mostly used by grandparental and
older generations, and the most fluent speakers belong to the oldest age group
(60+ years), up to 15 speakers. There are several other full speakers: around two
speakers in the 20–39 age group and around five speakers in the 40–59 age group.
There are also around 20 part-speakers in each of the 40–59 and 60+ age groups, as
well as people in all age groups who can say several words and simple sentences.
Table 2.10: Number of speakers by proficiency level and age group—Wajarri
0–19 years 20–39 years 40–59 years 60+ years
Full speakers 0 2515
Part-speakers Unsure Unsure 20 20
Words and sentences 50(?) 50(?) 30(?) 20(?)
The respondent reported that the number of people who identify with Wajarri
was in the range 51–250, which means that more than half of these people have
some language knowledge (based on the assumption that all who speak Wajarri
identify as Wajarri).
The NILS1 report estimated the number of Wajarri speakers in 2005 to be 20,
but with no full speakers in the 20–39 and 40–59 age groups. By contrast, the NILS2
data indicates a total of up to 22 full speakers, some from within these two age
groups, and a total of 40 part-speakers. Thus, comparison of data between the two
surveys indicates an increase in the number of speakers and of proficiency level
(note, however, both the NILS1 data and the NILS2 data were dependent on the
respondents’ opinion and perception, and the proficiency categories used in the
two surveys were not the same). The census shows a slight increase from 86 in 2006
to 88 in 2011.
This does not mean that the language is not at risk of decline. The language has
only a small number of full speakers, spread disproportionately across the older age
groups. The younger the age group, the fewer full speakers there are, with none at
all in the 0–19 age group. In fact, when the frequency of language use is compared
between NILS1 and NILS2, decline is evident for all ages. The youngest age group
(0–19 years) is reported to have changed from speaking the language ‘on special
occasions’ to ‘never’, although we note that this is in conflict with the ‘50(?)’ in this
age group who have some knowledge.
Languages like Wajarri can rapidly decline without a more concentrated effort
to transfer the full knowledge of the language to younger generations and to get
younger people using the language.
13
NILS2 REPORT
Table 2.11: Frequency of language use, NILS1–NILS2 comparison—Wajarri
0–19 years 20–39 years 40–59 years 60+ years
NILS1
On special occa-
sions
On special occa-
sions
Some words a
day
Often
NILS2 Never Rarely Rarely Sometimes
2.3.3 Murrinh-Patha
Murrinh-Patha is a language from Wadeye (Port Keats) in the Northern Territory.
Murrinh-Patha is the common language of the region and is gaining speakers.
Several respondents to the Language Attitude Survey listed Murrinh-Patha as one
of the traditional languages with which they identify. One respondent mentioned
that they do not speak their parents’ languages, but rather Murrinh-Patha because
it is the language of the place in which they grew up; that is, Port Keats/Wadeye.
This language is spoken by all generations, with a substantial number of full
speakers in each age group. More speakers (1500) are found in the youngest group
(0–19 years) than in the older age groups, again reflecting population distribution
across age groups. There is also a substantial number of speakers across all age
groups who can only say some words and simple sentences, and a small number of
part-speakers who can have a conversation in limited situations.
Table 2.12:
Number of speakers by proficiency level and age group—Murrinh-Patha
0–19 years 20–39 years 40–59 years 60+ years
Full speakers >1500 >1000 >500 >100
Part-speakers 15 5 30 5
Words and sentences >1000 >1000 >1000 >1000
The respondent reported that the number of people who identify with
Murrinh-patha is the lingua franca of the
community so it is a strong language. Getting
kids on country is very important as much of
the knowledge of dreaming and spiritual asso-
ciations with place is being lost due to lack of
access to country. Ethnobiological knowledge
is also being lost as children spend almost all
of their time in the community.
Maree Klesch
Batchelor Institute
Murrinh-Patha is over 1000; it is
likely that all of these people have
some language knowledge, many
as full speakers.
The numbers reported by
the NILS2 respondent are much
higher than those in the 2011
census, which reports Murrinh-
Patha as being spoken at home by
2410 people, compared to 1832 in
the 2006 census and 1157 in the
2001 census. The NILS1 report
gives an estimate of 1150 speakers in 2005. Murrinh-Patha has thus been steadily
14
Chapter 2. Current language situation
gaining speakers and will likely continue to do so. This does not mean that all
aspects of language knowledge are passed down to younger generations. Younger
generations are not learning certain knowledge, such as Dreaming stories and
ethnobiological knowledge, due to the lack of opportunities to visit Country.
2.4 Traditional languages which have been stable
Languages which are stable are those showing little change over the last several
years in the number of speakers, frequency of use or proficiency levels.
2.4.1 Warlpiri
Warlpiri is a language from central Australia. The respondent who provided inform-
ation on Warlpiri did not give actual numbers of speakers but rather indicated that
in each age group ‘all’ speak the language. This presumably means everyone who
identifies with the language, which the respondent gives as over 1000. Speakers of
all age groups are reported to use the language ‘always’.
Table 2.13: Number of speakers by proficiency level and age group—Warlpiri
0–19 years 20–39 years 40–59 years 60+ years
Full speakers All All All All
Part-speakers 0 0 0 0
Words and sentences 0 0 0 0
It should be noted that there were three respondents who provided information
about Warlpiri. The answers shown here were from one of the respondents. Two
other respondents wrote ‘unsure’ for all age categories and proficiency levels.
It is thus not clear how many speakers there are for this language, but according
to the 2006 and 2011 census data the number of people who use this language at
home has not changed significantly. The censuses report 2507 speakers in 2006
and 2509 in 2011, suggesting that this language is stable, showing signs of neither
decline nor growth.
Table 2.14: Frequency of language use, NILS1–NILS2 comparison—Warlpiri
0–19 years 20–39 years 40–59 years 60+ years
NILS1
All day, most
days
All day, most
days
All day, most
days
All day, most
days
NILS2 Always Always Always Always
2.4.2 Anindilyakwa
Anindilyakwa is a language from Groote Eylandt and Bickerton Island, in the Top
End of the Northern Territory. A NILS2 respondent reported that Anindilyakwa
is used by all age groups, with full speakers in all age groups using the language
15
NILS2 REPORT
‘always. The number of speakers tapers off in the older age groups. The 0–19 age
group has 800 speakers while the next generation up, 20–39 years, has only 500
speakers. This number is more than halved in the 40–59 age group (200 speakers),
and in the 60+ age group it is halved again (100 speakers).
Table 2.15:
Number of speakers by proficiency level and age group—Anindilyakwa
0–19 years 20–39 years 40–59 years 60+ years
Full speakers 800 500 200 100
Part-speakers No answer No answer No answer No answer
Words and sentences No answer No answer No answer No answer
There were two respondents who provided information about Anindilyakwa.
The above answers were from one of the respondents; the other did not answer this
question.
The total of the speakers from the data presented above is 1600, so it is likely
that everyone who identifies with this language is a speaker. This number is a little
higher than the 2011 census figure of 1480 people using Aninydilyakwa at home.
The NILS1 report also estimates the number of speakers in 2005 as 1500. So again,
this language appears to be neither declining nor gaining speakers.
Warlpiri and Aninydilyakwa have both been reported to be targets for language
activities. We believe it is likely that these activities have contributed to keeping
them strong, and that any interruption to the continuity of these activities could
undermine the stability of their target languages.
2.5 Every traditional language is at risk
As illustrated in the sections above, there is great variety in the situations of tra-
ditional languages in Australia; some are declining, some are gaining speakers
and others are remaining stable. But regardless of their situation, all traditional
languages are at risk of decline and loss. Some languages considered to be strong
are already showing signs of declining vitality. This tendency can be extrapolated
to other ‘strong’ languages not included in the survey. It is likely that the previously
mentioned language activities, combined with other factors, have contributed to
the continued strength of Warlpiri and Anindilyakwa, and that without continued
effort their vitality is not assured. Even languages which are gaining speakers are
at risk: neither Dharawal’s increase in speaker numbers and language use nor Wa-
jarri’s increase in speaker numbers are guaranteed to continue without ongoing
efforts. Murrinh-Patha is currently gaining speakers due to the centralisation of
people in Port Keats/Wadeye from the surrounding areas, as well as its status as a
common language for the region; however, language knowledge is still diminishing
due to the lack of opportunities to visit Country. Clearly, all traditional languages
surveyed, if not all traditional languages in Australia, are at risk of declining, and
appropriate actions need to be taken for each language to safeguard its vitality.
16
Chapter 2. Current language situation
There is also a question of what is now spoken. A traditional language used
today could be very different from the traditional language as it was spoken before
1788. For example, a NILS2 respondent reported that Tiwi has up to 35 speakers,
none of whom are full speakers. There are five part-speakers in the oldest age group
(60+ years) and some people who can say several words and simple sentences
among people over 20 years and possibly in the 0–19 age group.
Table 2.16: Number of speakers by proficiency level and age group—Tiwi
0–19 years 20–39 years 40–59 years 60+ years
Full speakers 0 0 0 0
Part-speakers 0 0 0 <5
Words and sentences Unsure <10 10 10
The numbers given in Table 2.16 are significantly lower than those reported
in the past. The 2006 census reports 1716 people who speak Tiwi at home, and in
the 2011 census the figure increased to 2102, but this increase is at odds with the
NILS2 figures above. In fact, the NILS2 respondent (to the Language Activity Survey)
specified that they were reporting the number of speakers of ‘Old Tiwi’. There were
four Tiwi respondents who participated in the Language Attitude Survey, and three
of them specifically indicated that they speak Modern/New Tiwi, which is very
different from Old Tiwi—the language which used to be spoken—because of the
influence of English; it has undergone rapid change since colonisation. Warlpiri
too is undergoing change with many younger people now speaking ‘Light’ Warlpiri
(O’Shannessy 2005), while research on young men’s Murrinh-Patha indicates that
young people speak differently to the extent that older people may sometimes
struggle to understand what they are saying (John Mansfield, personal communi-
cation).
2.6 Recently developed Indigenous languages
The category ‘recently developed Indigenous languages’ includes Aboriginal Eng-
lishes and creoles such as Kriol, spoken across the region from the Kimberley to
Katherine NT, and Yumplatok, spoken in the Torres Strait Islands. A pidgin is a lan-
guage that develops from contact between languages and is not the first language
of anyone, whereas a creole is an expanded pidgin with communities of speakers at
all age levels. These recently developed Indigenous languages are now used widely
among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in certain parts of Australia.
Australian Aboriginal English’ refers to the distinctive varieties of English used by
many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and which display influences
from traditional languages.
A NILS2 respondent for Yumplatok reported that it is used by all age groups
and has thousands of full speakers in each age group. It also has part-speakers and
people who are able to say several words and simple sentences.
17
NILS2 REPORT
Table 2.17: Number of speakers by proficiency level and age group—Yumplatok
0–19 years 20–39 years 40–59 years 60+ years
Full speakers 5000 7000 4000 3000
Part-speakers Unsure Unsure Unsure Unsure
Words and sentences Few Few Few Few
There is no data on the number of Yumplatok speakers from NILS1. The census
data shows an increase followed by a decline: 1240 in the 2001 census, 6042 in the
2006 census and 5369 in the 2011 census, but this could be an undercount. Many
Torres Strait Islander people are multilingual—the data from the Language Attitude
Survey shows that many if not all speak Yumplatok in addition to local traditional
languages, such as Kalaw Kawaw Ya (and its close relatives) and/or Meriam Mir.
However, the census only allows for one language name, and in the most recent
census respondents might have written the name of traditional languages rather
than Yumplatok. Nonetheless, Yumplatok is spoken by a large number of people
and the reality is more likely to be in line with the increase between 2001 and 2006.
Yumplatok speakers in all age groups use the language ‘often’. As mentioned
above, many Torres Strait Islander people are multilingual and the reported fre-
quency of use, ‘often’ rather than ‘always’, suggests speakers switch between
Yumplatok and other languages.
Table 2.18: Frequency of language use, NILS1–NILS2 comparison—Yumplatok
0–19 years 20–39 years 40–59 years 60+ years
NILS2 Often Often Often Often
Yumplatok was the only recently developed Indigenous language reported in
the NILS2 Language Activity Survey, but information from other sources such as
the census indicates that Kriol is rapidly gaining speakers. The 2001, 2006 and 2011
census data sets give the number of people who speak Kriol at home as 2990, 4213
and 6781 respectively. These numbers again seem to be undercounts as, according
to Year Book Australia, 2009–2010 (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2010), linguists
estimate as many as 20,000 to 30,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
speak Kriol as their first language.
Clearly, recently developed Indigenous languages have more speakers than
traditional languages. The value of these languages needs to be recognised, in
particular by governments, education bodies and the wider public, and they should
be given ongoing support. This support could include interpreter/translator ser-
vices and recognition and use (where appropriate) within schools (possibly in
first-language/bilingual education) and any agencies where effective communica-
tion is necessary.
18
3 Activities supporting languages
Key findings
The Language Activity Survey found that language activities are not just
aimed at increasing speaker numbers and revitalising or maintaining lan-
guages, they are also about helping people to connect with language and
culture and improving the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
people.
The survey data indicates that key elements for the successful delivery of
language activities are that community members are involved and com-
mitted, that there is adequate funding, and there is access to language
resources.
Many survey respondents have high ambitions for their language activi-
ties, with multiple goals, and they are carrying out these activities in a
challenging environment, especially with regard to funding and skills.
The Language Activity Survey collected information about 86 language activities.
The potential range of activities being surveyed was diverse, and questions were
organised within five broad categories as set out below.
1. language teaching and transmission (e.g. language nests, language classes)
2.
development of language resources (e.g. dictionary, story book, computer
program)
3. collecting, recording and archiving language information
4. promotion of language (e.g. performance, radio program)
5.
language planning and policy (e.g. advocacy, establishment of a language
centre).
There was diversity even within these categories, and no two activities were the
same. Yet the analysis of data revealed some commonalities between activities.
3.1 Goals of language activity
Although there may be a perception that language activities are primarily aimed at
increasing proficiency levels and speaker numbers, the Language Activity Survey
data does not support this assumption. Rather, the survey found that respondents
most commonly conduct language activities in order to strengthen peoples con-
nection with their language and culture, to build a sense of identity and wellbeing,
and to increase language awareness.
The Language Activity Survey asked respondents to select the goals of their
language activities from a list of 14 goals (see Figure 3.1). The most frequently
selected goal was ‘To help people to connect with their language and culture’ (91 per
19
NILS2 REPORT
cent), followed by ‘To increase awareness of the language among the community’
(81 per cent) and ‘To improve the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
people’ (79 per cent). The fourth most frequently mentioned goal was ‘To promote
the language to the general public’, mentioned by 74 per cent of respondents. None
of these are primarily about increasing the number of speakers or making language
stronger.
In order to meet these goals, respondents have been delivering programs such
as language camps and teaching on Country, which tie together language and cul-
tural activities, as well as promotional activities using different media, performance
and song. Respondents for 89 per cent of activities agreed with the statement that
their activities will improve the wellbeing of participants.
On the other hand, fewer language activities had goals related to language use:
70 per cent of activities had a goal ‘To increase the use of the language in the target
group, 65 per cent had a goal ‘To increase language use within a particular setting’
and 50 per cent had a goal ‘To increase the number of language speakers’. These
results indicate that not all language activities are about increasing the number of
speaker or language use.
3.2 Key elements for language activities
The analysis of survey responses indicates there are three key elements for the
success of community-led language activities:
1.
having community members involved and committed, in particular people
with appropriate skills and language knowledge
2. funding
3. access to language resources.
These concur with some of the characteristics of successful language activities
identified by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander Affairs (HORSCATSIA 2012, p. 199).
The Language Activity Survey asked respondents to describe success factors
for language activities. It also asked what factors could prevent or limit success in
Firstly ongoing funding,
Secondly community support,
including Indigenous and
non-Indigenous organisations,
i.e. Local Council, DECD, and
community members. [Also]
the knowledge and expertise
of Linguists.
Emma Hay
Burrandies Aboriginal
Corporation
their language activities. Several themes came
out of the responses, with community in-
volvement the most frequently mentioned (63
per cent). The importance of community
involvement
underscores the fact that language
cannot exist without a community and vice versa.
Language activities cannot take place without
people’s involvement (thus ‘commitment among
participants’ is the fourth factor). The emphasis
on community reflects the need for ownership
of language activities—for a language activity to
be successful, the language community has to
endorse it and have a sense of owning it.
20
Chapter 3. Activities supporting languages
Figure 3.1: Goals of language activities
The six most frequently mentioned categories were the following (also see
Figure 3.2):
Community involvement.
Involving local community members in language
activity planning, administration and facilitation helps language activities to
succeed. These members can be Elders, particularly language speakers, or
anyone in the community. (63 per cent of activities)
Funding.
The availability or otherwise of funding has great impact (38 per
cent)
Access to resources.
Availability of and access to language resources for
teaching and learning helps language activities to succeed. These materials
include dictionaries, recordings, and textbooks. This category also includes
easy access to materials, especially in remote areas. (35 per cent)
21
NILS2 REPORT
Involvement of professionals.
Involving experienced linguists, researchers,
or teachers, as well as training for such professionals (29 per cent)
Commitment among participants.
Participants’ interest, commitment, and
dedication to language programs (24 per cent)
Collaboration.
Collaborating with or receiving support from other organ-
isations. This category also includes in-kind contributions from other
organisations, such as schools. (20 per cent)
Figure 3.2:
Six most frequently mentioned factors for successful language activities
(percentage out of 86 activities)
Unsurprisingly, most of the factors reported to prevent language activities
from succeeding are the opposite of those that aid their success (see Figure
3.3). ‘Lack of funding’ stood out, cited for 49 per cent of activities, followed by
For our program to be successful, financial
and professional support to provide training
to community members so they can deliver
language classes with the appropriate de-
veloped resources for all ages.
Michael Ingrey
Dharawal Language Program
three other factors that were
nearly equal: ‘lack of community
involvement’ (28 per cent), ‘lack
of professional assistance’ (28 per
cent) as well as lack of traditional
language speakers/aging speakers
(26 per cent). ‘Lack of resources’
was also frequently mentioned (22
per cent).
In summary, the factors for successful language activities and the factors that
prevent success are practically the same. Involvement of community and people is
the key element of community-led language activities. A language activity cannot
22
Chapter 3. Activities supporting languages
Figure 3.3:
Five most frequently mentioned factors that prevent language activities
from succeeding (Percentage out of 86 activities)
take place without adequate involvement from community members, people with
the appropriate skills to lead the activity, and committed participants. Further,
support and collaboration from outside the community could also aid language
activities.
Two other key elements are funding and access to language resources, but these
are not readily available, as discussed below.
3.3 Challenging environment
The survey data shows that many language activities have multiple goals, suggesting
that respondents have many aspirations for their language activities, despite the
fact that they are carried out within a challenging environment. These ambitious
activities are often carried out despite a lack of sufficient funding and human
resources to carry them out properly.
Among the 86 activities surveyed, 52 per cent were reported to be well supported
financially. This percentage appears to be high, but the result should be interpreted
with caution; it may be the case that organisations with sufficient funding were
more willing to participate in the Language Activity Survey. In fact, some of the
organisations approached about participating in this survey declined to participate
because their application for ILS funding had been unsuccessful.
The majority of activities surveyed were dependent on external funding—only
seven per cent of activities were fully self-funded. The Australian Government
is the main funding source for the activities surveyed; 65 per cent of activities
received funding from the Australian Government, of which 26 per cent are solely
funded by this source. These figures could have been inflated slightly due to the
accessibility of information about current and recent grantees on the ILS website—
these organisations were all approached about the survey. There is no register of
23
NILS2 REPORT
language programs, so information about language activities which are funded
by other sources cannot be easily found. At the same time, there is a very small
number of funding sources for language activities. It may truly be the case that
most language activities in Australia are funded by the Australian Government and
the fact that many of the activities surveyed are funded by ILS could be a reflection
of this situation. AIATSIS has suspended its grant program due to lack of funding.
8
However, the program was never large and only a small proportion was available
for language activities. Another source is the Australian Research Council but it
only funds activities with an academic research component.
In any case, competition for Australian Government funding is tight. For the
2012–13 financial year the ILS program administered by the Ministry for the Arts
received 108 applications seeking over $16 million against a budgeted $9.9 million
(Office for the Arts 2012b). The government recently announced an increase in ILS
funding of just under $14 million over four years (Australian Government 2012), but
this still does not meet demand. Also, this funding is directed to only certain types
of activities, namely digital and multimedia activities (Office for the Arts 2013b).
Further, as more new applicants apply for funding, which is likely to happen,
the competition could become tighter.
9
State funding is very limited with only
New South Wales having a funding program. Other states do not have dedicated
programs although funding may be offered under different kinds of programs or
departments such as the Northern Territory Jobs program, the Western Australia
Department of Justice, and so on.
Securing ongoing funding is almost impossible. Funding usually runs from one
to, at most, three years, and community organisations are burdened with having
to continually apply for funding. One year may give them just enough time to get
things going, when the reality is that language activities can often take many years
to complete or have no pre-determined end point. A large proportion of language
activities surveyed, 34 per cent, are reported to be ongoing with no planned end
point. Some respondents commented that they are doing whatever they can with
limited funding, and if funding stops their activity stalls until funding becomes
available again. As mentioned above, lack of funding was the most frequently
mentioned factor that limits or prevents the success of language activities.
Another issue is human resources. By nature, a language activity most of-
ten requires people who have had training in language work or with a linguistics
background, or teachers who can deliver language classes. Many of the activities
surveyed had such people involved (but not necessarily full-time, some as little as
8
Our land, our languages (HORSCATSIA 2012, Recommendation 29) recommends the Australian
Government consult with AIATSIS to determine an appropriate and sustainable funding model in
order for it to recommence its research grants program in the 2013–14 budget.
9
Many grantees apply for further funding and thus the total of number of applicants is likely to
increase (note that the introduction of three-year funding means that some recipients may only apply
for funding every few years), but this in turn means that some of the available money in coming years
is already allocated to these organisations and the remaining funding available to new applicants will
be less.
24
Chapter 3. Activities supporting languages
a half-day per week); 57 per cent had linguists, 23 per cent had language workers
with a formal qualification (certificate or diploma), and 34 per cent had teachers
involved.
10
However, 26 per cent of activities surveyed were carried out without any
of these professionals even when the activities appear to require their skills, such
as making a dictionary, teaching language through adult or child language classes,
and making resources for teaching. Moreover, 38 per cent of activities had language
workers without a formal qualification involved. It is notable that respondents
for 66 per cent of activities agreed that their activities would have benefited from
additional staff training.
Indigenous remote communities have
to do their best with the people and
resources available and these are not
always the most qualified. Accommod-
ation constraints, living conditions and
funding limitations also mean that the
work which needs to be ongoing over
many years, if not having an unlimited
time scale, does not work to the optimum
level. Also, because government policies
change, the support changes also so it
may be a case of one step forward and
two steps back. For instance when the
government decided to stop the bilingual
program in the school it was believed by
the people in the community that one of
the Principals burnt a lot of the resources
that were held in the school and that had
been made by the local people.
Jane Karyuka
Aurukun Shire Council
A lack of training, or of trained
people, is not the only human re-
sources issue; employment is another.
Many of the activities surveyed had
unpaid staff; 49 per cent of activit-
ies involved unpaid Aboriginal and
Torres Strait
Islander
people while 30
per cent of activities had unpaid non–
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
people. This high proportion of unpaid
staff may be due to the lack of funding,
another argument for more funding.
It is risky for an activity to
depend
on
the good will and availability of unpaid
people, as their level of involvement
may not be guaranteed.
Another key element identified
above is limited access to language re-
sources. Unsurprisingly, there is a lack
of language resources that can be used
in language activities since, for many
languages, activities have only recently
begun and resources have not had time
to develop. Thus, half of all activities surveyed (53 per cent) had a component for
developing language resources in order to meet this shortfall.
10The survey did not ask whether teachers had a teaching qualification.
25
4 Views about the most effective types of
language action
Key findings
The survey data shows that there is a wide range of needs and demands
in relation to traditional language and people are delivering a wide variety
of language activities throughout Australia. These include resource devel-
opment, teaching, policy development and promotion. However, more
research is required to identify what language activities or language actions
are most effective in what circumstances.
Among activities surveyed there was only one instance each of master–
apprentice programs and language nest programs, despite the international
literature indicating these are among the most effective programs. This
may be changing, at least for the master–apprentice approach.
In addressing the question about the most effective types of language action, the
survey sought responses in two main areas: (1) what people want to see happening
and what they are trying to achieve, and (2) what types of action could support
people’s needs and aspirations.
It is clear from the Language Attitude Survey data that Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander people want traditional languages to be strong, and respondents
indicated that for this to happen languages have to be used and transmitted from
one generation to another (see the discussion in Chapter 5 on people’s attitudes
towards traditional languages).
Languages can be used in a variety of domains and services; indeed, respond-
ents expressed their interest in using traditional languages in a variety of situations:
school classes, care services for both Elders and children, interpreting/translating,
community newspapers, TV or radio programs, music and song writing programs,
etc. There is an array of language activities that has the potential to increase lan-
guage use.
Among the activities surveyed, the most frequently cited transmission activity
was ‘school programs’—14 per cent of activities included this component. This is
despite the fact that schools were not target participants for the survey.11 Another
frequently mentioned transmission activity was ‘community language class or
workshop for children’ (seven per cent), while there was only one ‘community
language class or workshop for adults’ in the survey data. There were other kinds of
11
See Appendix 1 for the target participants of the survey. Purdie et al. 2008 presents a study of
Indigenous language programs in schools.
26
Chapter 4. Views about the most effective types of language action
activities that involved language use and transmission: language camp; teaching
language through song; language content for a radio program, TV program or a
local paper in traditional language; and so on.
However, there was only one instance each of a master–apprentice program and
a language nest program in the survey data. These programs create opportunities
for intergenerational transmission of languages between speakers and adults, and
between speakers and pre-school children respectively, and these programs have
been adopted by many language groups overseas.
The Language Activity Survey asked respondents to identify the goals of their
language activities. As discussed in Chapter 3, the majority of language activities
reported in the survey had multiple goals. The top three were ‘To help people
connect with their language and culture, ‘To increase awareness of the language
among the community’ and ‘To improve the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander people’. In working towards these goals, respondents are delivering a
variety of language activities, but the survey data does not shed any light on which
types of activities are most effective for meeting each of these goals.
Many of the language activities surveyed were not yet completed; among 86
activities surveyed, only 15 activities had been finished. Respondents for 60 per
cent (nine activities) of these completed activities answered that their activities had
met the intended goals. On the other hand, 64 activities were still in progress at the
time of the survey. Respondents for 70 per cent (45 activities) of these in-progress
activities answered that their activities would meet the intended goals. A slightly
higher percentage of respondents from in-progress activities felt that their activities
would meet their goals compared to respondents from completed activities. It may
be that this difference reflects respondents’ optimism while they are in the midst of
delivering activities.
It should be noted that these results are based on self-reported information so
it is difficult to say whether the responses are a true reflection of actual outcomes.
Some respondents might have had reservations about saying their activity did not
succeed or that it might not achieve its goals, so this result has to be considered
carefully. Without an external assessment of language activities it is difficult to
determine which activities were successful, to what extent, and in what sense.
Even among the 15 completed activities that were reported to have met their
goals, when the categories of the activity, a description of the activity, output of
the activity and goals of the activity are compared it is often difficult to see how
they relate to each other. This is not to say that efforts made by community people
to strengthen or keep language strong have not been fruitful. As discussed in
Chapter 2, some languages are getting stronger and gaining more speakers due to
community efforts.
The NILS2 project provides valuable insights into Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander peoples aspirations for their languages, and the types of activities that are
being undertaken. However, the survey data does not provide strong evidence as to
which types of language action are the most effective in which situations, largely
because of the variety and complexity of the situations.
27
5 People’s attitudes and aspirations
Key findings
The survey data shows that traditional language is a strong part of Indigen-
ous people’s identity and that connection with language is critical for their
wellbeing.
Survey respondents were largely unanimous in their opinions about tra-
ditional languages: they want traditional languages to be strong well into
the future; they want to have their language taught in school and feel that
learning traditional language will help students succeed at school; they also
want their languages to have better recognition within Australia. A large ma-
jority of respondents indicated that they feel it is okay for non–Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander people to learn traditional languages.
The survey data indicates that active use and transmission of languages is
the key to strengthening or keeping traditional language strong, while lack
of opportunities prevents respondents from learning traditional languages.
There were different opinions on recently developed languages among
survey respondents.
The 288 respondents who participated in the Language Attitude Survey were
from diverse backgrounds. They came from different parts of Australia—urban,
regional and remote—from different age groups and from both genders. There were
those who speak traditional language and those who do not. Some had participated
in language activities and some had not. Despite the diversity, they were of one
voice in numerous parts of the survey.
5.1 Language, identity and self-esteem
Strong cultural identity enables one to feel proud
of themselves, and speaking and maintaining ones
language raises self esteem and enables one to feel
good about themselves. Traditional language is
important for maintaining strong cultural connec-
tions. Where traditional languages have been taken
away from communities, a sense of loss, grief and
inadequacy develops. To keep communities and gen-
erations strong, traditional language being passed
from one generation to another is vital.
Brooke Joy
Boandik descendant
Throughout the survey it
was clear that a large major-
ity of respondents felt that
their traditional language
is a very important part of
their identity. As shown in
Figure 5.1, the majority of
respondents (91 per cent)
agreed or strongly agreed
that the use of traditional
language is a strong part of
their identity as an Abori-
28
Chapter 5. People’s attitudes and aspirations
ginal/Torres Strait Islander person. More precisely, 75 per cent of respondents
strongly agreed, illustrating that traditional language plays an important role in
respondents’ sense of identity. Only six per cent disagreed or strongly disagreed
with the statement.
Most respondents (98 per cent) agreed that the use of traditional languages
improves the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (see Figure
5.2). The fact that 76 per cent of this majority ‘agreed strongly’ gives further weight
to this response. Only one respondent (0.3 per cent) disagreed with this statement.
Figure 5.1:
Responses to the statement, ‘The use of traditional language is a strong
part of my identity as an Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander person’ (per-
centage out of 288 respondents)
Respondents were then asked to write why they feel the use of traditional
languages improves the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The following three themes emerged from the responses (see Figure 5.3).
Belonging.
The use of traditional languages improves the wellbeing of Ab-
original and Torres Strait Islander people by strengthening their sense of
identity and sense of belonging to their tradition, culture, ancestor, spirit,
family, community, land, and/or country. (57 per cent)
Empowerment.
The use of traditional languages empowers Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander people by strengthening their self-esteem, pride, and
positive feelings in general. (38 per cent)
29
NILS2 REPORT
Figure 5.2:
Responses to the statement, ‘The use of traditional languages improves
the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’ (percent-
age out of 288 respondents)
Figure 5.3:
Reasons why use of traditional languages improves wellbeing of Ab-
original and Torres Strait Islander people (percentage out of 281
respondents)
30
Chapter 5. People’s attitudes and aspirations
Communication.
The use of traditional languages improves the wellbeing
of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by allowing them to commu-
nicate with each other. (5 per cent)
The first two categories are clearly closely related; knowledge of ones traditional
language was seen to be very closely connected to positive feelings about a sense of
identity and self-esteem.
The more functional value of language, as a medium of communication, is
considered by only five per cent of respondents to play a role in wellbeing.
5.2 Keep traditional language strong through use and
transmission
The survey data indicates that the majority of respondents felt traditional languages
should be kept strong well into the future. Indeed, the response was almost unan-
imous, with 97 per cent of respondents agreeing or strongly agreeing that keeping
traditional languages strong is important to them.
Also representing this view are responses given to the question asking what
people would like to see 20 years from now in regard to the use of traditional
languages. Seventy-four per cent of respondents expressed a desire for traditional
That properly resourced language programs
are available in schools throughout Australia.
That students who have gained competency
in languages are able to gain employment
which uses those language skills. That all Aus-
tralians have an understanding of the wealth
of the languages and share pride in promot-
ing them to the rest of the world.
Faith Baisden
Yugambeh community
languages to be strong, widely
spoken, used or known in com-
munities and passed on to
younger generations. Twenty-nine
per cent of respondents indic-
ated that they want opportunities
to learn traditional languages
through language programs de-
livered in schools, in language
centres and/or communities,
and employment opportunities
around these programs.
Respondents were also virtually unanimous about the importance of using
traditional language. Ninety-eight per cent agreed that it is important to know and
use traditional language. The majority (95 per cent) also agreed that it is important
for their children to learn and use traditional language. When asked why they feel
that way, 46 per cent explained that traditional languages should be passed down to
the next generation. Many respondents (41 per cent) also attributed their response
to the fact that traditional language is their identity, who they are: it is part of their
heritage and it allows them to connect with their culture and their people. This
concurs with the finding discussed in the last section.
These responses on the importance of the use of traditional language agree
with the opinions expressed about what keeps traditional language in use by people
within a community. The survey data indicates that most respondents felt the key
to keeping their traditional languages strong is ensuring their use and transmission.
31
NILS2 REPORT
The survey asked respondents what helps to keep traditional languages in use
by people within a community (see Figure 5.4). The most frequent response (52 per
cent) was ‘active use’; using traditional languages as much as possible and engaging
in activities that require them. While this response appears to be a repetition
of the question, this was how many respondents answered and the most likely
interpretation is that people were referring to the need for greater ‘opportunity’ to
use the language.
The second most frequently mentioned aid was ‘transmission’: transmission of
Because I want my kids to be able to learn what
I couldn’t at a young age, so that they can learn
culture and language to help find their iden-
tities. I want my children to know who they
are & be proud of themselves no matter what
obstacles or negatives get thrown their way.
Life has always been hard for me growing up
as an Indigenous man & to this day I still feel
like I’m fighting, fighting to get an education
as well as still finding out who I am & about
my culture. I do not want that kind of struggle
for my children, I want them to get the best
education possible & to know that we are all
equal, even in our own country & to be able to
learn more about their identities.
Ray Burns
Butchulla descendant
traditional languages from the
older to younger generations,
from speakers to non-speakers
(40 per cent). This may take place
at school, in a community or a
family setting, or on Country. This
is closely related to the first factor,
‘active use’—language cannot be
transmitted without being used.
Another category of response, less
frequent than the previous two,
focused on ‘community’; being
part of communities or families
that facilitate and support the use
and learning of language, or being
in the bush, on Country, et cet-
era. This was mentioned by 15 per
cent of respondents.
Figure 5.4:
Top three factors that keep traditional languages in use by people within
a community (percentage out of 288 respondents)
32
Chapter 5. People’s attitudes and aspirations
The converse was also true: many responses indicated that a major handicap to
learning language is the lack of use by speakers and the lack of speakers. Sixty-seven
per cent of respondents mentioned that external factors limit opportunities for
using traditional languages. This could be because there are few speakers around
them with whom to use the language, or due to the dominance of English or another
traditional language which is not their own. Some respondents also pointed to
social problems in Indigenous communities, such as drugs, alcohol and violence.
Twenty per cent of respondents mentioned emotional factors. People feel they are
disconnected from community or culture and this feeling prevents them from using
traditional language. Or some are unwilling to use or learn traditional language
because they are ashamed or shy, or they lack the confidence.
When asked what obstacles prevent them from participating in a language
activity, the two most commonly selected reasons from a list of 12 possibilit-
ies were about opportunities—33 per cent of respondents selected ‘scheduled
at wrong time’ and 35 per cent selected ‘not available in area’. Both of these
Continual use of the language within the
community and teaching it to children
from as early in life as you start commu-
nicating with them, so from birth. Im-
mersing Aboriginal community members
in our traditional languages across all age
groups.
Shannon Williams
Dharawal, Dhungutti, Dhurga
descendant
refer to a lack of opportunities.
While the majority of respond-
ents (97 per cent) were certain that
keeping traditional languages strong
is important for themselves, many
people were not certain about how
others feel. When asked whether
they feel most people in their com-
munity are not interested in keeping
the language strong, 50 per cent of
respondents disagreed, 17 per cent
were unsure while 33 per cent agreed
or strongly agreed. This latter result, with one-third agreeing, showed no correlation
with respondents’ age, gender, language proficiency level, or their experience with
language activities. While it is difficult to know why such a large proportion feel this
way, it may point to a need for more discussion within communities of language
and language activities so that a shared view on these issues can be developed.
5.3 Traditional language at school
Survey respondents were almost unanimous in the view that traditional language
should be taught at school (see Figure 5.5). This view was held by 95 per cent
of respondents, with 76 per cent indicating they ‘strongly agreed. Only three
respondents (one per cent) disagreed.
Respondents were also asked whether the use of traditional languages helps
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people succeed at school, with 80 per cent
of respondents agreeing (see Figure 5.6). Only three per cent of respondents dis-
agreed or strongly disagreed about the effect of traditional language use on school
performance, and 15 per cent were unsure.
33
NILS2 REPORT
Figure 5.5:
Responses to the statement, ‘Traditional languages should be taught in
school’ (percentage out of 288 respondents)
5.4 Traditional language in the wider community
Survey respondents wanted traditional language recognised in the wider Australian
community. When asked what place traditional languages should have within
I think that Aboriginal languages should be
taught in schools to be offered to the whole com-
munity to let people know that we are a people
with different language and culture. Australi-
ans and the rest of the world need to know that
Aboriginal Languages are still here and need to
be encouraged and preserved to keep our people
strong. We have a voice that make us uniquely
Australian. We have a language that goes on for
thousands of years, and some are still as fluent as
it was all those years ago. I think it’s important
and should be brought forward for all Australi-
ans to see and hear and respect.
Gillian Bovoro
Adnyamathanha person
Australia as a whole, re-
spondents most frequently
mentioned recognition of tradi-
tional languages from outside
of Indigenous communities—
indicated by 41 per cent of
respondents.
A large proportion of re-
spondents (76 per cent) agreed
or strongly agreed that it was
okay for non–Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander people
to learn traditional languages,
while 16 per cent were unsure.
Seven per cent disagreed (see
Figure 5.7).
34
Chapter 5. People’s attitudes and aspirations
Figure 5.6:
Responses to the statement, ‘The use of traditional languages helps Ab-
original and Torres Strait Islander people succeed at school’ (percentage
out of 288 respondents)
Figure 5.7:
Responses to the statement, ‘It is okay for non–Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander people to learn traditional languages’ (percentage out of
288 respondents)
35
NILS2 REPORT
This openness to non–Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is echoed in
responses to the question about target audience in the Language Activity Survey: 71
per cent of the 86 activities surveyed have non–Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
people as one of the target audiences.
However, some indicated that this is only acceptable so long as Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander people have opportunities to learn their language. Further,
many respondents (70 per cent) felt that only Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
people should teach traditional languages (see Figure 5.8). Only 20 per cent of
respondents disagreed with this restriction, and nine per cent were unsure how
they felt about it. These results indicate that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
people feel a strong sense of ownership of their traditional languages, and that
many wish to have some control over the learning and teaching of their traditional
languages.
Figure 5.8:
Responses to the statement, ‘Only Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
people should teach traditional languages’ (percentage out of 288 re-
spondents)
5.5 Recently developed Indigenous languages
The survey data suggests that there is a wide range of opinions as to the role and
importance of recently developed Indigenous languages.
The category ‘recently developed Indigenous languages’ includes Aboriginal
English and creoles, such as Kriol spoken in northern Australia from the Kimber-
ley through to the Katherine region, and Yumplatok spoken in the Torres Strait
Islands. The Language Attitude Survey asked respondents, ‘What place do recently
36
Chapter 5. People’s attitudes and aspirations
developed Indigenous languages have within Australia as a whole?’; their responses
fell into six categories (see Figure 5.9). Each of the first three categories were
mentioned
by roughly the same percentage of respondents, approximately 20 per
cent. They are:
Unsure.
Respondents specifically reported that they are not sure what place
recently developed Indigenous languages have. (23 per cent)
Recognition.
Like traditional languages, recently developed Indigenous
languages should be recognised within Australia, officially, legally, consti-
tutionally, and within the education system. They should be available for
interpreting and translating, and other government services, and the general
public should be aware of and respect these languages. (22 per cent)
Important.
Recently developed Indigenous languages are important for
many reasons, including communication, spiritual/physical wellbeing, pre-
servation of knowledge of Country, and a sense of Aboriginality. (22 per
cent)
These languages are still important. They’re
part of the new world. Languages are going
to change; they’re going to be mixed with Eng-
lish now for the new generation. These new
languages are still less important than tradi-
tional languages, though.
Dennis Thomas
Nyangumarta language speaker
‘Recognition’ was mentioned
more frequently by those who
identify with recently developed
Indigenous languages—out of 41
respondents who identify with
such languages, 49 per cent men-
tioned ‘recognition, whereas only
18 per cent of the 244 respondents
who do not identify with these
languages mentioned ‘recognition.
The ‘important’ category was more equally distributed, selected by 27 per cent of
those who identify with recently developed Indigenous languages, and by 21 per
cent of those who do not.
There were also some negative feelings about recently developed Indigenous
languages. These feelings are represented in the following two categories.
Secondary.
Recently developed Indigenous languages have some place but
are secondary in importance to traditional languages. (13 per cent)
No place.
There is no place for recently developed Indigenous languages. (9
per cent)
These two, ‘secondary’ and ‘no place’, were mentioned more often by people
who do not identify with these languages, being reported by 14 per cent and 10 per
cent of these people, respectively.
Another category is ‘community’, mentioned by 11 per cent of respondents.
Community.
Recently developed Indigenous languages are primarily for the
communities to which they belong.
37
NILS2 REPORT
Figure 5.9:
Place of recently developed Indigenous languages within Australia as a
whole (percentage out of 288 respondents)
Ambivalence regarding the place of recently developed Indigenous languages
is also reflected in the responses about support for recently developed Indigenous
languages (see Figure 5.10). Close to half of all respondents (45 per cent) answered
‘unsure’ when asked whether there is too much support for recently developed
Indigenous languages. The remaining responses were evenly spread between ‘agree’
and ‘disagree’—28 per cent agreed or strongly agreed while 27 per cent disagreed or
strongly disagreed.
The above result suggests that the place of recently developed Indigenous lan-
guages is a controversial issue. Regardless, the survey data indicates that most
respondents feel traditional languages are more important than recently developed
Indigenous languages (see Figure 5.11). Sixty-seven per cent of respondents dis-
agreed or strongly disagreed with the statement that it is more important to be
able to speak recently developed Indigenous languages than traditional languages,
while only 12 per cent agreed. Nineteen per cent of respondents were unsure.
38
Chapter 5. People’s attitudes and aspirations
Figure 5.10:
Responses to the statement, ‘There is too much support for recently
developed Indigenous languages such as Kriol, Yumplatok, or Abori-
ginal English’ (percentage out of 288 respondents)
Figure 5.11:
Responses to the statement, ‘It is more important to be able to speak
recently developed Indigenous languages such as Kriol, Yumplatok, or
Aboriginal English than traditional languages’ (percentage out of 288
respondents)
39
6 Key findings, discussion and
recommendations
Chapters 2–5 presented the key findings against the four aims of the NILS2 project.
This final chapter presents an overarching discussion of these findings and makes
recommendations for future action. These recommendations are in keeping with
those presented in the NILS1 report as well as the Our land, our languages report
and have been advocated at numerous forums. In particular, we agree with Recom-
mendation 4 of Our land, our languages (HORSCATSIA 2012) that the Australian
Government should consider updating its action plan in order to implement the
National Indigenous Languages Policy.
6.1 List of key findings
The following are the key findings, repeated from the previous chapters.
Language activities and actions
Language situation
Some of the traditional languages considered to be ‘very strong’ are showing
signs of decline.
Some traditional languages are gaining more speakers. Mostly these are
languages which have not been spoken for some time but have been gradually
brought back into use.
There are traditional languages which have a substantial number of full
speakers and are in a stable state of vitality.
There is great variety in the situations of traditional languages, but regardless
of their situation all traditional languages are at risk of declining.
Recently developed Indigenous languages, such as Kriol and Yumplatok, have
the largest speaker numbers, in the thousands.
Language activities and actions
The Language Activity Survey found that language activities are not just
aimed at increasing speaker numbers and revitalising or maintaining lan-
guages, they are also about helping people to connect with language and
culture and improving the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
people.
The survey data indicates that key elements for the successful delivery of lan-
guage activities are that community members are involved and committed,
that there is adequate funding, and there is access to language resources.
40
Chapter 6. Key findings, discussion and recommendations
Many survey respondents have high ambitions for their language activities,
with multiple goals, and they are carrying out these activities in a challenging
environment, especially with regard to funding and skills.
The survey data shows that there is a wide range of needs and demands
in relation to traditional language, and people are delivering a wide variety
of language activities throughout Australia. These include resource devel-
opment, teaching, policy development, and promotion. However, more
research is required to identify what language activities or language actions
are most effective in what circumstances.
Among activities surveyed there was only one instance each of master–
apprentice programs and language nest programs despite the international
literature indicating these are among the most effective programs. This may
be changing, at least for the master–apprentice approach.12
Aspirations and attitudes towards Australian languages
The survey data shows that traditional language is a strong part of Indigenous
people’s identity, and connection with language is critical for their wellbeing.
Survey respondents were largely unanimous in their opinions about tradi-
tional languages: they want traditional languages to be strong well into the
future; they want to have their language taught in school and feel that learn-
ing traditional language will help students succeed at school; they also want
their languages to have better recognition within Australia. A large majority of
respondents indicated that they feel it is okay for non–Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander people to learn traditional languages.
The survey data indicates that active use and transmission of languages is
the key to strengthening or maintaining traditional languages, while lack of
opportunities prevents respondents from learning traditional languages.
There were different opinions on recently developed Indigenous languages
among survey respondents.
6.2 Discussion and recommendations
The NILS2 survey data indicates that a variety of language situations are found
across Australia and there is no single common path that languages follow as they
decline, gain strength or remain stable. But, regardless of the individual language
situation, all traditional languages require support to address their particular needs
if they are to be kept strong, and keeping languages strong is what survey respond-
ents desire. Without measures in place, it is likely that these languages will lose
strength rapidly or be unable to regain strength. Even languages which appear to be
strong are showing signs of decline. A small number appear to be stable or gaining
speakers based on the NILS2 data, but even these languages are changing or not all
language knowledge is being passed on to younger generations.
But there is also positive news: several traditional languages which have not
been spoken for some time are being brought back into use, ranging from some
12But see footnote 3 on page xiii
41
NILS2 REPORT
words being used with English, to cases where people are working to bring back
more complex aspects of their language, developing speeches, welcomes to Country,
and finding ways to incorporate their language into daily life.
Recently developed Indigenous languages such as Kriol and Yumplatok have
the largest speaker numbers of all Australian languages and are spoken as a first
language by a large number of people. This fact needs to be acknowledged by
governments, service providers, educators and the wider public. Appropriate
support should be given to these languages and their speakers, in particular in
education, where children may be first-language speakers of one of these varieties,
and also in the provision of services, where interpreter/translator support should
be available.
The NILS2 project highlights the fact that traditional languages have an import-
ant place in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s lives. It also highlights the
fact that recently developed Indigenous languages have gained a strong foothold
in some regions. At the same time we emphasise that proficiency in Standard
Australian English is crucial to successful participation in wider Australian society.
However, these three realities need not be in conflict. This issue is discussed further
in Section 6.2.6 ‘Recently developed Indigenous languages’.
6.2.1 Effective language work
As highlighted in the NILS2 data, traditional languages in Australia exist within a
great variety of situations, and for measures aimed at strengthening or maintaining
traditional languages to be effective they must address the individual situations of
those languages. Recommendation 11 in the NILS1 report states that ‘Language
programs must be tailored to the type of language situation in the local community’.
This recommendation is still relevant and highlights the need for a greater under-
standing of language programs. This is also strongly supported in Peetyawan Weeyn,
a community guide for language programs published by the Victorian Aboriginal
Corporation for Languages (Paton, Eira and Solomon-Dent 2011).
For languages with full speakers, but where transmission to younger people
has been interrupted, evidence from around the world demonstrates that two
types of immersion programs, the master–apprentice program and language nests,
have been particularly effective, especially where transmission of languages and
nurturing of the next generation of speakers are the aim.
The master–apprentice program (Hinton 1994, pp. 235–247) was first developed
in California in 1993 and has been taken up by many Indigenous groups, particu-
larly in North America.
13
In this program a full speaker of an Indigenous language
(the master) regularly spends time with a language learner (the apprentice) and
communicates only in the Indigenous language. Thus, a master–apprentice pro-
gram requires the involvement of full speakers, or at least part-speakers who can
have conversations in some domains. Accordingly this program is only appropriate
13
Hinton (1994) and (2001) provide background on the methodology, and detail numerous ex-
amples in North America. For a detailed discussion of the master–apprentice approach, see First
Peoples’ Cultural Council (2013b).
42
Chapter 6. Key findings, discussion and recommendations
for languages with full or part-speakers and would be most appropriate for lan-
guages with at least a few full speakers. This approach enables the language to be
transmitted to another, usually younger, person who develops their language skills
to the point that they are able to take on the task of teaching the language to others.
This program can take place at home, at work, or at any other place where the
master and the apprentice can spend substantial time together using the language.
One example of this program currently operating in Australia is that run by
the Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring Language and Culture Centre in Kununurra,
Western Australia, where it has been in place for some time (Olawsky 2013). In 2012
the Resource Network for Linguistic Diversity ran two ‘train the trainer’ workshops
(one in Kununurra and one in Alice Springs) on the master–apprentice program,
delivered by trainers from the United States to participants from across Australia,
including some from language communities where there are no longer full or part-
speakers. There is a need for ongoing support for those who have participated in
such workshops, and assistance to continue practising and developing a program
appropriate to the language situation and their community. This approach was
supported in Our land, our languages (HORSCATSIA 2012, Recommendation 19).
The language nest is an immersion program which has seen much success
in New Zealand and Hawai’i. In this approach Indigenous language speakers
spend time in natural play with very young children, interacting with them in
their language and thereby enabling natural language transmission. Typically the
language nest takes place at a preschool or in child care. Although the language
nest approach has usually been implemented for languages with full speakers, the
method can be applied to languages with less proficient speakers, though the same
results cannot be expected—the children can only be expected to acquire partial
knowledge of the language.
On the basis of the international experience of these approaches being very
effective in supporting the transmission of language,
14
the following recommenda-
tion is made.
Recommendation 1
Funding bodies should support communities that wish to
implement master–apprentice and language nests programs. Community groups
should be encouraged to consider these programs.
This was a key recommendation in the NILS1 report (AIATSIS/FATSIL 2005,
Recommendation 1) and a similar recommendation was also proposed in Our land,
our languages (HORSCATSIA 2012, Recommendation 12). Language nests are also
strongly supported in the OCHRE (Opportunity, Choice, Healing, Responsibility,
Empowerment) plan for Aboriginal Affairs recently developed in NSW (New South
Wales Government 2013).
14
For example, see: McIvor (1998); Te K
¯
ohanga Reo National Trust (2013); ‘Aha P
¯
unana Leo (n.d.);
First Peoples’ Cultural Council (2013a); Scarcia (2009).
43
NILS2 REPORT
The Language Activity Survey respondents reported that past activities included
language nest activities across 22 different languages, and master–apprentice pro-
grams for 20 different languages.
15
Currently only one of each are reported to be
running, so it is imperative to achieve a better understanding of these approaches
and how best to apply them in Australia.
16
Although we can learn from the overseas
experience it would be very valuable to have case studies carried out on language
nest and master–apprentice programs in Australia, especially those involving lan-
guages without full speakers, as this is a new application of these programs. This
could include collecting information on the 22 language nests and 20 master–
apprentice programs reported to have previously been operating in Australia, as
well as collaborative research with the programs currently operating, in order to de-
velop a better understanding of the factors that support or challenge this program.
For languages with no full speakers, there is no particular program that has
been found most effective. The NILS2 survey data shows that there is a wide range
of language activities taking place in Australia in these situations, and in some areas
traditional languages are gaining strength and speaker numbers as a result. It is yet
to be seen, however, what language activities are most effective, and a study of the
different types of language activities should be conducted. Of course, effectiveness
depends on what goals have been set, such as an increase in the number of speakers
or their level of proficiency. However, as shown in the key findings presented earlier,
the central goal can be to connect people with culture and language, to increase
the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, or to increase awareness of
Australian languages. This means that ‘effectiveness’ has to be assessed with regard
to the particular goals of the program.
Recommendation 2
A study of the different types of language activities should
be conducted, especially to examine what types of activities might be suitable for
what situations. The study needs to take into consideration the different language
situations as well as the community’s goals.
The recommended research could include case studies and would take several
years; learning languages takes a long time. It may be comparatively easy to increase
the number of speakers who can say several words and simple sentences. Taking
it to the next level, though, to having conversations, even in limited situations,
requires a lot of effort and time. So it can easily take a few years to see effective
outcomes from language activities. The same also applies where goals involve
cultural connectedness and/or wellbeing; for these also, significant change takes
years.
15
The authors are aware of the short-lived language nests that operated in Western Australia in
the 1990s, but the report of previous master–apprentice programs is surprising and likely refers to the
‘train the trainer’ workshops held in 2012. See Florey and Olawsky (2013).
16
Presumably more master–apprentice programs will be starting up in future as a result of the
recent workshops.
44
Chapter 6. Key findings, discussion and recommendations
The study results would help communities identify what types of language
activities would be most suitable for their particular situation. While language
work is carried out across a very diverse range of situations, case studies would
enable the detection of correlations between situations, programs and effectiveness
in achieving particular goals. This research would also help assessors of funding
applications check whether proposed activities are appropriate to the applicant’s
language situation and goals.
However, it should be emphasised again that each situation is unique; there are
a number of factors that need to be considered in developing a language activity
plan and these will differ depending on the language and its community. Therefore,
the study findings should only serve as a reference and not as a guideline. It should
also be emphasised that no language activity can bring positive results to the
community and its members if it is not community-led and planned around the
interests of the community.
6.2.2 Healthy language, strong people and community
The NILS2 project found that the involvement of the language community in lan-
guage activities is a key element for their success. The importance of community
involvement underscores the fact that language and community are intimately
connected; language strengthens not only the individuals but also the community.
The survey respondents said that they conduct language activities in order to im-
prove peoples wellbeing and to help people connect with language and culture.
This is supported by research in this area; for example, a 10-year study in central
Australia found that ‘connectedness to culture, family and land, and opportunit-
ies for self-determination’ assisted to significantly lower morbidity and mortality
rates (Australian Human Rights Commission 2009, p. 61). Other researchers—
Biddle (2011) and (2012), and Biddle and Swee (2012)—have also found a clear
link between language and wellbeing.
17
Apart from these few examples, there is
very little research on the connection between language and wellbeing, and what
has been done is mostly preliminary.
18
More research on the connection between
language and wellbeing should be conducted, as this will strengthen the case for
supporting languages and provide valuable information for health initiatives. It will
also assist a more informed choice of language activity to achieve particular goals.
The importance of the relationship between language and wellbeing or language
and culture has been acknowledged by the government in statements such as, ‘A
strong cultural identity is fundamental to Indigenous health and wellbeing. Aus-
tralian government initiatives that strengthen Indigenous culture and languages
are essential for Closing the Gap.19
17Another useful reference in this area is Phillips (2003).
18
See McIvor, Napoleon and Dickie (2009) for a valuable review and analysis of the existing
literature relating to the connection between language, culture and wellbeing in Canada, pointing to
the lack of work specifically on the language–wellbeing connection.
19
See Office for the Arts (2012a) for a link to the Ministry for the Arts fact sheet, which also includes
references on wellbeing.
45
NILS2 REPORT
Recommendation 3
Further research into the connection between language and
wellbeing is necessary. Organisations with a special interest in Indigenous health
and wellbeing should consider funding studies to examine this issue.
6.2.3 Supporting mechanism for language actions
6.2.3.1 Funding
One of the key elements for the success of language activities highlighted by the
NILS2 project is funding. Community organisations often struggle to secure fund-
ing for their language activities as there are limited funding opportunities for
language work. The result is that many of the language activities surveyed are
dependent on government funding, particularly from programs managed by the
Ministry for the Arts. Only one state government, New South Wales, has dedicated
ongoing statewide funding to traditional languages. Other states and territories
could follow the New South Wales example; this was one of the recommendations
made in NILS1 (AIATSIS/FATSIL 2005, Recommendation 5).
Recommendation 4
All Australian state and territory governments should
provide dedicated ongoing funding for language work, especially targeting
community-led language programs.
Languages can be used in a variety of domains and services, suggesting that
there could be more potential sources of funding for language work. Language
work can be combined with media, art or music projects; for example, recording
the stories behind artwork in traditional language. Indeed, some language activities
are funded by a program or funding source not specifically targeted at languages,
such as the Indigenous Broadcasting Program and the Community Broadcasting
Foundation.
There are other areas where language work can take place or be included. Since
strong languages are an important component in the health and wellbeing of
Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander people, health departments could consider
ways to fund language programs and/or integrate language work into health pro-
grams. For example, evidence shows that young people who speak traditional
languages are less likely to engage in high risk alcohol consumption and illicit sub-
stance use than those who do not (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2011), indicating
it could be worthwhile for some of the monies spent on alcohol and drug pre-
vention programs to be directed to language programs. Another potential source
of funding is the justice area. Strong social cohesion/connectedness, a sense of
identity and self-esteem are widely held to be factors that reduce crime, so actions
that strengthen these factors operate as preventive measures (Beecroft 2009). With
many survey respondents saying that connecting with traditional language can
help to strengthen their identity and self-esteem, learning language could be an
46
Chapter 6. Key findings, discussion and recommendations
important support measure. For those who are in prison, language programs could
be offered as part of the measures to reduce recidivism.20
Recommendation 5
The Australian Government should include allocation of
funding to language activities as part of health and justice programs.
6.2.3.2 Human resources and training
The NILS2 project found that involving people with appropriate skills, for example
in language work, teaching, or linguistics, is often difficult, and a factor that may
affect the success of language activities. The project also found that language
activities could benefit from training opportunities.
Training opportunities for language workers, like funding sources, are very
limited. Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education, Charles Darwin
University, and fewer than half a dozen TAFE colleges offer formal training courses
related to Australian languages and language work. Travelling to these locations for
training is not an option for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. More
training opportunities and support mechanisms for Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander people to attend such training are required across Australia. Similarly,
training opportunities for interpreters of traditional languages are very limited.
Currently, the only such training is offered by TAFE South Australia.
There is also a limited number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
who are qualified teachers or teaching assistants. Even among those who are trained
teachers there are very few who have had training in language work. Currently the
University of Sydney is the only place delivering such training programs to those
who have teaching backgrounds, through the Indigenous Languages Education
Program.
Recommendation 6
The Australian Government, and state and territory govern-
ments should allocate funding for the development and delivery of programs to
train language workers, interpreters and language teachers.
Similar recommendations were made in the NILS1 report (AIATSIS/FATSIL
2005, Recommendations 49, 50 & 51) and Our land, our languages (HORSCATSIA
2012, Recommendations 16, 17, 18, 26 & 27).
20
The New South Wales Government is working to improve and ensure access to language ma-
terials and programs for Aboriginal inmates and detainees. One reason for doing this is that ‘there
is anecdotal evidence that suggests that connecting Aboriginal inmates and detainees with their
culture lowers rates of re-offending’ (New South Wales Department of Aboriginal Affairs n.d.). An
examination of this relationship could be incorporated in the language and wellbeing study pro-
posed in Recommendation 3. Another possible source of funding is private companies; for example,
BHP Billiton Iron Ore has provided funding to Wangka Maya Pilbara Aboriginal Language Centre
to support a number of their projects. Private companies could consider developing reconciliation
action plans incorporating support for community-led language programs (for information about
the Reconciliation Action Plan program, see Reconciliation Australia (2005–2013)).
47
NILS2 REPORT
The maximum benefits of training are achieved only when there are employ-
ment opportunities to work as language workers or teachers. As more people
undertake training there will be more demand for employment as language work-
ers or teachers, and those who deliver language activities will require funds to
recruit these people. With the forthcoming completion by ACARA of the Framework
for Australian Languages, which will support the teaching of Australian languages in
schools, there will be a greater need for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
with this training. If training only leads to unpaid work or to no work, people will be
discouraged from undertaking the training. There is thus a need for the ‘language
industry’ to develop, with promising career paths and decent wages.
21
The industry
cannot develop and language activities will suffer if there is a dependency on the
good will of people who are prepared to work for low wages or without pay.22
Not every type of language activity requires the technical skills that a linguist
provides. For example, if an activity is to write a script in a traditional language for
a radio program and if there are still full speakers, a linguist’s advice is not neces-
sarily needed (but this may require someone with literacy skills in the language).
Some activities certainly do require a trained linguist, someone who has studied
linguistics. Examples include an activity that requires language analysis for writing
a learner’s guide, or an activity that requires the interpretation of historical language
records.
There are, however, not many linguists who are available for community lan-
guage work. To begin with, the number of people with linguistic training is limited,
and often linguists are employed by a university and engaged in academic research.
This may limit their availability for community language work since such work
does not necessarily result in academic publications, or contribute to building an
academic reputation. There may be a lack of appreciation for community-driven
research or language work among people who work in the university sector. Uni-
versities should acknowledge the importance of supporting community-driven
research in their reconciliation action plans. They should promote the importance
of designing research projects that meet community protocols and needs, and
performance measures for researchers should recognise this type of community
service.
There are currently very few trained linguists of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander descent. The shortage of such people means that many communities are
unable to find linguists locally. Often language centres, especially those in remote
areas, have trouble finding linguists.
23
There is a lack of awareness of potential
work as community linguists among linguistics students, which could be remedied
21
One respondent of the Language Activity Survey reported that there were no employment
opportunities for people who successfully completed a Diploma of Interpreting.
22
The Our land, our languages report expresses concern over the dependency of language centres
and projects on government funding and encourages the development of market opportunities for
language centres (HORSCATSIA 2012, p. 200).
23
There could be some reservation or barrier to Australian linguists of non–Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander descent engaging with a community because of colonial history.
48
Chapter 6. Key findings, discussion and recommendations
by the promotion of Australian languages through internship programs. These
programs could help students build an appreciation of Australian languages, which
might lead them to consider a career as a community linguist.
Recommendation 7
Language centres and universities should cooperate to
identify opportunities for students of linguistics to gain experience in working
with community-led language programs. We particularly support the provision of
scholarships for Indigenous students of linguistics.
It is important for community people to build their understanding of why lin-
guistic knowledge is useful in certain types of language activities.
24
An appreciation
for linguistic knowledge may also lead more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
people to consider studying linguistics. Finally, scholarships to support Indigenous
students of linguistics would be a valuable way to support people in undertaking
this study.
6.2.3.3 Language resources and archiving
The NILS2 project found that access to language resources is a key element for suc-
cessful language activities. The survey shows that a number of resource production
activities are taking place. These activities should be given priority, especially in
the current context where the Australian Government is developing an Australian
Curriculum framework for Australian languages, discussed in more detail below.
The production of language resources may involve retrieving recordings and
documentation from archives. The AIATSIS collection contains an unparalleled
amount of relevant historical documentation for Australian languages; however,
most libraries and collections throughout the country will hold language materials.
In addition there are significant holdings in international and private collections.
Preservation of and access to old language material, as well as new material, is
essential for current and future language work. Old analog language material needs
to be digitised to ensure its preservation and future access.
Recommendation 8
All levels of government should allocate funding to collect-
ing institutions which hold material on traditional languages for digitisation,
preservation and access.
Not all language material is held in large collecting institutions; some is held by
individual researchers or small organisations that do not have publicly available
catalogues of their language collections. As a result, community people may not
even be aware of the existence of some language material. It is important that
information about such material becomes accessible. The NILS1 project started
collating this information, although on a very small scale, and the NILS1 report
24
Caffery (2008) found that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have under-
taken linguistic training did not go on to do language work in their community. One of the reasons
for this is lack of appreciation of linguistic skills among community members, particularly Elders.
49
NILS2 REPORT
recommended ongoing maintenance of this database (AIATSIS/FATSIL 2005, Re-
commendation 39). There are a number of bodies with the expertise to carry out
this work, including the National Library of Australia and AIATSIS, the latter being
best-placed due its existing archive holdings and as the host for AUSTLANG and
OZBIB.
Recommendation 9
All levels of government should support projects to collate
information about language material, particularly that held in small, local and
private collections which may not be listed in public collection catalogues, and
make the information available online. Ideally this would be done on a national
level as a single project.
This would require collaboration from individual researchers; researchers
should understand the value and importance of community access to language
material and make information readily available.
Language activities may involve recording languages for the development of
resources as well as archiving recorded material. For languages where there are still
speakers and recordings are scarce, it is critical to record languages while speakers
are available. This was also recommended in the NILS1 report (AIATSIS/FATSIL
2005, Recommendation 23).
Recommendation 10
The Australian Government, and state and territory gov-
ernments should allocate funding to the recording of languages which are poorly
documented.
It is equally important for recordings, as well as language resources developed
from recordings, to be properly archived, again for preservation and access, as
recommended in the NILS1 report (AIATSIS/FATSIL 2005, Recommendation 28).
Recommendation 11
Funding bodies for language activities should make it a
condition of funding that a copy of any materials produced with their funding
will be archived at AIATSIS. The importance of archiving materials should be
promoted more generally to those who are running language programs.
A similar recommendation was made by the Standing Committee on Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander Affairs in Our land, our languages (HORSCATSIA 2012,
Recommendation 30). The committee also emphasised the need for a central
repository of language materials, with AIATSIS identified as having the potential to
perform this role (HORSCATSIA 2012, p. 209).
It is also important that materials produced by language activities be shared.
This enables other communities with the same language to avoid re-creating what
has already been done, and gives other language groups useful materials to adapt
or further develop rather than starting from scratch. This approach was supported
in Our land, our languages (HORSCATSIA 2012, Recommendation 20).
50
Chapter 6. Key findings, discussion and recommendations
6.2.3.4 Increasing opportunities to use traditional language
The NILS2 project found that the active use of language is key to keeping language
strong. While this may seem a simple matter it points to a need to increase the
opportunities for traditional languages to be used. Anyone who speaks a traditional
language to some extent could start using it more often, and Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander people should be encouraged to do so, particularly at home but also
in other arenas. This does not necessarily require funding but primarily determin-
ation and commitment, and is something that can be promoted through various
forums. This promotion could include suggestions for materials and methods to
encourage greater language use and point to the ways in which people around the
world are developing their own methods to pass on their languages, many of which
are based in the home and family. A world expert on language maintenance and
revival, Leanne Hinton, promotes the family and the home as the key element in
the success of any revival project (Hinton 2013).
Recommendation 12
The Australian Government and language advocacy groups
should widely promote the importance of using traditional languages at home,
and especially with children.
Outside of the home, there are a number of ways to increase the use of tradi-
tional language: through media such as radio programs, TV programs, websites
and newsletters/newspapers or through community events such as music and song
writing workshops. These activities are already carried out by community people
in some parts of Australia but require funding. The issue of funding was discussed
above.
As recommended in the NILS1 report (AIATSIS/FATSIL 2005, Recommendation
8), governments could also take the initiative and support the use of traditional
languages in the public domain and in government services. One such initiative
is dual place naming. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who may
not be speakers often have knowledge of place names. Dual naming also helps
to promote and build appreciation of traditional languages to the general public.
Dual naming was recommended in Our land, our languages (HORSCATSIA 2012,
Recommendation 3).
Recommendation 13
All levels of government should consult local communit-
ies to identify and implement appropriate measures that increase the use of
traditional languages in local areas; for example, in dual place naming.
All levels of government could use traditional languages for communication
with community members whose first language is an Aboriginal or Torres Strait
Islander language, by employing translators and interpreters. This could not only
increase the use of traditional languages but create employment opportunities for
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and improve the quality and effective-
51
NILS2 REPORT
ness of communication. It is especially important that translators and interpreters
be engaged where misunderstandings must be avoided at all cost; for example, in
legal and health situations (HORSCATSIA 2012, Recommendations 23, 24, 25 and
26).
Recommendation 14
All levels of government should engage translators and
interpreters of traditional languages for communication between governments
and community people whose first language is an Aboriginal or Torres Strait
Islander language, as well as in legal, health and other situations where effective
communication is paramount.
6.2.4 Recognition
The NILS2 data indicated that recognition of traditional languages is of great import-
ance to many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. An extremely important
step in this regard is the recognition of traditional languages in the constitution.
This proposal was included in Our land, our languages (HORSCATSIA 2012, Re-
commendation 8) and was recommended by the Expert Panel on Constitutional
Recognition of Indigenous Australians (2012); we reiterate this recommendation.
Official recognition in the constitution and other areas of government is an im-
portant change that is desired by many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
and will provide a base for the support of more concrete actions. This recognition
should come with commitment to the government’s endorsement of the United
Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples (United Nations 2007). The
Australian Government should implement this commitment by taking actions to
support ‘the right to revitalise, use, develop and transmit to future generations their
histories, languages, oral traditions [...]’ (United Nations 2007, Article 13).
Recognition also has to be fostered in the broader public sphere, not just within
government. The government’s ‘closing the gap’ strategy targets health, education
and employment, bringing Aboriginal people closer to the standard of living en-
joyed by most non–Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The gap could also
be bridged by targeting other areas such as appreciation of traditional languages as
part of Australias unique national heritage, and building strategies that cultivate
this appreciation among non–Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Recommendation 15
Traditional languages should be recognised in the Aus-
tralian Constitution as the first languages of Australia. All levels of government
should promote Australian languages as a fundamental part of the unique herit-
age of Australia.
Flowing on from this would be a variety of outcomes; for example, parlia-
mentary recognition at all levels of government (recommended in Our land, our
languages, HORSCATSIA 2012, Recommendation 3).
52
Chapter 6. Key findings, discussion and recommendations
6.2.5 Traditional languages in schools
As discussed elsewhere in this report, preserving and strengthening languages is
not simply about language as a means of communication, but also relates to its role
in supporting a strong sense of identity, an ongoing connection to traditional cul-
ture, and improved wellbeing. The NILS2 surveys show that there is a widespread
and strong view that traditional languages should be taught and used in schools.
25
School-based language programs are very popular, being the most frequently re-
ported transmission activity, and identified by more than half of all respondents
as a goal of their current language activity. The importance placed on schools as a
site of activities to strengthen and maintain traditional languages is clearly shown
by the fact that almost all respondents believe that traditional languages should
be taught in schools. Importantly, the majority stated that the use of traditional
languages in school also helps Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to
succeed.
These strongly held views make clear that schools play an important role in
supporting traditional languages and that in doing so they will be providing better
support to their students. It is worth noting that a large majority of respondents
feel okay about non–Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people learning their
languages, so this should not be seen as an obstacle for school language programs.
As Lowe 2010 (and the papers following it) strongly attests, it is of great im-
portance that language programs be based in the family and the community. But,
while the home and the community remain the most crucial domains for language
use and transmission, schools can play an important role as an additional place
where languages are used and shown to be valued. As a controlled environment
they can target particular languages for support, which is especially important for
situations such as that of Anmatyerre, as discussed in Section 2.2.1, where an Indi-
genous common language (in this case, Warlpiri) may be starting to displace the
local language. A number of states have developed programs that give traditional
languages a place in schools; an important example is the development of the
document Framework for the teaching of Aboriginal languages in primary schools
(1992), which was implemented across Western Australia, and the more recent
accreditation in that state of traditional (Aboriginal) language courses at secondary
level (School Curriculum and Standards Authority 2013). All education systems in
Australia now have substantial support to make this possible in the Framework for
Aboriginal Languages and Torres Strait Islander Languages, being developed by
ACARA (the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority) as part of
the Australian Curriculum.
26
This framework has been designed as a very broad
approach that supports the development of language-specific curricula to target
any Australian language, across three learner pathways:
25
A detailed, if now somewhat dated, overview of the place of traditional languages in Australian
schools can be found in Purdie et al. 2008.
26
Detailed information is available at the ACARA website (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and
Reporting Authority 2013b).
53
NILS2 REPORT
First Language Learner Pathway:
for students whose first language is an Aus-
tralian language
Revival Language Learner Pathway:
for students learning Australian languages
which are in various stages of recovery and revitalisation (sometimes referred
to as ‘sleeping languages’)
Second Language Learner Pathway:
for students learning an Australian language
as a second language.
Each pathway has distinctive elements and approaches. For example, for lan-
guages which are still being passed on to children, the best approach—adopted
in the framework’s First Language Learner Pathway—is for children to complete
the crucial early years of education in their own, first language, while also being
taught English (using an English as a Second Language approach).
27
Once the early
education is completed and the students’ English skills are at the appropriate level,
it is possible to transition to English as the medium of instruction.28
Recommendation 16
All education systems should work together with Indigen-
ous communities to implement traditional language classes in schools, and
schools should work with local Indigenous groups and communities to develop
appropriate ways to give recognition to the languages of their region.
Similar recommendations are found in NILS1 (AIATSIS/FATSIL 2005, Recom-
mendations 5, 8, 10 & 49) and supported by Our land, our languages (HORSCATSIA
2012, Recommendation 11).
6.2.6 Recently developed Indigenous languages
The NILS2 project found a variety of opinions about recently developed Indigenous
languages among the survey respondents. Although the survey responses indicate
that these recently developed Indigenous languages, such as Kriol, Yumplatok and
Aboriginal English, do not seem to have the same kind of emotional, spiritual and
wellbeing-promoting impact as traditional languages, they are widely spoken by
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (especially children) as first languages.
Speakers of Kriol, Yumplatok and other new languages must receive the necessary
support to ensure they are fully able to participate in Australian society, programs
and services. It is crucial that education departments, health bodies, government
agencies generally, and so on, are aware of this and implement appropriate meas-
ures in their dealings with Indigenous people. To be specific, this includes (but
is not limited to) the provision of: interpreter/translator services; appropriate
education in the first language (i.e. bilingual education); health services; legal ser-
vices; and effective education to ensure all children acquire a sound proficiency in
Standard Australian English.
27
Simpson, Caffery and McConvell (2009) provide an important discussion of this approach and
its implementation in the Northern Territory.
28
Research indicates the best time for this transition is around the end of primary school (Ouane
and Glanz 2010).
54
Chapter 6. Key findings, discussion and recommendations
Recommendation 17
Speakers of recently developed Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander languages such as Kriol, Yumplatok and Aboriginal English should be
given appropriate support, including interpreter/translator services and first-
language education (bilingual education).
These languages should also be acknowledged by the general public. A common
misunderstanding is that creoles (and other new varieties) are ‘bad English’. This
is not correct; although they can sound like a kind of English, creoles are in fact
distinct languages and English speakers cannot understand them without learning
them, just as with any other language. Aboriginal English is also frequently said,
wrongly, to be ‘bad English’; it is actually a variety of English that differs from
Standard Australian English. As a language spoken across numerous different
geographical, social and cultural domains, English has many varieties, such as
Yorkshire English, American English, Irish English, and many more: Aboriginal
English is one of them. Speakers of recently developed Indigenous languages
should not be regarded as being unable to speak ‘proper’ English or as uneducated.
6.3 Coordination
6.3.1 A national approach
The results of the NILS2 project highlight the need for recognition, funding, training
opportunities and access to language resources. But the maximum benefit both for
languages and the people involved with them will only come if language work em-
ploys the coordinated approach advocated in the National Indigenous Languages
Policy (Office for the Arts 2009). The NILS1 report recommended the establishment
of a national Indigenous languages centre for this purpose and outlines the possible
functions of such a centre (AIATSIS/FATSIL 2005, Recommendation 4). Currently,
language activities are most often conducted independently of one another, and,
although forums such as Puliima offer space to share experiences and exchange
information among people who work on language activities, there is still a lack of
coordination between language activities. Similar activities could be taking place or
might have taken place in different parts of Australia without those involved knowl-
ing of each other’s activity. Indeed, there is no register of language activities, and it
was difficult to identify those who ran or are currently running language activities
for participation in the Language Activity Survey. There is a great need for strategies
that enable people working on languages to share their experiences and learn from
each other, to minimise the duplication of work, especially when funding for lan-
guage work is limited. In recent years, the advancement of new technology has
allowed people to share platforms for language resources, but technology-based
language resources are only one aspect of language work.
A national approach does not necessarily require the establishment of a new
national body. Certainly Our land, our languages does not support the idea of
establishing a new body (HORSCATSIA 2012, p. 198). However, a coordinating
55
NILS2 REPORT
role could be undertaken by an existing organisation or organisations. There are
several organisations that could be considered for this role, such as the Ministry
for the Arts or the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples. AIATSIS too is an
organisation with the potential to undertake this coordinating role, working closely
with the government, language organisations and the academic community, as it
is Australias premier archive for Indigenous language material, with connections
to Indigenous communities and language organisations, as well as the academic
community.
6.3.2 Tiers of language work
The NILS2 surveys, as well as experience from current practice, demonstrate the
value of the coordinated approach described above. Under this approach there is
a need for different tiers of language organisations. There should be three such
tiers, as outlined in the NILS1 report: community language teams (AIATSIS/FATSIL
2005, Recommendation 2), regional language centres (Recommendation 3), and
state/territory language centres (Recommendation 5), with each tier supporting
the next.
Community language teams would be responsible for on-the-ground language
activities and resource development for the traditional languages of the community.
They should have at least one language worker working with linguists and senior
language workers who are based at regional language centres. Those linguists and
senior language workers at the regional language centres would provide on-the-job
training to community-based language workers, as well as assisting their language
work and offering professional support.
State/territory language centres would deal with state-level issues—for example,
implementation of the Australian Curriculum–Languages—and would assist the
regional language centres and community language teams with developing ap-
propriate curriculum materials. They would also coordinate state/territory-level
training and networking and would collate reports and information from the more
local levels in order to monitor the state of traditional languages, enabling a de-
centralised, locally based approach to this activity (see Section 6.4 on the future of
language status surveys).
Currently, there are several regional language centres across Australia and only
one state language centre, in Victoria. None of these have ongoing funding. The
roles of these different levels of language organisations need to be further defined,
together with their relationship to each other.
Recommendation 18
The Australian Government should commission a project
to develop a model for a coordinated approach to language work and a funding
mechanism that supports this model.
This work would require the involvement of state governments and existing
regional and state language centres.
56
Chapter 6. Key findings, discussion and recommendations
6.4 Future surveys
The NILS2 project collected three types of information about Australian languages—
language status, language activities and people’s thoughts about Australian
languages—with a hope that these types of information would help communities
and governments to make future plans that support Australian languages. The
results and outcome of the two surveys—the Language Attitude Survey and the
Language Activity Survey:
1.
identified the reasons why traditional languages are important to Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander people and, in turn, why there need to be more
resources and action in order to strengthen or keep traditional languages
strong. The results also show that recently developed Indigenous languages
now have a strong presence and role among Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander people and they need to be supported
2. called for more research on language activities (Recommendation 2)
3.
revealed that collecting information about language situations was, as expec-
ted, very difficult.
The question now is whether there should be more surveys of Australian lan-
guages. It does not seem to be necessary to conduct another survey like the
Language Attitude Survey, at least in the near future—it seems unlikely that people’s
view’s about traditional languages, if not recently developed Indigenous languages,
will change in the near future. A new survey of language situations also does not
seem to be necessary or beneficial from the point of view of work on individual
languages.
Many of the Language Activity Survey respondents found it difficult to answer
questions about speaker numbers, proficiency levels and frequency of language use.
This does not mean that they have no idea about the situation of their languages;
they probably have a general understanding about their language situation, but not
detailed statistics. It seems this is because detailed statistical information about the
language situation is not essential for the planning and delivery of their language
work. It could be more useful to know what others are doing and how, and what
kind of language work is suitable for their situation (again, see Recommendation 2,
a study of different types of language activities).
Policy makers may have a different view on this; in order to allocate funding and
resources to Australian languages, they possibly need to have a good understanding
of the overall situation of Australian languages, as well as each individual language.
Those who do research on Australian languages may also be interested in such
information, especially to identify which languages require urgent documenta-
tion. Thus, there may be discord between community interests and other parties’
interests in terms of the need for a survey on language situations.
If a survey of language situations has to take place, a standard measurement
for language vitality needs to be established first. The NILS2 project and its pre-
decessor, the NILS1 project, took a similar approach to language proficiency and
57
NILS2 REPORT
use but did not use the same measurements. Both projects had questions about
speaker fluency and frequency of language use in different age groups. But the
descriptions of proficiency levels and frequency used in the two projects were not
the same. The NILS2 project endeavoured to be clearer and more specific than
NILS1. The measurement employed by the NILS2 project should be reviewed, with
any necessary improvements made, and used as a standard measurement tool
for surveys of language vitality in Australia.
29
Such a tool could also be used in
reports on language projects (see below), and be promoted among linguists for use
in presenting language vitality information in their publications.
The NILS2 survey data, like the NILS1 survey data, was dependent on the
views of a limited number of people. It is extremely difficult for any individual to
accurately assess how many language speakers there are, what age groups they
belong to and what their proficiency levels are. If the government is to collect more
accurate information, it is necessary to allocate sufficient resources. It appears
that collection of accurate information can only be done by having all Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander people conduct an assessment of their own language
proficiency and use. The most plausible instrument for this would appear to be the
census. Conducting a separate survey of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
individuals would probably be even more costly than adding a few questions to
the census, and it would also first require locating all Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander individuals. Questions in the census could be formulated based on the
standard measurement developed as above. A similar recommendation was made
in the NILS1 report (AIATSIS/FATSIL 2005, Recommendation 24).
Even with a standard measurement it is difficult to ensure that all individuals
understand it and answer census questions accordingly. As a result, the census
information will have limited accuracy, as well as only being collected at five-year
intervals. So, while census information would be valuable, similar information
should also be collected through another avenue, especially through funding pro-
grams. For example, the application form for funding through the ILS program
could contain questions about the number of speakers, speakers’ proficiency levels,
and frequency of language use in different age groups. Successful applicants could
answer the same questions at the end of their funded project so that any change in
language vitality could become evident. This would also obviate the need for the
Ministry for the Arts to fund survey projects, with more money going to community-
based language programs.
Of course, answering these questions on language vitality for the whole pop-
ulation of a particular language group is a difficult task, but at least when the
information is compiled by the same organisation each time (NILS1 and NILS2
respondents were not necessarily the same organisations or individuals), one that
is working with the language over a period of time, the data collected in the reports
is comparable.
29
UNESCO (2003) proposes additional metrics to assess language vitality, however, they do not
propose any methodology for their application.
58
Chapter 6. Key findings, discussion and recommendations
Here, however, one should remember that rapid increases in the number of
speakers or rapid improvements in proficiency level cannot be expected, and a
lack of increase between reports should not be taken as a failure of the activity.
As mentioned above, language learning takes time, so it may be years before any
increase or improvement takes place. This understanding should be made clear to
funded bodies to reduce any concerns they might have about unrealistic expecta-
tions for rapid results. It also needs to be emphasised that not all language activities
are about increasing speaker numbers, so other assessment measures should be
developed and employed to assess outcomes of a language activity particular to its
goals. Some goals may not be easily measurable or may take a long time to achieve,
such as increased awareness among community members or the general public
and improved wellbeing of community people.
In summary, if it is essential for the Australian Government to conduct a sur-
vey of language situations, the Australian Government should fund a project that
reviews the NILS2 language proficiency and use measurement and develops a
standard measurement. This should be employed by the census and the census
should contain appropriate questions about language proficiency and use. The
Ministry for the Arts and any other funding providers for language programs should
also employ this measurement and require its use in reporting of funded projects.
Further, more importantly, more research on language activities would be beneficial
for community.
59
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