We’ve just had a new article published which shows how materials from the Living Archive can be used in all learning areas of the Australian Curriculum. It addresses the cross-curriculum priority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, which need to be incorporated in all subjects according to the Australian Curriculum.
The article is open access, and free to download here.
We’ll soon create a space on this site where teachers can select their learning area and find examples that can be used, or ideas of what materials to look for.
Bow, C. (2016). Using authentic language resources to incorporate Indigenous knowledges across the Australian Curriculum. Learning Communities: International Journal of Learning in Social Contexts [Special Issue: New Connections in Education Research], 20, 20-39. DOI: http://doi.org/10.18793/LCJ2016.20.03.
The promotion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures as a cross-curriculum priority in the new Australian Curriculum provides both a challenge and an opportunity for teachers and teacher educators. The Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages contains authentic language materials which can assist in resourcing and supporting teachers to meet this challenge across all areas of the curriculum, and to encourage connections with Indigenous cultural authorities.
We heard presentations from a number of CoEDL researchers, including work on individual differences in language development, the role of symbolic play in language acquisition, some research into first language acquisition in Papua New Guinea, and the role of prosody and other phonological features in language acquisition in Malay and Barunga Kriol. We heard about projects in communities such as Wadeye and Kukatja where English is not spoken much outside the classroom, and in communities such as Jilkminggan and Gunnedah where traditional languages are no longer strong. We explored some of the challenges inherent in language revival programs, the role of Indigenous language in the Maths classroom, the effects of otitis media on Indigenous children’s language acquisition, how print literacy may impact learning Standard Australian English, the impact on children in remote Indigenous communities of NAPLAN testing and English language assessment more generally, and the ‘affordances’ of language programs in the context of the Australian Curriculum. It was also interesting to hear about some contexts that don’t neatly fit into general approaches to language acquisition, such as the complex linguistic ecology of communities where neither Standard English nor traditional languages are spoken or taught, and what that means for contact languages such as Kriol, and literacy practices outside of the school in endangered language communities.
A public event gave opportunities to share about wonderful work on the Warlpiri theme cycle and the investments in education made in Warlpiri communities, then discussion and demonstration of some language apps for Indigenous languages. These included community involvement in the development of Memrise for languages of Tennant Creek, and making short videos using Powtoon for Gamilaraay, some other potentially useful game apps, innovative means of testing phonological awareness in Yolngu Matha, and the incredible work that’s gone into the creation of the world’s first Australian indigenous language app Tjinari in Ngaanyatjarra.
The final afternoon was spent brainstorming the issues raised throughout the previous day and a half, focusing on:
where we want education of Indigenous children to be in five years time;
how does our existing research fit into that
how can we engage with, learn from, and work more closely with policy makers, teachers, principals and other education workers about what research is needed
how can our research contribute to teacher professional development
how can this research be translated and impact on those who
implement policy, i.e. teachers and principals
CoEDL has a wealth of experience in its researchers and projects, and can play an important role in this space. It was great to network with so many keen and interesting researchers, and we look forward to seeing where this discussion takes us next.
Academic linguist Dr David Wilkins from ANU shares his reflections and experience using the Living Archive.
I can’t express effusively enough how wonderful (and important) I think the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages is. It’s been amazing to see new life breathed into materials I had thought were lost in the mists of time. I know at least one Arrernte woman who was very moved to find that some of her past work was now publicly available on the web. Moreover, I have found it to be an extremely useful research tool.
The reproduction of the materials in both original (pdf) and text format has made it very amenable to comparative linguistic research through the search function. As a simple example, I used LAAL to explore uses of the “pan-Australian” exclamation /yakay/ ‘wow!; ouch!; hey!; oh no!’ (and its variant spellings) and found data from languages as different as Anindilyakwa, Arrernte (Eastern and Western), Djambarrpuyngu, Gumatj, Murrinh-Patha, Pintupi-Luritja, Tiwi, Warlpiri and Wubuy. At least one of these languages had no entry in the available (and extensive) dictionary and grammar, but did have numerous text examples in readers that were only discoverable through LAAL. Also, where /yakay/ was recorded in a grammar or dictionary, it was commonly the case that no examples of use were given – and, once again, LAAL came to the rescue. The availability of the pdf version means we can also get a much better contextual understanding of the use of the interjection because of accompanying pictures or illustrations. Further, in several cases /yakay/ is used in a speech bubble in a picture or photo, thereby making it clear what accompanying bodily and facial expressions co-occur with the use of the exclamation. I understand this is a simple, and perhaps minor, example of how LAAL can be used, but it should suffice to indicate the archive’s rich potential.
I also believe that the numerous books where the author has also illustrated their own work can provide important evidence on issues which are relevant to linguistics, social semiotics and cognitive science, since the two perspectives (linguistic and visual / pictorial) allow researchers to explore similarities and differences in how information is represented in the drawing vs. how it is represented in language. In other words, it is not just a language archive, it is a multimodal archive that demonstrates, among other things, a nice range of local artistic representational talents and choices.
Finally, I applaud the attempts that have been made to expand the usefulness of materials for schools and communities through initiatives like the Living Archive’s Digital Story Competition. It was great to be able to hear and see stories that had previously only had a ‘print’ presence. It would be nice to see further similar initiatives.
I only have one current suggestion for improving the usefulness of the archive – fuzzy string searching (approximate string matching). This would help both community members and researchers alike: given the variability in orthographies and spellings even in one language, it can be hard to find exactly the items one is searching for.
All this is simply to say congratulations to the members of the LAAL development team.
David P. Wilkins, PhD Research Associate ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language Australian National University and Language and Linguistics Consulting
The Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language held a workshop in Melbourne last week to “develop accessible corpora from lesser-described languages for new ways of empirical research on diverse languages.” Many language documentation projects collect a range of texts (both audio and written) which can be collated into a corpus for various different types of research. Having these resources available in appropriate formats makes it easier to do research, both within a particular language and across different languages.
After a plenary by Ulrike Mosel from the University of Kiel, a number of different researchers spoke about their own corpora – including some of the challenges and opportunities presented by their collections. Michael Christie spoke of the growing collection of texts by Yolŋu researchers on topics such as housing, gambling, education, etc., created through the Yolŋu Aboriginal Consultants Initiative, the Yolŋu Studies program (both at CDU), and many other research projects. He commented on the depth of knowledge available in Yolŋu Matha texts, and the opportunities for Yolŋu themselves to explore and expand these.
It was gratifying to hear a number of presenters refer to the Living Archive as a source of material for various language corpora, and Greg Dickson also described a small experiment he did creating a small corpus of Kriol texts from LAAL and using a corpus linguistics tool called AntConc to do some simple analysis.
Having been mentioned several times on the first day, the Living Archive was officially presented on the second day of the conference, with one attendee describing it as “magnificent”, and some suggestions about how to handle materials for which we haven’t yet got signed permission. We are already sharing LAAL resources with some other researchers who are developing a corpus of Warlpiri materials, and are happy to share ideas and resources with others.
This was a good opportunity to connect with others collecting materials in languages for which there may not be much material available, and to discuss the best ways to keep the materials safe, best practice for metadata, as well as what kinds of access conditions are most appropriate. We look forward to the next steps so we can ‘shepherd’ these materials into useful resources for research and reuse.
Jayshree Mamtora, the Research Services Coordinator from Charles Darwin University Library shares her experience presenting about the Living Archive project at a national library conference last month.
VALA 2016 Conference
In February, I had the opportunity to attend the VALA 2016 Conference and present a paper, Preserving the living archive of Indigenous material, jointly written with Neil Godfrey, CDU Library’s Digital Collections Coordinator, and Cathy Bow, LAAL Project Manager. The VALA Conference is a major Australian library conference held biennially at the Melbourne Convention Centre, and this year attracted 1300 delegates.
Our paper primarily focussed on the contribution of the CDU Library to the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages project. The Library was responsible for setting up a digitisation program to preserve the language materials, establishing, hosting and maintaining the digital repository, and developing a web application to make it more easily accessible. As such, the Library played a key role in facilitating both Indigenous community engagement and international linguistic research with these Indigenous language materials.
My presentation generated a number of interesting questions at the end – about the range and types of materials in the collection, how the material was collected, and the future of the archive. The presentation also generated some very positive tweets:
The tweeter who said “what a jewel this archive is” was actually brought to tears by the presentation. Kris Wehipeihana, the President of LIANZA (Library and Information of New Zealand Aotearoa), was very moved by the work that had been done in the setting up of the Archive, from her experience with Maori language and culture.
This was a fantastic opportunity to hear from a wide range of people working in the endangered languages field, with a focus on enriching theory, practice and application. This meant that most presentations had real-world applications, particularly reporting on specific projects or tools, sharing ideas about what works and doesn’t in specific contexts. There were a few sessions directly relating to archiving endangered language materials, and lots of discussion about issues that concern our project, such as ownership and copyright.
I made some good connections with other practitioners, and picked up some nuggets that will help our project. For example my conversation with an SIL representative gave me some useful ideas about how to request changes to the ISO 639-3 codes for Yolngu languages. Hearing from MPI about their process of shifting The Language Archive to a new open source repository solution is helpful to our library staff who are considering future changes along these lines. Another colleague had suggestions about displaying special characters in certain online contexts. I was also challenged to think about the pedagogical affordances of our archive, ie how accessible and useful the materials are for people learning Indigenous NT languages.
It was good to see so many Indigenous people in attendance, many First Nations people from Canada and the US (particularly Hawai’i and Alaska), many of whom are doing really interesting things with language revitalisation. And the Australian contingent was strong, with an entire morning session dedicated to “Language Pedagogy and Practice in Indigenous Australia” run by the team from the Research Unit for Indigenous Language, and a really challenging presentation about issues in Australian language revitalisation from John Hobson of the University of Sydney.
I was able to demonstrate the Living Archive site at an e-poster session, among a dozen other demonstrations. Here I was able to share with interested people about the work we’re doing, and promote the project to the wider language documentation community. I had a few queries about sharing our open-source infrastructure with other communities, and lots of brochures were distributed.
Besides Hawai’i being a fantastic location for a conference, the event itself was incredibly well-organised and worthwhile. I look forward to building on some of the connections I made and developing some ideas to benefit the project.
In the beautiful Birabahn building at the University of Newcastle, around 40 people gathered to discuss how Universities can help in the learning of Indigenous languages. Following a warm welcome to Awabukal country, and an overview and a few presentations about the current situation, the challenges and opportunities, a series of speed presentations reported on courses currently available through Australian universities. These include
Michael Christie also spoke of the possibility of producing small online courses (‘mini-MOOCs’) under the authority of language owners, using materials already available through the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages. Other sessions focused on language programs being developed and delivered in language centres, such as the Muurrbay Aboriginal Language & Culture Cooperative, and collaboration between a local language community and the University of Western Sydney College
There was some discussion of qualifications and training for people wanting to teach their languages, such as the University of Sydney’s Masters of Indigenous Language Education, and the development of a new Bachelor of Education (Aboriginal) which will require students to learn an Indigenous language. There was also discussion about ways of linking University studies to the needs of communities, such as ‘translating’ complex linguistic explanations into simple language, and opportunities for students and others to engage with language materials, such as through the State Library of NSW or the Living Archive project. First Languages Australia are developing a framework for teaching and learning Aboriginal languages, which is open for consultation.
Some of the issues raised during the day included
the need for training for elders to teach their languages and share their knowledge
concerns about low rates of pay for language teachers
the lack of recognition of the knowledge of the elders in university courses
the need for pathways to allow students to study a language from primary to tertiary level
need to increase opportunity and access to existing courses (eg through cross-institutional credit)
need to network more with people involved in teaching Indigenous languages
bureaucratic barriers such as funding, red tape issues at institutional level
Some of the principles that emerged from the day’s discussion were that all Indigenous language courses need to
develop useful outputs
include skills transfer
promote Aboriginal cultural values
The discussion continues about the role of academic linguists and community linguists in meeting the needs and overcoming the barriers.
The archive of materials in Aboriginal languages at laalanguages.cdu.edu.au is living and growing, with more than 1000 items in over 25 languages from around the Northern Territory. Hundreds more items are still being discovered and processed, to be uploaded when permission from the creators is obtained.
One of the four strands of Stage II of this ARC-funded project is designated ‘Academic Engagement’. The goal is to establish a network of academics involved in teaching and researching Australian languages, to facilitate research which involves collaborations with language owners through the archive in undergraduate teaching and postgraduate research.
Types of academic engagement may include
Using texts (and related resources) from the Living Archive in teaching and research work.
Enriching existing texts with translations, enhanced metadata, audio resources, commentaries etc to be uploaded as ‘related items’
Engagement with text and language owners for further research (including the upskilling and professionalisation of language authorities)
Documenting uses of the resources in various contexts
Building language-specific and text-specific lexicons, mini-grammars, etc
Deriving corpora for analysis
Uploading new texts and resources
Proposing alterations and corrections for existing resources
We are looking for expressions of interest for a linguist / researcher to facilitate academic engagement. Possible tasks may include the following:
Bring together a network of academic linguists (including possibly internationally) interested in using the Living Archive for teaching or research
Audit degrees and courses which could possibly engage with (or contribute) texts and collaborate with their owners
Develop an audit of texts in (NT) Aboriginal languages in PhD theses and other research projects which could be included in the archive, and people to contact for permission.
Locate texts in other archives which could be shared with the Living Archive and vice versa.
Work with the Living Archive team to strategise and implement a permissions process including ways of identifying the creators and owners of materials who might be contacted for permission
This work may be done as a consultancy or part of a research project, or other arrangements can be negotiated.
Please contact us for more information or to express your interest in being involved.
Rumour has it that the Northern Territory Government is proposing to scrap the one remaining linguist position in the southern part of the Northern Territory. This position has been going since the mid 1970s, and the occupants have worked with Indigenous people and schools to create shared understandings of Indigenous languages, of the needs of school-children for understanding what happens in the classroom, of the needs of Indigenous teachers for support and training. They have produced amazing materials in Indigenous languages for classrooms, curriculum materials and reference documentation, some of which is archived and available in the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages.
Rumour also has it that the reason for scrapping the position is because there is “no need for any linguistic expertise in Central Australia and the Barkly schools”.
But rumour doesn’t have it that the kids have all staged a revolution and started speaking Standard English.
Nor has rumour passed on in whispers evidence that their NAPLAN results have suddenly reached those of middle-class Australian non-Aboriginal children. Nor that their results will get better if their teachers know less about their languages.
And fact, not rumour, indicates that wilful blindness to children’s language needs violates the language rights of indigenous peoples – see the UN’s declaration on the rights of Indigenous people. Articles 14 and 15 are fine statements of language rights, and of the need for states to provide resources to back up the rights.
If rumour is right, then Indigenous children in the Northern Territory are losers again.
Article 15 Indigenous children have the right to all levels and forms of education of the State. All indigenous peoples also have this right and the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning. Indigenous children living outside their communities have the right to be provided access to education in their own culture and language. States shall take effective measures to provide appropriate resources for these purposes.
Promising “a new approach to engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to achieve real results”, the top priorities of the Australian Government’s new Indigenous Advancement Strategy are “getting children to school, adults into work and building safe communities”.
Based on 40 years of experience in Top End education, I’d argue that if you can get the schooling right – which involves adults just as much as kids – you can lay the foundations for more adults in work and safer communities too.
“Free, compulsory and secular” education took a long time to establish for Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory.
I arrived at Milingimbi in the early 1970s as one of the first government educators, soon after the good-willed but under-funded Methodists had handed over their mission schools to the Northern Territory Administration Aboriginal Welfare Branch. There, the parents asked me why, if education were so important, it was visited upon children rather than adults.
I had learnt in my now radical-seeming teacher education in New Zealand the stories of how formal, universal education had served to keep poor children off the streets while their parents worked in the factories of the industrial revolution, and how it prepared the children for the same menial repetitive work in confined spaces for extended periods (the rich already had their schools).
Yet at Milingimbi in the 1970s, there remained a vibrant Methodist tradition of adult education, and plenty of interaction between the school and adult education staff and students. Every classroom had at least one local Aboriginal teacher, and there was often a grandfather outside under a tree singing or a mother telling stories.
Operating without carrots or sticks for attendance, the school had a central place in the life of the community, and we spent much time on country. We learnt from the elders that each child in school was unique to his or her particular links to history, people and place, and that we needed to understand and acknowledge those differences.
Today, times have changed. Under the pressures of “normalisation”, people everywhere are paying attention to NAPLAN test results. They are particularly poor for Aboriginal children in remote communities who grow up with little English around them, and who come to school whenever it pleases, truancy officers notwithstanding.
Communities and governments alike are looking for new and different ways to work collaboratively towards “Indigenous Advancement”.
If I were asked for ideas that could “achieve real results” – in remote Indigenous education – the following two would be at the top of my list.
Adults are as important as the kids
School can be an alienating experience when there are no senior family members around and no teachers speaking familiar languages. And the ancient practice of growing up children as independent agents in their environment, free of coercion, is still very strong in remote communities.
Parents would love to see their kids in school every day, but only if their kids choose to be there. The kids will choose to be there if they can see their families and clan elders working together with teachers and community leaders to make active contributions to their schooling and their futures.
Finding good ways of welcoming parents and elders – including their languages and authority – back into schools would do wonders for the NAPLAN results, if only because of improved attendance rates and the commitment of parents to a collaborative working together.
Practical benefits of tapping into local knowledge
We must also think about the new generation and its contribution to our future. The emphasis on English and maths results above all else means kids are assessed well before they are confident in the richness of their local identities and connections.
There is so much knowledge – including local languages, history, culture, environmental and ecological knowledge – that is there, waiting to be tapped into and reappear in classroom life, just as that knowledge was shared very productively in the past.
If Aboriginal families and their knowledge were taken seriously in schools, alongside the important knowledge from the outside world, it would not only revive the attendance rates but also prepare students to take part in the changing remote economies.
This isn’t just wishful thinking. If we want Aboriginal people to take an active and productive part in the future of remote Australia, a combination of traditional Aboriginal and contemporary Australian knowledge is very much what we need.