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Language revitalisation at Ngukurr - one tack worked partway, time to change tack?

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Title:Language revitalisation at Ngukurr - one tack worked partway, time to change tack?
Authors:Sharpe, Margaret
Contributors:Sharpe, Margaret (speaker)
Date Issued:14 Mar 2009
Description:Ngukurr township (N.T. Australia) evolved from an Anglican mission started in 1908, after many Aborigines of the area had been killed. As a result of massacres, work on cattle stations, and mission policy, the survivors began to abandon traditional languages for a pidgin which evolved to the Kriol language of today. Although most of its vocabulary is clearly derived from English, Kriol, evolving in contact with traditional languages, has phonology, grammar and semantics derived from them. Some languages were going out of use before linguistic researchers focussed on them, but good accounts of the languages were produced, as well as many audio recordings of texts. Over the last ten years and with the help of linguists from the Diwurruwurru-Jaru Aboriginal Corporation, seven of these languages have been taught in the schools: five at Ngukurr, and one each at Urapunga and Minyerri. One language taught at Ngukurr is still spoken regularly in other communities; two others less so, but none are in common use at Ngukurr, though Alawa is heard at Minyerri. Despite valiant attempts by a succession of Ngukurr linguists resident at Ngukurr to train those prepared to teach language, the teaching by language teachers rarely progresses beyond teaching words and a few songs sung to well known tunes. Their classroom control language is mostly Kriol. What is more, it cannot be guaranteed from week to week which teachers covering which languages will be available to teach. Add on top of this a change in school organisation, a small cut in the time available, little awareness of clock time for changing from one class to another, and lameness of older language teachers. The longstanding method of teaching has reached its limit in effectiveness. It is arguable that the school should be bilingual in Kriol and English, and that traditional languages should be introduced later, but the language teachers will not agree. Despite their everyday use of Kriol, they only see their traditional languages as the ones that should be taught. From the third term of the 2008 school year, the school is working to have about three Language and Culture Days each term, dropping the preceding type of language teaching. The focus is on culture, with language introduced as relevant to the particular cultural matters being taught. The initial such day was recognised as a success, involving not only language teachers, but the whole school staff, white and indigenous.
Rights:Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections: 1st International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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