How indigenous conceptions shape the work: The case of the Miromaa Aboriginal Language and Technology Centre

McKenny, Daryn
Genetti, Carol
Chacon, Thiago
McKenny, Daryn
Genetti, Carol
Chacon, Thiago
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This paper presents a case study of the Miromaa Aboriginal Language and Technology Centre in Australia. MALTC is special in two ways: (1) it has been entirely independent and indigenous-run from the time of its conception; and (2) its work has involved the reclamation of a language that was not spoken for more than a century. The paper explores how MALTC sees language and culture as inseparable and tightly linked to identity, and how this vision has been at the heart of the centre's work, shaping its goals, methods, and outputs. First, we discuss MALTC's Wildlife Dictionary, which relates to the centre's lexicographic work. Here the primary focus has been on uncovering the knowledge systems and cultural practices that are seen as the definition of words. Wildlife was chosen as the primary topic for a thematic dictionary because it relates to the creation of the world, to the very essence of a land, and to the identity of individuals as they pass through different phases of their lives. Second, we explore the centre's focus on developing technologies to support their language and cultural work, as embodied in the Miromaa software and in Puliima, an indigenous language and technology forum, organized by MALTC. Unlike traditional language materials, new and powerful information technology allows the sort of multimedia and multiplatform approaches capable of creating resources that do justice to complex aboriginal conceptions of language, as well as making the work more engaging, practical and effective. Third, we will discuss the MALTC’s work with heritage artifacts, specifically the traditional Possum Skin Cloak, which is made from a series of panels containing symbols with great significance to aboriginal communities and to the lives of the individuals who wear them. The process of translation and exploration of semantic connotation provides access to previously unknown symbolic meanings, hence to the uncovering and creation of knowledge and a deepening of culture. Thus the language is not seen as the end point of language documentation and reclamation, but as a path to something broader, including cultural understanding, the enhancement of community knowledge, and identity. This paper illustrates how indigenous conceptions and ideologies can lead to choices of activities and methods of LDC that are distinct from those determined by academic linguists. Language centres, in being locally grounded, tied to community, and focused on strengthening languages, are in a unique position to present alternative models of LDC work.
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