December 19, 2008

A few more links

It's my last day at work before my Christmas break and I feel slack. If you want something to procrastinate, here are some things to look at (thanks to Claire for these links):

AIATSIS has launched 'AUSTLANG' - a comprehensive database with every Aboriginal and TSI Language. You can find out basic stuff like where each language is, how many speakers there are, how well it's been documented and by who etc. You can also update the info if you're a clever chicken with more info to add. Have a look at AUSTLANG.

Jangari is another clever chicken who has been involved in developing Aboriginal language applications for mobile phones. Having already starred on SBS news, he's now in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Good work.

Speaking of good work, the lobbying and awareness-raising about the effects of the awful four-hours-of-English-instruction-in-NT-schools policy is beginning to pay. The Education Minister has softened a little and is giving schools a year to 'transition' into the new policy. A good start, and good to feel like my efforts in lobbying and awareness-raising might have actually made a difference!

December 02, 2008

Bilingual Education debate hots up

The NT Stateline program on ABC did a segment on the bilingual education debate that is just getting hotter and hotter. The transcript is good reading.

I'm pleased to say that me and others who are supporting and raising awareness about bilingual education are being heard and maybe even making minor progress. However the Education Minister Marion Scrymgour is still being stubborn and choosing to ignore national and international research that supports bilingual education programs and choosing to deny the rights of remote Indigenous people to determine or influence their own education delivery in their own communities. Shame on her.

She doesn't seem to like me and fellow bilingual education supporters one bit. She's gone on the record saying we are misrepresenting her and off the record she calls us the 'bilingual mafia'. I prefer the term 'people that actually know something about bilingual education (even education in general?)'.

November 27, 2008

Facebook support from around the world for Bilingual Education in the NT

Last Tuesday, I heard that crack Helen Hughes talking rubbish on ABC radio about Indigenous Education. I got wild and channeled my energy by making a Facebook group called 'Supporters of Bilingual Education in the Northern Territory'.

9 days later, 1000 people have joined the group! I am quite amazed. Even better is that if you flick through the people that have joined the group, they are from all over the world - Scandinavia, South East Asia, America, Europe, South America, Middle East - I don't know how they came to join the group but I'm glad they have. It is very heartening to see the support, but at the same time disappointing that the NT Govt is out of step with so many others around the world that have no trouble accepting and using Bilingual Education as a good way to deliver education.

November 21, 2008

Words for 'language' in language - help needed!

Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education is putting together a poster to promote the Batchelor of Arts in Language and Linguistics degree. For the poster, they would like to have as many words for ‘language’ in Australian languages as possible. If you’re feeling generous and can think of some off the top of your head, your help would be appreciated.

Here’s what I know off the top of my head…

yang (Rembarrnga)
matha (Yolngu matha)
gun-wok (Mayali/Kunwinjku)
jaru (Ngarinyman)
liiny (Jaminjung)
nanggaya (Alawa)
daway (Marra)

Any additions appreciated!

November 18, 2008

Some real media exposure in favour of Bilingual Education

Last night Tom Calma gave a talk in Darwin. He clearly put his support behind communities who want bilingual education in their schools and raised questions about rights abuses if communities aren't allowed to continue bilingual education. Marion Scrymgour was there at the talk but is still standing by her awful new policy for 4-hours-of-English-instruction in all NT schools.

Today the story went to national media. Here's what The Age printed.

To any linguists reading this (and others), please do what you can to support the cause. Don't let bilingual education fall by the wayside and not say anything about it. Educate people that bilingual education is actually aimed at assisting English acquisition (among other things) and that remote Indigenous education is not just a case of more English=better outcomes. Write letters. Talk to your MPs. Especially federal. Comment on blogs and websites.

All help appreciated and needed! :-)

November 14, 2008

Crikey has picked up on the NT-Government-kills-off-bilingual-education issue. Check out the article by clicking here.

Note in the comments, the same old arguments keep resurfacing about 'they need English to be able to get on in the world'. From reading these comments and comments on other news forums, it seems that lots of people don't get the point of bilingual education. They seem to read 'bilingual' and think 'lack of English' or 'no English'. It is very frustrating that many people are simply overlooking the fact that 'bilingual' means two languages, and that one of the main goals of bilingual education is to improve English acquisition. Grrr... how frustrating... all you have to do is wikipedia 'bilingual education' and it's there plain as day what the point of it is and how good it can be.

November 12, 2008


When I'm not moaning about the latest government policy that will have yet another negative effect on remote Aboriginal Australia, I'm actually doing some work. This week I'm running a workshop for my Ngarinyman and Jaminjung students. These languages are endangered and spoken around the Timber Creek area. I've only got five students this week but they're all doing well and are keen. This week, I'm trying to make sure they know their alphabet well (as well as know what an alphabet is!). I'm making sure they can all read a decent amount of basic words. And I'm trying to make sure they know what nouns, verbs and affixes are. Some of the students have no trouble with this stuff but for some it's hard work. What's great is that they're all trying and they're all learning, slowly but surely.

And I'm enjoying learning a little bit more Jaminjung and Ngarinyman. Especially Jaminjung. I'd never really heard that language before this week. It's really different to any other language I've come across.

These are the nerdy things that linguists get off on - hearing new languages. woo!

November 06, 2008

Letter writing

Well I finally sent off my letters to a bunch of politicians about this new English teaching policy that pretty much excludes Indigenous languages and bilingual education. It's the first time I've had a go at writing letters to pollies - don't know if it has any effect, but I'm glad I did. I also had a little letter-to-the-ed published in the Katherine Times yesterday which is good. Here are the letters I sent to the pollies - it's in English and Kriol (what better way to make a statement about Indigenous languages and bilingual education than to make your statement bilingual!).

Ps. If anyone has any tips on better ways to get such messages to pollies, pls let me know.


Dear so-n-so,

The Northern Territory Minister for Education and Training, Marion Scrymgour, recently issued a directive that the first four hours of education in all NT schools will be conducted in English in an attempt to improve English
literacy outcomes in remote schoools. (Media release issued 14/10/08,

While I, like every other Territorian, wish to see dramatic improvements in English literacy levels in the bush, I am appalled by the method the Minister is employing to achieve this. It is misguided, ill-informed, rude and disrespectful. I want to highlight this issue with you in the hope that you can influence the Minister and the Northern Territory Government to reneg on this flawed decision.

Indigenous people, just like anyone, have the right to be educated in their own language if they desire. With the Minister's directive, she is taking away the basic right for Indigenous people across the Territory to speak, teach in, and learn in their own languages. Before lunch, that is. From the Yolngu to the Arrernte to the Tiwi to the Burarra to the Murrinh Patha to the Warlpiri to the Alyawarre and many more – I am deeply concerned for all Indigenous people who work in NT Schools and speak their own Indigenous language in NT Schools – those who use bilingual education to maintain their language and teach English, those who realise how fruitless it is to educate a 4-year old in a foreign language, the old men who go to school to teach their traditional dances and songs, the mums and grandparents who speak Language to their kids and grandkids in order to unravel the mysteries of Westerners and Western education, those who cry about the ongoing devastation of their language and culture and utilise their school to provide a balanced education to their own children via the myriad of Indigenous Language and Culture programs that exist in NT Schools.

I am a qualified linguist who lived in Ngukurr community for three years and have worked in language revitalisation in a number of other communities in the Katherine Region over the last six years and am a fluent speaker of an Indigenous language, Kriol, and partial speaker of a number of other Indigenous languages. I know first hand the benefit of delivering training and education in Aboriginal people's first language as I do it regularly and achieve results. Learning English and speaking an Indigenous language are not mutually exclusive. In fact, my personal experience tells me the opposite – I see how easy it is for Indigenous students to engage with education and training when I deliver it in their language, rather than a foreign language. It's a great way to teach and learn. Why is the NT Government denying Aboriginal people significant opportunities to learn and teach this way?

What does the Minister's directive mean for the Indigenous teachers working in remote schools? Will Indigenous teachers for forced to speak only English (until 12:30pm) to their own students who are their own kin in their own community school? Governments do not have the right to dictate to Indigenous people the language they must speak to their own people in their own school.

I am very concerned about the impact this policy will have for bilingual education in NT Schools. Since it's inception in the 1970s, bilingual education in NT Schools has brought an enormous amount of education, training, employment, resources, confidence and empowerment to Indigenous students and Indigenous teaching staff – is it now all over? What about the culture days run in numerous schools – Will the old men who go to schools to teach local songs and dances now have to teach in English or come back after lunch? This shows little respect. Do Aboriginal teaching assistants now have to just stand by in silence while they watch their kids struggle to understand their monolingual English-speaking teacher when some simple instructions in their own language will set off the lightbulbs required for kids to engage with their education? Will we now go back to the days when people are punished for speaking their language in schools? Will students who go on excursions to important cultural sites be forced to speak only English while on their own country (until 12:30pm)? The thought of these things happening in NT Schools makes me ashamed of the Territory and Federal Governments I voted for.

I urge you take action to redress this policy. It is morally reprehensible as it breaches the rights of minority groups to be educated in their own language and and is seriously misguided in terms of ESL education methodology. I would be happy to provide you with further information on these issues.

Ngulajuku (Warlpiri – that's all),
Bilinu, yakaŋunu dhärukmuru (Wägilak – that's all, no story now),
Bonj (Dalabon – that's all),
Jahbony (Ngalakgan – that's all),
Murru mandi (Alawa – finish now),
Guda mingi (Marra – finish now),
Jaldu na (Kriol – that's all now),
Marntaj (Gurindji – that's all),
Wiiya (Nunggubuyu – that's all),



Dear so-n-so,

Marion Scrymgour, im det Minista bla Education en Treining la Northern Territory, bin jendim mesij weya im tok 'ola skul titja langa NT garra tok onli
from Ingglish raitap dinataim' blanga trai en album ola sjuden la bush
bla len Ingglish mo beda. (Yu gin luk det stori la intanet la:

Wal mi, laik ebribodi iya la NT, wandim ola blekbala la bush komyunidi bla sabi Ingglish brabliwei bat mi brabli nogudbinji bla wijei det Minista regin im beswei bla alabat bla len Ingglish. Im rongwei en maiyul en nomo garrim eni rispek. Ai wandi dalim yu bla wanim im duwing dumaji maitbi yu gin duwum samting bal stabum det Minista from meigimbat rong.

Blekbala, seim laik munanga, garrim det 'right' blanga tjusim wijan langgus thei wandim bla alabat biginini education. Bat det mesij bla det Minista, im teikidawei det 'right' blanga blekbala ol oba dijan NT, bla tok, titj en len burrum alabat oun langgus. Bifo dina, ai min. Yolŋumob, Arrerntemob, Tiwimob, Burarramob, Murrinh-Pathamob, Alyawarremob – bigismob – ai fil sori bla ol detlot blekbala weya thei wek langa skul en sabi tok thei langgus. Detmob weya thei wek la 'bilingual' skul blanga meigim thei langgus strongwan en titjim det Ingglish gudwei. Detmob hu sabi im no yus titjing lilwanlilwan biginini burrum Ingglish wen im nomo sabi eni Ingglish. Detlot olmenolmen hu oldei gu la skul bla titjim bunggul. Detlot mami, gagu en abuji weya thei tok langgus langa bigininimob dumaji detlot biginini oldei bigis kwesjinmak la skul. Detlot pipul weya thei krai dumaji alabat langgus en kaltja guweiguwei en thei yusim alabat skul bla gibit alabat biginini tjens bla len tu wei garrim olkainaba langgus en kaltja lesin.

Mi linggwis en ai bin jidan la Ropa bla thri yiya en ai bin wek langa najalot komyunidi la Katherrain eriya bla langgus bla siks yiya en mi sabi tok Kriol en lilbit bla najalot blekbala langgus du. Ai sabi brabliwei det im gudwan wen yu titjim blekbala garrim alabat oun langgus dumaji ai oldei duwum lagijat na en im rait. Yu gin isi len Ingglish en tok langgus seimteim. Trubala, garrim main oun ai ai bin luk. Ai bin luk im isi bla blekbala bla len wen det titja im tok burrum alabat oun langgus en nomo det langgus burrum natha kantri. Im brabli gudwei bla titj en bla len. Wotfo det NT Gabmen kaan gibit blekbala tjens bla len lagijat?

Wanim det mesij from det Minista min blanga ola blekbala tijta langa bush skul? Maitbi im min blekbala tijtamob oni lau bla tok burrum Ingglish wen alabat tok la alabat oun femlimob la alabat oun skul. Gabmen mob nomo garrim eni 'right' bla dalim najamob blekbala wijan langgus thei lau bla tok la alabat oun pipul la alabat oun skul.

Mi brabli nogudbinji dumaji maitbi dijan garra binijimap ola bailingwul skul la NT o wanim? Ola treining, ejukeishin, bukmob, 'pride' en pawa diskain titjing bin gibit blekbala sjuden en titja. Im 'all for nothing' maitbi. Wanim bla ola kaltja dei yu faindim la lorra skul? Detlot olmen weya thei gu la skul bla bunggul – alabat garra tok burrum Ingglish o kambek aftanuntaim na maitbi. Nomo garrim eni rispek tharran jeya. Ola assistant titja mob – wanim alabat garra du na? Jidan kwait wen thei luk alabat biginini basbreins dumaji alabat titja tok oni from Ingglish. Alabat perensmob sabi if thei ekspleinimbat la biginini from langgus alabat garra sabi en len gudwei. Maitbi im garra bi seim laik oldeis wen munanga bin panishim blekbala ebritaim thei bin tok langgus la skul. Maitbi wen bigininimob gu la bush garrim skulmob bla luk kantri, alabat garra tok oni from Ingglish. Wen mi jinggibat im garra hepin lagijat, mi gulijap baku.

Ai askim yu bla duwum samting bla tjeinjim det Minista main. Im nogudbala ting en im teikidawei pawa from detlot pipul weya thei nomo garrim maj pawa bat thei wandim alabat langgus la alabat skul. Nathawei, im nogudwei bla titjim biginini Ingglish wen thei sabi tok oni alabat oun langgus. Bunju yu wandim, ai gin gibit yu lorra infameishin bla lenim yu bla diskain.

Ngulajuku (Warlpiri – jaldu na),
Bilinu, yakaŋunu dhärukmuru (Wägilak – Jaldu, no stori na),
Bonj (Dalabon – jaldu),
Jahbony (Ngalakgan – jaldu),
Murru mandi (Alawa – najing na),
Guda mingi (Marra – najing na),
Sincerely (Ingglish – jaldu na),
Marntaj (Gurindji – jaldu),
Wiiya (Nunggubuyu – jaldu),
Jaldu na,

November 04, 2008

Friends of Bilingual Learning

Earlier this eyar, an informal network sprung up in the Top End called 'Friends of Bilingual Learning'. This was thanks people who work for the excellent ARDS (Aboriginal Resource Development Services). Also related is Tim Trudgen's blog, found here. I like that the 'Friends of Bilingual Learning' group is about bilingual learning, not just bilingual education. In all my years at Ngukurr, I used the local lingua franca, Kriol, as much as possible while delivering on-the-job training to the language mob there. What better way to describe what orthography or transcription means than to give a Kriol definition!

So with the NT Govt's recent implicit attack on Bilingual Education, budding networks like Friends of Bilingual Learning have become rather relevant and important. They've started a Google group which I encourage anyone in the NT (or elsewhere) who is an active supporter of Bilingual education to join. If you join the group, you'll find a bunch of informative documents and letters to Marion Scrymgour that have sprung up as a result of her recent bright idea of having only English as the medium of instruction for the first four hours every day in all NT School. Check out Friends of Bilingual Learning on Google groups here.

October 29, 2008

What is bilingual education?

This thing that came from the Education Minister about having the first four hours of schooling delivered in English has got me really wound up. (Apologies to those who don't want to hear me go on about political stuff again, but I'm seriously on the bandwagon... I'll chill out one day). One thing that winds me up is that when most people hear the new policy they go 'oh great, of course that will improve English outcomes... why have we been stuffing around with Bilingual education'? Too many people I've spoken to over the past few days just haven't understood what the point of Bilingual education is. I've taken it for granted that people know what it is and what it's for. It's not about teaching Indigenous language at the expense of English.

A really nice summary of Bilingual Education is found on good old Wikipedia. If you or anyone you know doesn't quite know what Bilingual Education education is about, point them here. Just that simple explanation makes Marion Scrymgour's plan for improving litearcy outcomes look pedagogically flawed and misguided (not to mention just plain mean to those communities who have invested in their bilingual programs).

October 28, 2008

Bad and ridiculous news from the NT Minister for Education

Anyone involved in NT Education or Aboriginal languages has probably heard this already, but a couple of weeks ago the NT Minister for Education released this, which says that the first four hours of education in all NT Schools will be conducted in English.

Obviously this is bad news for any communities who want to maintain or revitalise their own Indigenous language in their own school (before lunch, that is). It is particularly appalling for all those involved in bilingual education - programs that help students engage with their education, including English, by delivering it in their first language (while they are young and haven't learned much English yet). The bilingual programs actually produce better-than-average results in terms of English literacy, especially when they're done well. So does the Minister invest in them further? No. It looks she wants to scrap the whole thing. How ridiculous to think that non-English speakers will learn English purely by immersion. If that was true, anyone who watches Home and Away every day should be fluent English speakers, but it's just not that easy. It helps greatly if someone explains things to you in your own language - especially when you're still learning... especially when you're, like, five.

What a joke.

I'm especially appalled because I firmly believe (as does the United Nations) that Indigenous people, just like anyone, have the right to be educated in their own language, if they choose. How dare the Minister take away this basic right and dictate that only English be spoken for the first four hours of delivery in ALL NT schools.

So yes, I'm appalled and disgusted. I'm drafting a letter to the Minister as are many others. I'll post more about it soon.

October 15, 2008

Indigenous TV back on line ... nearly

When they launched NITV (National Indigenous Television) a lot of people were happy but a loud minority were upset because it coincided with the end of years of ICTV (Indigenous Community Television) which did heaps of remote broadcasting, provided training and employment for community mob and provided heaps of broadcasting in Indigenous Languages. Here's a bit of discussion from last year about ICTV's closure.

So now we have NITV which is alright (the highlight is seeing familiar faces pop up regularly... especially good when it's 80s footage of ppl very close to you... hehehe), but NITV is very low on Indigenous language content, heavy on urban-based stuff and does little for remote Aboriginal Australia especially in terms of training and employment.

The good news is I was sent an email telling me that ICTV is online... or at least the radio part. Fingers crossed and there'll be lots of deadly language video content online soon.

October 10, 2008

Unnecessary death - 7:30 report

Check out this story from last night's 7:30 report. (Thanks Maia for the link). It's about a young guy from Bulman who shot himself while being hunted down by police. I know of most of the people quoted in the report. Reading it made me very sad and angry. Awful stuff like this happens far too much around here. I only heard a bit about this story when it happened so I'm glad it's come to light a little. I really hope we learn to do things better one day. Sorry to the family.

September 17, 2008

more languages!

I'm starting to get ready for next week's week of teaching which involves students from Timber Creek area who speak Ngarinyman and Jaminjung - two languages I know very little about! (Which is fine - I have a tutor and as long as I know the alphabet of those languages, I can put together a workshop).

Yesterday when my tutor was telling me a bit about Ngarinyman I freaked out. It's all Pama-Nyungan and weird. Give me pronominal prefixes anyday. heheheheheh.

July 30, 2008

i'm a bit excited

I'm a bit excited. I have a new job which I'm enjoying quite a bit. It's only my fourth week, but all signs are good. When I started, I had to go to Alice Springs where I had a week of teaching the basics of phonology to 12 Indigenous students from all over Qld and NSW. It was daunting, challenging, exciting, exhausting and best of all - it went well. Since then, I've been settling into my new office in Katherine and preparing for a semester of teaching. I'll be running weeklong workshops about every second week to different groups, but the training I'll be delivering is not too different from what I used to do at Ngukurr - a lot of Indigenous Language Literacy training. Which I enjoy a lot.

And I'm excited for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I'm excited because I get to deliver workshops at Ngukurr with all the language mob I used to work with there. It will be so nice going back and it will be so nice to work with that mob while I'm all fresh-faced and energised.

Secondly, I'm excited because I also get to work with different mobs and different languages. Next week I have a week in Beswick where I'll be working with students who speak Rembarrnga, Dalabon and Mayali. Rembarrnga I'm comfortable with, but I know very little Mayali and even less Dalabon. What fun! The students will be learning sounds and spelling and basic teaching and learning strategies. I'll have them whipped up into the deadliest language workers in no time. And I'm sure they'll whip me into shape too. I fear I've been in town too long and need to be reminded what life is like for people living in communities.

July 10, 2008

A conference, language policy and Aboriginal languages in Federal Parliament

The other day, I was priveleged in attending a TESOL symposium about 'Keeping Language Diversity Alive'. One of the speakers, Joseph Lo Bianco was excellent and discussed Language Policy. He gave a handout at one of his sessions that I'm going to type out in full here, because it was a real eye-opener. It's from the Official Hansard of the Federal Parliament from a debate that happened on 10/12/98. Here's how it went:

Mr SNOWDON: My question is to the Prime Minister. Is the Prime Minister aware of the decision by the Northern Territory government to phase out bilingual education in Aboriginal schools? Is the Prime Minister also aware that his government funds bilingual education programs in Papua New Guinea and Vietnam? Prime Minister, given that article 26(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children, will you take a direct approach to the Northern Territory government, asking them to ensure that bilingual education continues to be available in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory?
Dr KEMP: I find it incredible that a question about literacy amongst indigenous Australian should be raised by the Labor Party.
Opposition membes interjecting -
Mr SPEAKER: The member for Fowler, the member for Kingsford-Smith and the member for the Northern Territory will exercise a great deal more restraint or I will be forced to warn them.
Mr SNOWDON: Mr Speaker, on a point of relevance: bilingual programs are about cultural maintenance as well as literacy. That is something this minister does not appreciate. He knows nothing about Aboriginal education or employment.
Mr SPEAKER: The member for Northern Territory has been warned.
Mr Adams interjecting
Mr SPEAKER: The member for Lyons will exercise some restraint as well. The minister has been on his feet for 11 seconds. I will not tolerate this level of interjection and noise. Let that be understood by those on both sides of the House. The minister has the call.
Dr KEMP: As I said in my first 11 seconds, I find it incredible that the Labor Party would raise a question concerning literacy amongst indigenous young people. After their 13 years in office, we have now discovered that 70 per cent of indigenous students are below the national standard.
Mr LEE: Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. You have admonished members of the House not to use scorn and ridicule and that is the very thing which this minister is doing. When are you going to take some action about it?
Mr SPEAKER: The member for Dobell will resume his seat. I have also been admonished by the House for commenting, but allow me to say to the member for Dobell that if I were to run a scorn and derision meter on comments made by the members for Batman or Hotham, or members on the government front bench, it would be running neck and neck.
Mr MARTIN FERGUSON: Why don't you name them?
Mr SPEAKER: The member for Batman makes a quite inappropriate interjection. The minister has the call.
Dr KEMP: It is the coalition government which has been forced to address a problem which was totally ignored and neglected for 13 years. This question shows the blindness of the Labor Party when it comes to matters of educational equity.
Mr SNOWDON: Mr Speaker, on a point of relevance: this question related particularly to the issue of bilingual education. The minister has not even mentioned those words in his reply so far. It is also about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Mr SPEAKER: The member for the Northern Territory will resume his seat. The minister has the call. The minister has been perfectly relevant to the question asked and he has the call.
Dr KEMP: I was referring to the blindness of the Labor Party when it comes to fundamental issues of educational equity. The question asked about a Northern Territory bilingual program concerned with literacy education amongst young Northern Territorians. It has been up to this government to finally address the issue, not only amongst all young Australians, but amongst indigenous young Australians.
Dr THEOPHANOUS: Mr Speaker, on a point of relevance: there is a distinction between literacy and bilingual education, which has to do with education in Aboriginal languages. That is the issue. The issue is not the literacy issue; it has to do with-
Mr SPEAKER: The member for Calwell will resume his seat.
Dr THEOPHANOUS: Why don't you permit me-
Mr SPEAKER: The member for Calwell will resume his seat.
Mr SPEAKER: The member for Barker will exercise some restraint. The minister has the call.
Dr KEMP: As the members of the Labor Party well know, one of the major reasons for these bilingual programs concerns the literacy skills of young people, and I am addressing that aspect of the question. Last week, I announced that the government would be putting in place a national literacy program for indigenous Australians. That program will be an effective program because, for the first time, we will have a program focused on outcomes, not rhetoric, not feel-good feelings in the stomach which we have had from the rhetoric-
Mr SPEAKER: The minister will resume his seat.
Dr KEMP: of the previous government for the last 13 years-
Mr SPEAKER: The minister will resume his seat. I will not tolerate ministers overriding the chair. I call the Leader of the Opposition.
Mr BEAZLEY: Mr Speaker, I take a point of order on relevance. It is the case that bilingual education is fundamental to the establishment of literacy. There is not a single commentator on literacy, as far as the Aboriginal community is concerned, that does not recognise that. Therefore, the question was directed not to the intentions of this government, but to the intentions of the government in relation to the action by the Northern Territory government, which is a direct attack on literacy in the Aboriginal community. What is he going to do about it?
Mr SPEAKER: The Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat.
Dr KEMP: I didn't hear you, Mr Speaker, and I apologise for appearing to ignore you.
Mr SPEAKER: The minister will come to the question and deal with the question of bilingual education.
Dr KEMP: I announced last week that the government would be working with the states and territories, including the Northern Territory, to put in place for the first time a program for the education of indigenous young people, which will be focused on the actual outcomes of those programs. This government has already lifted spending on indigenous education. it is a government which is now putting more resources into outcomes focused programs.
Mr SNOWDON: Mr Speaker, I take a point of order on relevance. The question was whether the Prime Minister would approach the Northern Territory government about what they are going to do about bilingual education. The minster has not answered that question.
Mr SPEAKER: The member for the Northern Territory will resume his seat.
Mr Snowdon interjecting
Mr SPEAKER: I have no choice. The member for the Northern Territory is actually asking me to discharge him from the service of the House under standing order 304A - and I ask all members of the House to exercise, in this last question time, a little more restraint.
The honourable member for the Northern Territory thereupon withdrew from the chamber.
Mr MELHAM: I take a point of order, Mr Speaker. I draw your attention to standing order 99, 'Proceedings on question of order', which states: "Upon a question of order being raised, the Member called to order shall resume his or her seat, and after the question of order has been stated to the Speaker by the Member rising to the question of order, the Speaker shall give a ruling thereon." Mr Speaker, it is implicit in the standing orders that the member raising the point of order is entitled, as of right, to state their point of order before it is ruled on by you. Mr Speaker, I submit that you have overstated the position when you suspend him under the standing order for raising the point of order, when you have not given him his time to state the question.
Mr SPEAKER: I have a great deal of respect for the member for Banks.
Government members: Oh!
Mr SPEAKER: Order, members on my right! The member for Banks, given his logistical position in the chamber, may not have been aware of the fact that the member for the Northern Territory had stated his point of order and was, in fact, discharged from the service of the House for subsequent interjections.
Mr MELHAM: On a further point of order, Mr Speaker - in discharging him, you did not rule on his point of order in relation to relevance, and I ask you to do so.
Mr SPEAKER: I had, in fact, determined that the minister was being relevant, and it could scarcely be claimed, when he was dealing with education, particularly with literacy in the Northern Territory, that he was irrelevant to the question.
Dr KEMP: The government has also introduced, for the first time, intensive English as a second language courses for young indigenous students who do not have English as their first language. This is proving to be an exceptionally effective way of addressing the literacy needs of young people who are native speakers of a vernacular language. The government is very proud of the fact that it has faced up to these fundamental issues of educational equity in the Northern Territory and throughout Australia and we will continue to work with the Northern Territory government to achieve better outcomes.
Mr SPEAKER: The minister will resume his seat. I call the member for Denison on a point of order.
Government members: He has finished.
Mr SPEAKER: The member for Denison is still entitled to his point of order.
Mr KERR: Thank you, Mr Speaker. My point of order is again on relevance, because the question was about whether education is to be conducted in a single language or in two languages, and the human rights that are entailed. He has avoided it.
Mr SPEAKER: The member for Denison will resume his seat. The minster had, in fact, dealt with the relationship he was having with the Northern Territory government and was, in that sense, fully relevant.


Goodness me. To me, there is so much wrong with that. Firstly, the dismissal of Human Rights and then the lack of knowledge about bilingual education. During the session, Joseph Lo Bianco asked the audience, 'After reading that, how do you rate the chances of language diversity surviving in Australia: high, medium, low or no chance'. The reply was a resounding 'no chance'.

And the killer punchline. The above extract is actually the ONLY time Aboriginal languages have been discussed in the Federal Parliament in the last twenty years.

Goodness me. Time for some action and policy methinks!

July 01, 2008

Showing people that the message isn't quite getting through

The other day an interesting message came through the Australian Linguistic Society email server. It's from Gavan Breen and talks about the problem of miscommunication between Aboriginal people who have English as a second language and English speakers, especially public servants. It's a huge problem that I'm well aware of and Gavan is talking about getting the issue out there or doing some research. Here's a copy of Gavan's post:

I and some others here at the Institute for Aboriginal Development think there is a need for a study to be done of how well Aboriginal English speakers, especially those who speak it as a second or later language, understand the English of whitefellows, especially public servants and politicians and the like. The latest inspiration for this is a news item: Report finds NT Aboriginal group doesn't understand legal terms

However, there was an earlier discussion of this sort of thing, related to the inability of public servants to explain aspects of the "intervention" to people in Aboriginal communities.

An obvious aspect of the problem is the use of words that people don't know; 'equity' is one that was mentioned as an example a couple of times in the recent exchange of emails, and it's one that I have only a vague understanding of myself.

A less obvious aspect, and so one that is not so easy for government officials and other offenders to appreciate, is, in my opinion at least, the fact that Aboriginal English speakers are not familiar with the extended meanings of words and the idioms that educated native speakers use. For example, 'We have to decide where X (a community) is going'; meaning, of course, how it is to develop, not where it being moved to.

I heard a story recently about a small group of teenage students who had been chosen to attend something (educational, I forget what) and were being interviewed by a reporter (in the presence, fortunately, of their teacher). One was asked 'What do you hope to get out of this?' and she didn't answer; obviously confused, she had a whispered conversation with the teacher that solved the problem. The problem was, she was looking forward to the thing, she wanted to do it, she didn't want to get out of it.

Other examples of usages that are perfectly familiar to us are the various figurative uses of 'heart' in English, the use of 'today' and 'tomorrow' to mean 'nowadays' and 'some time in the future', and the specification of location relative to the body (on the left, right, front, back) rather than to the world (north, south, east, west). There are probably hundreds of expressions that we use that teachers in Aboriginal schools would take for granted and never think of teaching.

I suggest that an institution that wants to look into this topic find a student who would be interested and amass enough data to convince the decision makers that there is a need for education, both of Aboriginal people and of those who deal with them, to improve the quality of communication.

Apparently, a few of us agreed with Gavan and sent him replies. Here's my pocket of shrappie:

I was very interested to read the bit from Gavan Breen about miscommunication between black and white, especially here in the NT with the Intervention. I see this sort of basic miscommunication happening everyday here in Katherine and also when I was living in Ngukurr in Southern Arnhem Land.

I've done a little bit of Kriol interpreting and I listen to the language of public servants and shake my head at the lack of consideration that is given to their choice of words (the problem is compounded because many public servants are given directives about the approved wording they are supposed to use). I remember last year at Ngukurr an Intervention meeting involving a public servant talking about the 'cessation' of CDEP. I'm guessing the word 'cessation' was chosen carefully as approved wording but unfortunately just wasn't understood by the vast majority of the Kriol speaking audience. Another example of incomprehensible approved wording from that meeting was 'transitioning', ie. 'transitioning' people from CDEP employment to Centrelink benefits. It was appalling. This meeting was essentially the government telling the community that 180 jobs will soon be gone and everyone will then have to go back on Centrelink payments but the 'approved wording' meant that people barely realised this was what they were being told.

Then there are more subtle examples. Interpreting at Centrelink last week, I heard some Centrelink staff constantly using unnecessarily difficult words when dealing with Kriol speaking ESL-customers. Examples are words like 'verify' and 'confirm' (I suggested 'make sure'), 'currently' and 'at present' (I suggested 'at the moment' or 'right now') and 'entitled to' (I suggested 'can get'). By merely speaking in plainer English, communication difficulties can be reduced significantly. And if public servants don't have time to think about the English they use, they can just get an interpreter, but this doesn't happen very much either!

Sadly, it seems that Aboriginal people with English as a Second Language are used to not understanding public servants properly. It's the norm and to a certain degree 'just the way it is'. Some of us are here trying to make a difference and the more exposure the issue can get, the better. Importantly, the education needs to be both ways. In my opinion, not only do whitepeople/public servants need to realise the extent of communication breakdown but Aboriginal people who are ESL also need to be educated or shown that the way things are now aren't necessarily the way things have to or should be.

How do we give this issue exposure? A research project would be great, but I don't think we need to wait until research is done before we can plainly show that miscommunication is occurring.

One idea would be some media activity, especially from someone who is media-savvy. How about regular press releases which give an obvious example of miscommunication, similar to the examples Gavan's already given and then suggestions for better ways to communicate. Does anyone have any other suggestions on how we get this issue out there? I'd be happy to give the cause a bit of time if there is support and ideas out there.


A big issue no? Anyone have any bright ideas about what we can do inform the public (black and white)?

June 25, 2008

Floating around

Since finishing from the language centre I've managed to do a few things apart from sitting on the couch (which is where I am now as I write this... I can't help it, Wimbledon's on). I've been floating around doing a few jobs here n there but i've also been taking it easy and slowly figuring out which way to go next.

I did some casual work at an art gallery in Katherine - just menial tasks but it was really enjoyable. The art is pretty and I got to hang out with two Warlpiri speakers who taught me a few things. The downside - looking at the horrible spelling of language words all over the gallery. How do you convince ordinary ppl that it's important to get these things right? I tried the 'there are lots of people that can read and write Warlpiri' but it seems that the demands of getting through daily workloads wins over making time to consider Indigenous language spelling conventions. Buhu.

I also got myself an ABN (a bit exciting) and lots of information books from the tax office (not so exciting). This allowed me to do a bit of independent work with schools - which has mainly been a bit of tutoring at the high school, working with ESL kids to produce a Kriol nyusleta. Follow the link from the Katherine High School website.

Then I had a week's worth of tutoring at Batchelor, tutoring a group of Diploma of Interpreting students. It was my first time at Batchelor and it was great to visit there. It was so nice to walk into the library there and find that the Aboriginal languages section is one of the biggest in the library! In most libraries it's about a shelf worth. The campus is nice, the accommodation was great and the students were ace. They were a small group but representing a range of communities (Willowra, Elcho, Daly River, Ngukurr, Bulman, Katherine) and languages (Kriol, Warlpiri, Djambarrpuyŋu and Walmajarri). They are doing well and have lots to say and are keen to get through the course. They were a pleasure to teach (and learn from).

Other things I've been doing include:
- a fair bit of gardening. I'm aiming for the 'immaculate' look... a fair way to go yet!
- my regular friday night stint on Katherine Community Radio
- playing tennis and squash (elimination final in squash tonight!)
- setting up a neat little home office
- slowly processing hundreds of registration forms for the local AFL competition
- a job application and interview for 'Indigenous Academic Support Lecturer' at Charles Darwin University but based in Katherine. (not sure if I want it - still keen for language work)
- watching an awful lot of tennis on austar. and keeping up with Australia's Next Top Model. :-)
- oh, and making a budget for myself because my income has dropped considerably!

So what to do next?

The more I think about the more it makes sense for me to seriously look into doing a PhD on one of the languages I've worked on at Ngukurr. I'm in a perfect position to do so. What holds me back is that I'm not terribly academically-inclined and prefer doing practical stuff. But the thought of having 3-4 years of really getting my teeth into a language like Marra is something really special and the clock is ticking for a language like Marra too. If I can make sure the PhD has strong practical components I'd be happy. But how do I make this happen? Do I just start humbugging lecturers about it?? Any advice appreciated.

Apart from that, there could be some work on the cards that I'd enjoy. Firstly, maybe a bit of work on a language program in a school not too far out of Katherine. Secondly, some more work with Batchelor students around the Katherine region for people doing language courses where they learn basic literacy in their own language. That would be fun. I love teaching people how to read and write their own language.

So that all from me. I'm going to go make a coffee and process some AFL forms. :-)

June 11, 2008


Now that I'm in Katherine, I'm around different languages. I've started to learn a little bit of Warlpiri and couple of words of Gurindji. With Warlpiri I've gone back to my learning style I used when I was a kakabum learning Icelandic. I carry around a bit of paper and each day my job is get one English sentence translated into Warlpiri. Forget analysing data and systematic approaches, I'm just learning functional words and sentences. (Well, it's more that I don't have any references that I can look at to analyse my data with!). So last week I learned Nyapara ngaju-nyangu coffee-yiji? (Where's my coffee?). And one of yesterday's sentences was Ngaju karna yani ngurra-kurra (I'm going home). Again, these are all unchecked and just done the best way I could on the spot so don't growl me if I've got something wrong.

Although yesterday I cheated and was treated to an excellent 1.5 hour practice of a Warlpiri language training session that will be delivered to local aged care workers here in Katherine. So with a bit of hardcore rote learning, I should be able to say "Mum, that lady can speak language!" in no time (Ngati, wangkami mayi ka jaru yinyaju karnta!)

June 09, 2008

Now what do i do?

Put your thinking caps on... I need help.

I'm an experienced linguist with lots of skills to offer but no job (my employment status is by choice because I'd almost worked myself into the ground). I want to stay in Katherine but I don't know what to do next. Where should I invest my time and energy? Career guidance needed... all suggestions considered! :-)

May 27, 2008

mela ola munanga linggwismob

Over at Transient Languages and Cultures, there was a bit of discussion in the comments about doing language work in communities. Jane Simpson gave this excellent summation that I thought I'd share (thanks Jane):

"It's a balancing act. Scientific researchers are nosy parkers - sometimes that can be good and cause good things to happen with documentation that would not otherwise have happened. Sometimes it can be bad and reduce the quality of the material that might otherwise have been collected.

Community researchers almost always have a much better understanding of attitudes and relationships and uses of language, as well as of what their friends and family are hoping for from language work. They may have native speaker intuitions about languages. And it is they who will be working with their communities to keep talking the languages.

A damaging situation that can arise is when an outsider linguist comes to be seen as the main source of knowledge about the language. That can cause a loss of confidence among community people, and can reduce their ability to maintain their language. It can lead to resentment, and to the rejection of outsider linguists, which then deprives the community of the good things linguists could do in partnership with them. A Lose-Lose situation.

The ideal situation is when community researchers and scientifically-trained linguists can work together, each learning from the other, and each respecting the other's skills."

May 14, 2008


Today one of my staff came into my office and asked a question that made me laugh. It was funny because the question on the surface makes no sense, but to us two, and a handful of others, it makes perfect sense. Can you figure out what it means?

Q: "Wägilak and Rembarrnga... I mean Ritharrŋu... are blue?"
A: "Yes."

Tee hee.

April 17, 2008

One-stop shop

I hate the phrase 'one-stop shop'. I don't know why but it makes me want to stab my eardrums and eyeballs with sharp scissors. It's at the top of a list of political/commerce cliches that also features 'touch base' and 'flick me an email'.

Oh well, I better get ready for work. I have some 'capacity building' to do.

April 11, 2008

My old lecturer on Compass

Hey, when I was at Uni I had the acest lecturer who had been learning from Yanyuwa people at Borroloola for a couple of decades. Borroloola and Yanyuwa country are just down the track from Ngukurr. My old lecturer's name is John Bradley and he's being featured on Compass this sunday night (ABC at 9:25pm). Should be worth watching.

April 01, 2008


Poor neglected blog. I blame Facebook. This blog used to be a good way for ppl I know to find out what I'm doing. Now facebook has taken that role and my blog is sadly neglected.

That and I'm not being much of a linguist these days. How exciting can it be blogging about reporting to funding bodies or replying to emails.

But I'm still here. :-)

February 13, 2008

good job

Good job to Kevin Rudd for saying sorry. I thought it was a great speech - decisive, clear, honest, to the point and all very reasonable. In the end, it seemed like he was stating the obvious and that apologising was the obvious thing to do. It made me wonder what all the fuss was about with the last government being so stubborn. Seems straightforward to me. Something bad happens, saying sorry can help make it better. Easy. (And I reckon it worked too).

Linguistic notes: Did Kevin Rudd say Yabarrah instead of Yarrabah?? When Brendan Nelson talked about 'involuntary sacrifices', is there such a thing? Is a sacrifice something that can only be made under your own volition?

January 22, 2008


I'm still here and still in Katherine being bossy. Thesedays I find myself surrounded by things such as funding applications, budgets, meetings, emails, reports etc. etc.

I'm enjoying the change althought it's a lot of work. And I miss the Ngukurr mob and miss being a linguist. But I can't complain because I was really starting to burn out after spending most of the past three years working hard in a remote community. And I'll be going back there before I know it anyway.

So hello to anyone still reading this.

Today I remembered this classic tidbit I read in the Guardian:

Talking about gaffs with interpreters and translators... when Bob Hawke was PM and addressing some important crowd in Japan he used the term 'playing funny buggers'. Apparently this caused a bit of a dilemma with the interpreters who ultimately decided to translate the term 'funny buggers' as 'laughing homosexuals'. hehe.