Kriol goes viral
The story starts with Covid. In late 2021, the Aboriginal Health Council of WA (AHCWA) created a few short Covid vaccination videos in some of WA's main Indigenous languages, nobly wanting to make sure remote Aboriginal residents were as safe from Covid as urban Westralians.
Hello, my name is Mark McGowan. I am the Premier of Western Australia. This is an important message to keep Aboriginal people safe. You can die from the Corona, or get really sick. It's time to get the Corona needle, to keep people and country strong. The Corona needle will protect kids, old people, men and women. Many people around the world have already had the needle. It is free and it's safe. If you're worried, talk to your clinic or medical centre or go to Roll Up For WA on the internet. So go get your needle now and stay strong. Thank you.
AHCWA also produced versions of this video in four of WA's biggest Aboriginal languages: Ngaanyatjarra, Martu, Walmajarri and Kriol. You can see them all here, under "translations". Each video sees the WA Premier standing next to that particular language's interpreter and repeating his English message from above sentence by sentence, allowing the interpreter to interpret consecutively.
|McGowan and a Martu interpreter co-presenting a vaccination health message|
Now, no one seems to have batted an eyelid after the Ngaanyatjarra, Martu and Walmajarri versions came out in late 2021. And the Kriol one had a quiet start too. That is, until a couple of weeks later when it absolutely blew up on Twitter and beyond. When I say that Kriol went viral, I'm not exaggerating. One of the most popular tweets led the video to be seen 1.2 million times! (That's about 100 times per actual Kriol speaker if you want to put in another, scarier way).
Polarised and ignorant (a typical Twitter debate)
Basically, it blew up when some of the worst right-wing trolls in Australia (and beyond) saw the Kriol version and decided it was "racist", essentially arguing that Mark McGowan's speech was just being repeated in English, but said in a different way but by an Aboriginal elder. The argument took hold and swept like wildfire.
This is the most racist government initiative I’ve ever seen.@MarkMcGowanMP had an indigenous elder translate his message from English to “Aboriginal-English.”— Avi Yemini (@OzraeliAvi) January 11, 2022
The bloke is sick. pic.twitter.com/VuP7cwPlPe
The counter-reaction was swift and strong too, with many people quick to add to the Twitter storm by trying to educate people about Kriol, pointing out that it's not just a variety of English and arguing that to not know about Kriol was ignorant in and of itself and likely belied a lack of understanding and care about First Nations people, culture and languages (i.e. kinda bloody racist too!).
Scrolling through the to-ing and fro-ing, it really was the pits (and a good example of why many people steer clear of Twitter!). If you want a taste of both sides, check these out: