December 24, 2017

English-only health alert for Ngukurr, now with draft Kriol translation (cos there really should be one)

If a government body wants to tell a community of 1000 people to boil water before drinking it because of health concerns, and pretty much everyone in the community speaks the same Language Other Than English (LOTE), why would you issue the alert only in bureaucratic/dense/formal English?

The community being alerted here is chock full of Kriol speakers. If you want to communicate with them, doing it only in formal English is only going to get you so far. While NT Health and Power and Water are serving the community well in terms of their warning, the language it is communicated in is lacking. It's kinda like a cinema screening a movie onto the curtains, instead of projecting it onto a flat screen.

To be fair, translation services for Indigenous languages are really lacking in the NT. There is no government agency to go to. Getting a quick turn around on translations is probably near-impossible. (See also last year's Kriol signage debacle I discussed here). But government could have long-term strategies and lead by example. With better acknowledgement that delivering information in constituents first languages is important, they could work to create a better Indigenous language translation industry in the NT.

In lieu of zero Kriol translation being provided for the current, rather important, 'alert', I thought I'd have a go at translating it myself, in case it's of use to someone... but I certainly wouldn't want to promote the idea further that translations should be handed out free-of-charge. Caution: the following translation is unchecked and unofficial. I am not a qualified Kriol-English translator (although I do have qualifications and experience in interpreting i.e. oral translations).


Guyu! Stori bla boilim wada la Ropa!

21 Disemba 2017

Didei, NT Gabmen (det Helth Depatment en Pawa en Wada) dalimbat Ropamob bla maindim det wada weya im gamat burrum tep. Pawa en Wada mob bin switjimoba det wada. Im nomo gamat from bo na. Im gaman burru riba na, dumaji Ropamob bin yusumbat tu matj wada. Bat det riba wada im maidi nomo brabili klin wada.

Pawa en Wada trai sotimatbat na so im gin gubek la bo wada, maitbi afta Krismis. Bat bifo im gubek la bo wada Ropamob garra maindim det wada weya im gamat burru tep, dumaji im riba wada.

Det Helth Dipatment wandi Ropamob bla boilim det tep wada bifo yu:
  • dringgim
  • yusum wada ba kukum enijing
  • brashim tuth
O najawei, yu gin baiyim wada burrum shop.

Dijan woning im oni antil Pawa en Wada tjeinjimbek yumob wada la bo wada. Mela garra jandim natha stori wen yumob wada gubek la bo wada.

Bunjum yu wari ba enijing ba dis problem, yu gin kol la Helth Dipatment wen im oupin.  Det namba im 1800 095 646.

December 15, 2017

How not to report on Indigenous education (again)

While it's always nice to see Ngukurr in the news, I'm noting quite a few problems with this puff piece from SBS's Laura Morelli about Ngukurr School. (And it's not the first time I've been concerned about how Indigenous education is reported on).

I'm all for a positive story about remote education, but it shouldn't be at the expense of accuracy and probably not one where the only side you hear is from non-Indigenous education department staff.

The article's premise is that innovative programs at Ngukurr School are contributing to better student outcomes. A quick look at the Myschools website shows that attendance at Ngukurr School has unfortunately dropped in recent years (a trend across many remote schools, as reported here). Looking at NAPLAN, results appear mixed - some areas improved in 2016, while others dropped. (Have a look for yourself by sifting through results provided on the MySchools website). So maybe Ngukurr School has innovative programs, sure. But can they be linked to better outcomes? There doesn't seem to be the evidence for that.

Data source:
The article mentions the language profile of students (see below) and there are more errors there. It is not correct to say of students that "English is usually their ninth language". While students as a cohort have seven or more heritage languages, few speak them due to language loss and endangerment that has occurred since colonisation. Kriol is the main language they speak and English is usually the second language they start to learn when they start school. As for heritage languages, an individual student is highly unlikely to have seven traditional languages as part of their direct heritage. They'll have one or two main ones and maybe two or more that are also form part of their heritage. But not seven. An accurate understanding of the language profile of students should be quite crucial for teachers to have. It is disappointing that this isn't apparent in the quotes or content of the article.

The article also says that "over the years the school has worked tirelessly to provide a safe, engaging and welcoming learning environment for the students and their families to want to be a part of". Yet, about 30 years ago, Ngukurr School had 100% Indigenous teaching staff. This has dwindled over the years and now there is possibly only one local Indigenous teacher out of 31 full-time teaching staff. So when it is said that “our students are taught with an Aboriginal Assistant Teacher present in the room at all times to do translations”, it is actually a long way from recent history in which local Aboriginalisation of the school was a real thing - when it was taken for granted that Aboriginal school staff were educators, not "translators".

Ngukurr kids deserve success, but it's preferable to have that success supported by evidence and accurate information as well as local/Indigenous perceptions on what constitutes success.

And in case you think I'm saying all this because of a chip on my shoulder, the lack of journalistic quality is apparent to others - even when they have no attachment to Ngukurr:

December 09, 2017

Sociolinguistic concepts through popular culture, Part 3: Bernie Sanders and factors that drive language variation

Part three of my examples linking sociolinguistics to popular culture kinda follows up on Part 1 which showed (via drag queens) how no two speakers are identical. (Part 2 skipped over to communities of practice in Mean Girls).

I have to confess, this episode is less about my own creativity and more about finding a pretty perfect video on YouTube that did the job of linking sociolinguistics to the real world for me. Worth sharing all the same...

Key concept: Variability in language (which exists everywhere) is caused by geographic and social factors.

Concept in more detail: The subfield of sociolinguistics makes no bones about the fact that language varies everywhere, all the time. No two individuals speak exactly the same way and no individual speaks the same way all the time either. Many sociolinguists are concerned with not just describing this ubiquitous variability but figuring out the causes of variation.

For a long time, where someone is from (i.e. geography) was investigated as the main cause of variation. Then sociolinguists got cleverer and saw how variability can be explained by factors like age, gender, ethnicity and class - factors that are social rather than geographical.

Exemplifying the concept: If you can remember back to the wonderful days before Donald Drumpf ruled America, you might recall a nerdy old dude called Bernie Sanders who had quite different ideas about what an American president should do. While Bernie was in the presidential candidacy spotlight, people noticed he talked funny.

As a result, the American news site Vox put together a clever, entertaining and brilliantly edited video explaining key features of Bernie Sanders' speech. It proved to be the perfect explainer of how social and geographic factors can explain linguistic variation:

When we looked at this video in class, students were able to appreciate the ways in which Sanders' speech deviates from what most people consider to be a typical American English accent. The video also gives enough information so that students can easily connect the dots and, based on the excellent explanations in the video, describe the factors causing variation. After a quick in-class Q&A, students can summarise Sanders' variable features (called variants) and the correlating geographic and social factors:
  • 'Thought' vowel: 
    • geography factor - New York English
    • age factor - used less by younger New "Yawkers
    • ethnicity factor - the age-based change is more obvious among white people
  • Lack of 'r's (non-rhotic accent): 
    • geography factor - New York, Boston, Savannah English
    • age + class factors - seen as prestigious in early-mid 1900s, non-prestigious in late 1900s
    • ethnicity factor - associated with Jewish community
  • Final 't' sounds released:
    •  ethnicity factor - associated with Jewish community
Thanks Vox for making this great video linking sociolinguistics to popular culture. It made for a very useful learning tool!