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Language and social equity in Indigenous Australia Rachel Nordlinger and Ruth Singer Research Unit for Indigenous Language University of Melbourne.

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Presentation on theme: "Language and social equity in Indigenous Australia Rachel Nordlinger and Ruth Singer Research Unit for Indigenous Language University of Melbourne."— Presentation transcript:

1 Language and social equity in Indigenous Australia Rachel Nordlinger and Ruth Singer Research Unit for Indigenous Language University of Melbourne

2 Indigenous language and social equity Indigenous languages are very important to Australia’s Indigenous peoples, yet can lead to substantial social inequity for Indigenous communities when standard English is required for access to government services: – Education – Health – Justice This talk discusses the implications of language for social equity for Indigenous communities, and how the ‘monolingual mindset’ influences government policy and practice, and leads to inequity.

3 Australia’s Indigenous languages distinct languages spoken at the time of White settlement ~700 language varieties 100 are still being spoken 20 are still being passed on to children

4 Other Indigenous languages Traditional languages are now spoken mostly in the north of Australia, these date from before White settlement Kriol, a language that developed from both English and traditional Indigenous languages, is spoken by around 20,000 in the Northern Territory and northern WA – Speakers of Kriol and traditional languages usually learn English as a second language Varieties of Aboriginal English vary from community to community and may be quite different to Standard Australian English – but this significant linguistic diversity is often completely unknown to government services

5 The importance of language to Indigenous people ‘It’s probably hard for non-Aboriginal people to understand how much our own languages enrich our lives as Indigenous people. To speak our language...gives us a real connection with our land and our culture. We can never get that from English, no matter how well we speak it.’ Jeanie Bell, Indigenous linguist (Grossman 2003) “the importance of languages in our lives - it goes to the heart and soul of one's identity and gives connection to family, country and community” Aden Ridgeway, Sydney Morning Herald, 26/11/2009 Jeannie Bell Indigenous linguist

6 The importance of language to Indigenous people “Yolngu [north-Australian] language is our power, our foundation, our root and everything that holds us together. [It] gives us strength; language is our identity, who we are. Yolngu language gives us pride. Language is our law and justice.” Yalmay Yunupingu 'NT Govt accused of endangering culture', Koori Mail 439 p.8 Yalmay Yunupingu, Aboriginal teacher

7 Language and wellbeing Recent studies identify a correlation between using an Australian Indigenous language and greater physical and emotional wellbeing (Biddle & Swee 2012). Among Indigenous youth, use of an Indigenous language is correlated to a stronger sense of self, reduced rates of suicide and less risky drug and alcohol use (ABS 2011, Hallett et al 2007). The 2013 Our Land, our languages inquiry into language learning in Indigenous communities made as its first recommendation that the: “Commonwealth government include in the Closing the Gap framework acknowledgement of the fundamental role and importance of Indigenous languages in preserving heritage and improving outcomes for Indigenous people”

8 Language and inequity However, speaking an Indigenous language can also limit access to education, justice and health services Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report (OID) 2011: Almost 30% of Indigenous people who speak a language other than English at home, report having communication difficulties with service providers (Table 11A.3.8, 2008 figures)

9 Language and inequity “Cultural barriers, including lack of cultural awareness on the part of service providers, racism, social inequality and social inclusion can lead to reduced access to resources such as education, housing, mental and medical care and social support.” (OID report 2011: 11.37)

10 Inequity in education Very few children speaking Indigenous languages have access to education in their own language – almost no bilingual education programs remain Very few ESL/EFL-trained teachers, even in remote schools where all children speak an Indigenous language as their first language Limited awareness of Kriol and ‘invisible’ Indigenous language varieties amongst teachers (Dixon and Angelo 2012) Language differences contribute to a lack of engagement in school and have a significant impact on educational development Photo:

11 Impeded access to health care Cass et al (2002): “serious miscommunication, often unrecognised by participants, regarding fundamental issues in diagnosis, treatment and prevention” (p. 467) Health sphere is English-dominated, key concepts often difficult to translate due to differences in world view (Vass, Mitchell, Dhurrkay 2011)

12 Access to justice Many well-documented cases of language issues seriously impeding justice outcomes for Indigenous people (Professor Diana Eades work, e.g. Eades 2013) Koch (1991) use of Kriol in the courtroom – sounds like English but meanings are often different, e.g ‘sit down’ – to stay

13 The ‘language’ dilemma Speaking an Indigenous language is positive indicator of greater health and wellbeing, but also leads to greater social inequity and reduced access to key services How can Indigenous people continue to reap the benefits from speaking their own languages, without inequity of access to education, health and justice?

14 ‘Monolingual mindset’ “The greatest impediment to recognizing, valuing and utilizing our language potential is a persistent monolingual mindset. Such a mindset sees everything in terms of monolingualism being the norm, even though there are more bi- and multilinguals in the world than monolinguals” (Clyne, 2005).

15 Consequences of this mindset Suggests that a choice needs to be made between speaking an Indigenous language, and engaging with mainstream Australia Speaking an Indigenous language seen as a deficit, a problem to be ‘fixed’ English-centric – no understanding of alternative world view Sees no value in multilingualism or in helping to maintain it for others Reinforces inequity, threatens cultural safety

16 Example “ I personally think the world should try to blend eventually to a single language. Wouldn't everything be so much easier? It makes perfect sense for all of us worldwide to speak together... I don't understand why people are so against the idea.” (Tommy Holland, Feb , comment posted at australian-language-map-will-blow-you-away)

17 Impact: The Wilson report Recently released NT government draft report into Indigenous Education (Wilson 2014) recommends the rejection of Indigenous language in NT schools, and advocates the learning of literacy and numeracy in English only (p. 7, 69) "The recommendation is based on the view that Indigenous children learn English in the way that other children learn English - through rigorous and relentless attention to the foundations of the language and the skills that support participation in a modern democracy and economy. The review does not support continued efforts to use biliteracy approaches, or to teach the content of the curriculum through first languages other than English." (p. 7)

18 English as an Additional language Learning English can be additive, not replacive Support Indigenous communities in speaking their own languages, while also learning English Foster and promote biculturalism and bilingualism – have the best of both worlds Work towards better equity outcomes for Indigenous Australians

19 References Australian Bureau of Statistics Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Wellbeing: A Focus on Children and Youth. (Cat. No ). Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics. Biddle, N. and H. Swee ‘The Relationship Between Wellbeing and Indigenous Land, Language and Culture in Australia’. Australian Geographer 43: 215–232. Cass, A et al ‘Sharing the true stories: improving communication between Aboriginal patients and healthcare workers’. Medical Journal of Australia (10): Clyne, M. (2005) Australia's Language Potential. University of New South Wales Press, Sydney Eades, D Aboriginal ways of using English. Canberra: AIATSIS. Dixon, S. and D. Angelo ‘Dodgy Data, Language Invisibility and the Implications for Social Inclusion: a Critical Analysis of Student Language Data in the Queensland Education System’. Linguistic diversity and Social Inclusion conference, Macquarie University Faculty of Human Sciences, Sydney, October 12, Grossman, Michele (ed) 2003, Blacklines: Contemporary Critical Writing by Indigenous Australians, Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press

20 Hallett, D., M. J. Chandler and C. E. Lalonde ‘Aboriginal Language Knowledge and Youth Suicide’. Cognitive Development 22: 392–9. Koch, H Language and communication in Aboriginal land claim hearings. Language in Australia, ed. by S. Romaine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators Productivity Commission. Vass, A., A. Mitchell and Y Dhurrkay ‘Health literacy and Australian Indigenous peoples: an analysis of the role of language and world view.’ Health Promotion Journal of Australia (1): Wilson, B Review of Indigenous Education in the Northern Territory, Draft Report. Education-Review_DRAFT.pdf, accessed 19/2/14. Education-Review_DRAFT.pdf


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