Words Don’t Come Easy.

” When will learning an aboriginal language/dialect become part of standard curriculum in all Australian public schools rather than learning European languages? “
 
Previously posted on ask.fm/
 
I will answer as a lay person, though I’ve worked with linguists for years.

Of the 250+ languages that existed and the many Indigenous dictionaries now available online & in hardcover, approximately 150 remain in use across Australia. 
Indigenous kids are increasingly multi lingual, but Indigenous languages are only taught in discreet schools, where the traditional language is in regular use and the school supports a bilingual education system.
Aboriginal people also speak dialects that are combinations of languages, for example Light Warlpuri, and the old Darwin dialect (mixture of language, Kriol, Greek, Malay etc) and the language common to the more heavily populated ‘settled’ areas is Aboriginal English.

 

Definition of Aboriginal English: ‘distinctive features of accent, grammar, words and meanings, as well as language use’… depending on how strong the ‘old’ language continues to be used in that region.

 

ABORIGINAL ENGLISH

Features include the way the English words are pronounced and some English words have slightly different meanings, the sentence structure is different, and speakers may include cultural references unique to time & place, and/or common to the shared Indigenous experience.
The extent of use may not be obvious, because speakers will tend to revert back to standard English – out of courtesy, but also because of the stigma associated with using it because it sounds ‘wrong’ and tempts ‘correction’.
 

That’s a great sadness for me because the nature of this way of speaking is very enjoyable. It is a very clever language, and uses expressions that don’t exist in English.

 

I would suggest that most regions would benefit more from instruction in how Aboriginal people communicate (can include language, hand signs, head movements) rather than a specific language.

 
If this stopped people from correcting children and adults on how to ‘speak correctly’, this would go a long way to improving how black & white people communicate.

 
 

RESOURCES
Interactive map to give an idea of how many languages groups covered Australia 
NB: data is incomplete, some boundaries are disputed but the map continues to be the most accessible and widely used. 

 

This is a great resource – ‘Australian Aboriginal Languages’ – I’ve been keeping an eye on this project for over 10 years and it started long before I came across it – it’s great to see how much material is included now:

 
 
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