Factors That Enhance Or Constrain Language Work By Indigenous Language Researchers.

Monday March 13th, 4.00-5.30pm

Room 3.03, Baldessin Precinct Building (Australian National University)

Josephine Caffery


This paper explores the internal and external factors that enhance or constrain a trained indigenous language researcher in documenting or maintaining their traditional languages. The effectiveness of indigenous adult linguistic training on Australia’s endangered languages was assessed in remote and urban language communities across Northern Australia through interviews with case and focus groups and through surveys completed by linguists and language organisations associated with these language communities. This paper will discuss the number of indigenous linguistic graduates that use their skills to document and maintain their traditional language, and the types of language programs they work on after completing their training, as well as how effective these programs have been in their communities. The results of the research to-date show that not only do training issues affect the documentation and maintenance of Australia’s endangered languages, but so do sociological, environmental and, more significantly, cultural issues. Linguistic organisations and registered training organisations may not be aware that these issues exist. Some of the issues cannot be addressed through training but can be addressed through language and linguistic organisations. Other issues are so embedded in culture that they may not be able to be changed in some language communities, but are important for other people to be aware of when working with these communities. The findings of this research provide an understanding of why people train in linguistics, the types of training they do and why they use or do not use these skills to maintain or document their endangered languages. The results will assist educators, curriculum developers and the wider education and linguistic industry in developing appropriate and effective training for those wanting to maintain or document endangered languages. The ultimate goal of this research project is for indigenous Australians to document more of their traditional languages before it is too late to do so.