Monday, April 2, 2012

AAAL, Research from down under

Despite the couple of mis-steps (i.e. hand wringing sessions) there were a lot of great presentations at AAAL this year. There were a couple of presentations that I attended that dealt with the learning of native languages of Australia by the natives themselves. The people presenting were from the University of Melbourne - it seemed like a delegation, or at least a group of colleagues that work together frequently.

 

These researchers were looking at three sites in Australia, but for the purposes of the presentations they only focused on one site, the Yakanarra Community (which I tried finding on a map, but I was having trouble even locating it). So this community isn't that old, it was founded somewhere in the 1980s and it brought together a number of Walmajarri speakers. The fascinating thing was that within a generation or so the Walmajarri language was replaced by an English Creole (Kriol) which is what the speakers speak today, but there isn't a standard variety of this Creole.

Some of the creoles are closer to English while others closer to the native language. Also, due to the fact that this population of people have children at a young age, teenagers are parents, 30-40 year olds are grandparents, and the 50+ are great grandparents. It's the 50+ generation that would have retained Walmajarri, however (from what I gathered) life expectancy is low, so there aren't that many of them?

Another interesting thing is that Kriol is the children's native language, but the teachers that the Australian government sends to those parts are not familiar with the Kriol so they have a hard time with teaching. The home language is Kriol, but the language of instruction is English - no wonder there are problems! Despite the 4+1 deal that teachers get (go there, teach 4 years, have 1 year paid time off) due to the remote location, most teachers only last six or so months. This isn't good for the children, and it's also not great for the teachers themselves (leaving feeling like failures). A little better teacher prep, it seems to me, would go a long way.

Other interesting facts gathered from side conversations: Australia had something like 200+ native languages, however at this time only about 20 or so have made it. Usually these are the languages of groups of people who were big enough in number to survive. Languages of smaller groups of people died out. Another interesting thing (a bit non sequitur) was that in New Zealand, Maori is spoken througout the island, while in Australia lots of languages flourished. Granted Australia is bigger, but still, it's an interesting thing to consider.

I'd be interested in keeping up with this group of researchers and these studies - the aboriginal languages (and Creole in general) is quite interesting.

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