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Director weekly highlights 28 May

Nicholas Evans, Outreach

Date: 28 May 2021

This week is National Reconciliation Week, and a good time for all of our community to take stock of what we are doing, and what else we could be doing, as linguists, as citizens, and — for many CoEDLers — as people who are either members First Nations Communities themselves, or who have had both the privilege and the responsibility of working and living closely with people in Indigenous communities and forming deep ties of friendship and adoptive kinship. 

The dates bracketing this year’s National Reconciliation Week are particularly significant, marking the successful 1967 referendum which allowed the Commonwealth to make laws for Aboriginal people and include them in the census, and the 1992 Mabo Decision by the High Court overturning the doctrine of Terra Nullius. A particular useful feature of this year’s National Reconciliation Week is its list of Twenty Actions for Reconciliation, which can be found here

Many of these fall to us as citizens — like buying from First Nations Businesses, challenging our political leaders to take action on racial injustice in issues like incarceration, supporting self-determination through community-controlled and Indigenous-governed organisations, or meeting the challenge of ‘overturning the cult of disremembering and the great Australian silence’. But others touch on our special concern for language — whether by or taking the simple step of including First Nations country names when addressing an envelope (see here) or by what is listed under Action 19 – Speak Up for Languages: 

‘Know your local area language(s) of the Traditional Custodians of the land on which you live. Where available, organise for a Traditional Custodian to teach some of this language to your workplace or community group. 
Actively support First Nations language revival programs. Know and use Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander placenames and petition councils and governments to use placenames. Make First Nations languages visible in public spaces.’ 

CoEDL, in its bones, is committed to this, and once again this week’s newsletter has many stories on these lines. Our CoEDL executive and WSU colleagues had the good fortune last Friday at the WSU CoEDL Showcase to hear Chantelle Kamchuang talk about how the ERLI checklist gives a much more realistic assessment of language development by being tuned to the specific words Indigenous children learn first (e.g., a ‘sleepytime’ word not found among standard Australian English speakers). These aspects of child language would simply be missed by standard assessment tasks, falsely feeding the still-too-prevalent deficit narrative. Mitch Browne was formally conferred with his PhD for his description of Warlmanpa in the Northern Territory, the first comprehensive description of this Ngumpin-Yapa language. And Mark Richards reported on a beautifully put-together project, the Warrma Mangarrayi ‘Listen to Mangarrayi’ app, which he has been working on with the Jilkminggan community and Sarah Bock of e-Learn Australia — it cleverly draws on older recordings of Mangarrayi to pull out material that can be re-tasked for language learning by younger community members and has an architecture that will readily adapt to the use of other languages.  

(I’d also urge you to take a look at CoEDL website. Over the last week we have posted stories on the Patji-Dawes winners, on Doug Marmion’s Public Service Medal in recognition of his incredible work with the Ngunnawal community and their language, and on the newly-funded project to create a talking e-dictionary for Ngarinyman, involving Ngarinyman community members Joy Campbell, Christine Daly, and Mikayla Friday-Shaw, who will work with CoEDL CIs Caroline Jones (WSU) and Felicity Meakins (UQ).)  

Meanwhile our roller coaster ride through the COVID pandemic continues — last Friday saw our first executive meeting on-site at WSU since the outbreak began, resuming the rotating pattern around Nodes, each having their chance for an in-person afternoon research showcase. But then these last days with the new Melbourne lockdown and renewed cancellations of interstate travel are a stark reminder of how easily a new wave of accelerating infection can arise. If you haven’t already done so, please get vaccinated as soon as you can — I’m booked in for my first Astra-Zeneca next Wednesday. 

Have a good National Reconciliation Week and do take a little time to visit the Actions for Reconciliation website and think about how we can advance this fundamental process of healing the wounds, silences and injustices of the past.  

Nick Evans, 

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University