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ANU - CoEDL Linguistics Seminar: Are you able to translate for us?, Anneke Myers, 23 Apr

Australian National University, Outreach

Date: 15 April 2021

Seminar: ‘Are you able to translate for us?' What the record shows about parliamentary committee interactions with L1 speakers of Indigenous languages

Speaker: Anneke Myers

When: 23 Apr 2021, 3pm-4.30pm

Where: Hedley Bull Theatre 1, Hedley Bull Building, ANU and via zoom (please email for zoom link invitation)


The emerging presence of First Languages in Australian parliamentary debate and in legislation has attracted scholarly and public attention (Battin, 2018; Grimes, 2018; Goodwin & Murphy, 2019; Murphy, 2020). However, the presence of Indigenous language speakers in parliamentary committee proceedings has thus far received little to no attention. On 17 October 2019, standing order 35 of the Australian Senate was amended to require that the transcript of any evidence given to a Senate committee in an Indigenous language must include both the original language and an English translation. This new requirement raises a number of questions, for example, how often is evidence given to a Senate committee in an Indigenous language? Beginning with this question, this research adds to current sociolinguistic scholarship and may also have practical relevance to the evolving practices of federal parliamentary committees with regard to Indigenous languages. 

My preliminary analysis of Hansard transcripts reveals that at least a few words of one or more Indigenous languages were spoken at around 70 federal parliamentary committee hearings between 2010 and 2020, on matters ranging from health policy to the destruction of the caves at Juukan Gorge. Using existing and new metadata attributes, I have displayed this quantitative data analysis as an interactive online map. The map provides an overview of this corpus and includes data such as the year, location and subject matter of each hearing. 

The official text and audio records of these public hearings are publicly available and contain rich data for linguistic analysis. Informed by my corpus of Hansard transcripts, the next phase of this research selectively samples these public records to investigate how parliamentary committees currently take spoken evidence from L1 Indigenous language speakers, noting that these interactions are largely in English but occasionally involve interpreters. Aligning with Gumperz’s interactional sociolinguistics and Hymes’s ethnography of communication approach, I also propose to draw on established intercultural communication scholarship in other Australian institutional settings such as courtrooms (e.g. Eades 2018; Cooke, 1996), land claim hearings (e.g. Walsh, 2008; Koch, 1990) and hospitals (e.g. The Communicate Study Group, 2020). 

Parliamentary committee hearings where even a few words of an Indigenous language were spoken (map) 

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