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Linguistics training in indigenous adult education and its effects on endangered languages

Caffery, Josephine (2008). Linguistics training in indigenous adult education and its effects on endangered languages. PhD Thesis, Charles Darwin University.

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Author Caffery, Josephine
Title Linguistics training in indigenous adult education and its effects on endangered languages
Institution Charles Darwin University
Publication Date 2008
Thesis Type PhD
Subjects 2003 - Language Studies
Abstract Australia is losing its Indigenous linguistic and cultural identity at an alarming rate. Of the 250 Indigenous languages on this continent 250 years ago, only eighteen are ‘strong’. However, if decisive action is not taken immediately we risk losing the remaining languages by 2050. Not only have these Indigenous languages been lost, but many have disappeared without adequate documentation. There is a strong desire expressed by Indigenous communities and Australian policies to reverse this situation before the remaining Indigenous languages are lost.

Documentation and maintenance activities by linguistically trained Indigenous adults are vital to reducing this loss. This research project analyses the past 30 years of courses and graduates of linguistics training that has been specifically designed for Australian Indigenous adults. It then explores what enhances or constrains the work of graduates, whether due to training or other factors, from the point of view of Indigenous people at the grassroots level. The data were gathered through openended interviews with 98 participants in 22 Indigenous communities representing 32 Australian Indigenous languages across the northern half of Australia.

The data show that graduates of linguistics training specifically designed for remote Indigenous adults are not working in the field or are achieving limited language documentation and maintenance outcomes. The analysis shows that changes are needed in (i) curriculum developments and delivery methods, (ii) the policy and practices of educational institutions, particularly with respect to literacy and student numbers, and (iii) access to regional language centres to help negotiate cultural and project support issues in remote communities. The details of these issues vary systematically across the diversity of social and cultural environments faced by Indigenous Australians.

The results provide guidance to educational institutions, the linguistics profession and governments. They assist in the development of targeted, culturally appropriate and effective training for Indigenous language researchers and identify the vital linguistic support and policy needed in remote regions of Australia.


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