Some people use other terms,
such as re-awkening to talk about language revival, but
these terms are often not as clear in meaning.
The framework also
distinguishes language revival from language awareness,
where the goal is mainly to learn about the language and
maybe use some fixed expressions like greetings and speeches,
but not to use it for effective daily communication.
The exact process would be different
for each language depending on how much was recorded,
remembered, still spoken, and the goals people wanted to
achieve. But there are some essential steps that need to be
followed. As most of these require some technical skill and
would be assisted by a good knowledge of Australian languages,
assistance from a linguist familiar
with the field would save a lot of time and effort. It is
also crucial to involve the best available speakers of the
language if at all possible.
survey should be undertaken to establish what information has
been recorded for the language. Is there a grammar or
dictionary? Are there any recordings held in archives? As much
of that material as possible should be gathered together. At the
same time it would be good to establish how much language is
still used or remembered in the community. If people remember
how to say some words or sentences they should be encouraged to
record them, keep using them, and to teach them to as many
others as possible. It is critically important to keep any
spoken language alive!
progress has been made in these tasks it may be possible to
start identifying any gaps in the language. Are there words or
ways of saying things missing from the recorded language? What
new words might be needed to make it possible to start using the
language for modern life? Again, linguists usually
have skills and knowledge that will assist in this reclamation stage.
At this point
it might be necessary to make a hard decision about whether
there is enough language available to try for full revitalisation,
or whether only an awareness
can be supported. An awareness program mainly focuses on
teaching people about
the language and how to say a few words, fixed phrases and maybe
speeches, but not to restore it to full everyday use.
If there is no
group of speakers of the language, and people intend for it to
be spoken again, a group of new speakers will need to be
started. Even if there are a few partial speakers it is critical
that the number of adult speakers, particularly of childbearing
age, is increased as quickly as possible. Only after there are
adult speakers will it be possible for children to be raised
It can be
helpful at this stage to introduce literacy in the language, to
help people write down what they are learning, write to each
other, and increase the presence of language in the environment.
However the critical issue is to increase the number of
speakers, so the focus still needs to be strongly on speaking.
The next step
is to raise children in an environment where only the language
is used, or is used as much as possible. They will still learn
English, even if their parents never speak it to them. There
will be enough English around them anyway to make sure that
happens. The difficult part is to support them in gaining full
competence in the heritage language that isnít widely used
outside the home.
there is a new generation of first language speakers is it
necessary to start teaching school subjects through the
language. To do this, there would be a need to develop the
language in ways that allow new registers, ways of talking and
writing in particular situations, to emerge. It wonít hurt to
start it earlier, but just teaching a
language in school wonít bring it back.
language is one that has passed from everyday use and being
transmitted to children, and has later been brought back to life
using historical records and peopleís memories. Because of a
period of not being used, a lot of knowledge about it will have
been lost, and it will have been necessary to actively fill gaps in the language to
make it useable again.
version of a language is the one that most speakers use. If
there enough people using the language there may even be more
than one correct version, or different dialects. If
people are actively using the language then their current
practices are the true version. What is written in books, or
what used to be the way the language was spoken, doesnít really
matter any more if the speakers have moved on and are speaking
it differently now. English books from 200 years ago reveal the
language has changed a lot since then and no-one would suggest
going back to that way of speaking now.
Of course, when
you are reviving a language that isnít being spoken you will
want to try and get the revived version to be as close as
possible to the original. However, the lack of current speakers
and records will ultimately make this task very difficult, if
not impossible. You are certain to be faced with missing and
conflicting records, or ones that raise as many questions as
they answer. It is also important to realise that even if you
start from a version very close to the original, it will still
change over time. That is the nature of living languages!
like this the reviving group will have to make some hard
choices. It may be possible to borrow from neighbouring
languages. Otherwise new words and structures may have to be
developed. A linguist can
help with this process, sometimes called language
but which is more organic. It would involve a linguist
working with the community to decide how to make additions or
changes to the language. For example, many communities have
developed words for days of the week or modern technology and
concepts. A linguist
can provide advice on how the language created new words in the
past (all languages do create new words all the time) so that
the community can make informed and collective decisions about
how to make changes.
is not to continue to revive
the language and just to have an awareness
program where people learn about the language and how to say a
few fixed expressions, but donít aim to return it to everyday
You canít. All
healthy languages change over time. The only languages that
donít change are the ones that are no longer spoken. If you had
a time machine and could take a modern speaker of an Australian
language back to 1788, they would have trouble understanding
their ancestors. But, if you took a whitefella with you, they
would have trouble understanding the English people in the First
Fleet as well. Both languages would have changed a lot over
languages are just as subject to change as others. The loss of
many languages across the continent over the last two centuries has been an enormous negative change.
From the moment they came in contact with English the languages
started to change. The earliest records show the people quickly
started borrowing words from English to describe the new animals
and objects that they were seeing for the first time. These new
words were then very quickly borrowed by neighbouring languages.
In this way, English words became incorporated into Aboriginal
languages. For example, some Aboriginal languages have a word
for cat, based on the English word pussycat. In Gumbaynggirr the
word is bujigaan
and, in neighbouring Bundjalung, it is budhigehn, while far away in the
Western Desert is is putjikat.
the influence of English, linguists have been able to observe
features changing in Australian languages, sometimes under the
influence of other local languages, and sometimes with no
apparent influence at all.
If a language is revived, it must be
expected to change. No-one can stop it!
If a language
has not been spoken for some time, then teaching it in a school
program will obviously mean it is being spoken again. However,
it is not likely to cause it to be spoken much outside school.
Lots of people
learn a foreign language at school. But, except for holidays
overseas or visits to places in Australia where that language is
frequently spoken like restaurants, they rarely have much
opportunity to use it outside school. And once they leave school
they usually lose it fairly quickly, unless they can find
opportunities to use it.
language in school is highly unlikely to bring a
language back into use for everyday communication in the
community. Students wonít be able to use the language much after
leaving school if no-one else uses it in their daily lives. They
will have no-one to speak the language to, unless they only mix
with their old classmates, and wonít be able use it to do
meaningful things. They will just use the same language as
everyone else around them is using. It might be the case that a
few words and phrases make it out into the wider community and
appear in their English speech. But, there is very little chance
that whole language will start being used throughout the
language in school is also highly unlikely to cause children to
start learning it as native
For this to
happen parents would need to take specific action to speak the
language to their children at least as much as they speak
English to them. This is what would be necessary to produce a
bilingual child who had two first languages. There is nothing
about teaching language in schools that will cause this to
happen. For one thing, the kind of language taught in school
programs is not the kind of language someone would need to use
with a baby. For another, parents would need some training and
support to help them succeed.
a language to being spoken widely and as the first language of
children requires specific actions and a long-term plan that is
supported by, and engages, enough members of the community.
theory suggests that the first step to returning a language to
being spoken in the community is to teach it to the adults,
especially the adults who are likely to produce the next
generation of children. This would take a lot of time, and a lot
of effort and commitment from all the people involved.
Once a new
generation of language-speaking adults had been established,
their job would be to bring up their children as speakers of the
language. To do this at least one parent would need to speak
exclusively in the language at home. Even if both parents spoke
mostly in language to their children, the children would still
learn English from the rest of their family and others in the
If the children
in the community are taught the language before the adults, the
children will have no-one to speak the language to at home or
after they leave school. However, if the adults are taught
first, the children will be able to speak to the adults and use
the language at home while they are learning. And by the time
the children have children, there will be grandparents who can
look after the kids and speak language to them. This is the way
intergenerational transmission can be restored.
These two steps
would return the language to being spoken by some members of the
community and return
it to being transmitted from adults to children. These two
activities are what define a living language.
To achieve the
best results it would be good to also have a school language
program. However, the best model would be to have an immersion
or bilingual school to allow the children to be educated in
their own language.
No, but if you
want to stop language from being lost, it is best to have some
things that are only
talked about in language.
possible for people to conduct all aspects of their life in
English, there is little reason for them to speak another
language. They would get little benefit from it except a sense
of pride and group membership, and that is rarely enough to stop
a language from being lost.
The use of
Latin in the Catholic Church provides a good illustration. When
church ceremonies were conducted in Latin the priests had to
learn to speak it to perform the ceremonies with understanding,
and many other Catholics learnt it so they could be more
meaningfully involved. Latin had died as an everyday language
centuries before (actually, it had evolved into Italian, French
and Spanish). But, its use as a ceremonial language for a large
religion ensured that many people around the world kept learning
and speaking it.
However, when the church changed its
position to allow the mass to be said in the local language,
there was little reason to learn Latin any more. So, people just
stopped. Latin is now very rarely learned or spoken.
In the same way Australian languages
need to have some reserved uses where only they can be spoken.
This gives people a reason to keep speaking them. In areas where
ceremonial life is strong, it could be ceremony. But it would be
better if there were also more everyday activities as well. In
some North American communities where bingo is popular, they
conduct the weekly bingo games in language. In some places
community meetings must be conducted in language Ė if
you canít speak the language you have to get a speaker to
represent you, and you can only vote in language. This gives
people an incentive to make sure they can speak for themselves.
aspects of life that are culturally foreign and not easily
spoken about in the language, it may be easier to just stick to
English. The time and effort involved in trying to adapt the
language to talk about, say, nuclear physics may not be worth it
and would be better spent on supporting people to talk about
speak their own languages for some things and use English for
others. This is how most bilinguals work. While there is a lot
of overlap, they donít usually speak about everything in both
languages; they tend to use them for different purposes.
simply guides to how things should be done. When they concern
interaction between people they can be thought of as codes of
conduct or just statements of what is considered good manners.
They are decided by people and intended to give guidance as to
how certain situations are best handled. Most importantly, they
are supposed to make sure things happen smoothly without
mistakes, offence or embarrassment.
revival people often make reference to protocols. For example,
people may say there are protocols regarding whether language
can be taught on or off country, or who can teach or learn a
language. We know that historically, and even now in those
remote areas where languages remain strong, people would just
learn a language by mixing with each other as part of their
normal lives ‑ not by being taught by someone acting as a
teacher, and not in any situation like a modern classroom.
People were, and still are, great travellers and often picked up
other languages from visitors and from visits to different
country, sharing it like they share everything else. This
suggests it was unlikely that there were such restrictive rules
in the old days, apart from very special situations like
people need to make decisions about how best to save and revive
their languages. As many people no longer live on their own
country there need to be ways for them to learn their language
that donít require leaving where they live now. A protocol that
prevents them from learning their language because they live off
country is only going to hinder revival and limit peopleís
access to their language.
Some people use
the word linguist to mean anyone who speaks more than one
language. For others it means a person who works in a university
or language centre and conducts research on languages. People
also talk about community linguists when they refer to
community members who use their skills to produce material for
language learners or work alongside research linguists.
In the early
days much of the language information was recorded by soldiers,
settlers, missionaries, magistrates and Ďprotectorsí. Although
they may have studied another European language at school, none
of these people had training in linguistics; they were just
interested individuals who tried to write things down based on
English sounds and spelling. For that reason their records can
be quite misleading and need skilled interpretation.
Unfortunately some people still believe that these folk were
professional linguists and blame them for the lack of reliable,
good quality records.
On this site
linguist is used to mean someone who has accredited,
university level skills in language analysis and an
understanding of the grammar and sound systems of all human
languages, which they can apply to any language in a
professional capacity. People who speak an Australian language
are simply referred to as speakers.
People who have
rights to an Australian language, but do not necessarily speak
it, are called language owners or heritage speakers.
people, usually speakers, who use their language knowledge to
work alongside linguists, are referred to as community
linguists or language workers. Community linguists
often share many of the skills of linguists, often having a
particularly extensive knowledge of the grammar and sound
systems of their own language.