Saturday, 21 September 2013

There are renewed demands for

"indigenous languages" to be taught in schools.  These are coming from Professor Peter Buckskin at the University of South Australia. He believes that all Australian children should be taught an indigenous language.
It is the good Professor's job to believe this but it is also politically correct nonsense. It can't be done. It won't be done and it should not be done.
I am aware that there are people, apart from the Professor, who will disagree with me. They will jump in and say I do not know what I am talking about, that it is important to retain indigenous languages and culture and give them a much higher status in the community. They will claim that there are people for whom these languages are a first language and that they have the right to use them as such. I have no doubt someone will tell me we should make more effort, as a society, to use indigenous languages.
I think I have pointed out elsewhere in this blog that there are problems with this, many problems. There are problems relating to which languages are taught and what version of these languages are taught. How do you retain a language which needs vocabulary it does not have for the twenty-first century - and how do you teach indigenous concepts accurately to those who have twenty-first century ways of thinking? What is more, how accurate is what is being taught anyway? It is almost certainly not very accurate. Do native speakers of indigenous languages want others to learn their languages? Do they want to use them as their means of communication with the rest of society? Do some people want to confine their capacity to learn and read in languages which only have the smallest amounts of material available?
There are said to be an increasing number of Pitjantjatjara speakers but are these schoolchildren who are being given their primary school education in this language and who will later lose it if they continue their education in English? What measures are being taken to ensure they retain the language and would teaching it in other settings really produce fluent speakers and retain the language in everyday use? Of course not.
As for Kaurna, another local language mentioned as a possibility for the classroom, that was extinct in 1931. It was "revived" and is used as a second language by a small group of enthusiasts. I have heard it spoken at a funeral, just as I have heard Pitjantjatjara spoken at a funeral. But Kaurna was spoken merely as a greeting. It was not used fluently. Kaurna probably has less chance of survival than Cornish, Breton or Manx. Trying to teach it in schools would simply be a waste of resources and precious teaching time. Pitjantjatjara may survive but it will have to change in order to do so. 
I don't want to suggest any of this is a good thing. The loss of any language is a loss to overall humanity. Languages however change and evolve and some do die out. All minority languages face  problems but they are particularly acute for some Australian indigenous languages. I can understand Professor Buckskin's concern  but I cannot condone his solution because it is not a solution at all. It won't save the languages. It may destroy them completely.


Anonymous said...

My grandfather was a Lutheran missionary. One of the things he tried to do was learn the language of the people he was sent to work with. They taught him some words but they wouldn't teach him everything. In the end one of them explained that he wasn't allowed to know it all because he didn't belong. I'm not sure how they put it but that is what they meant. They actually thought he was being rude wanting to know their private business. There's probably still a lot of that and probably a lot got lost because of it. The people who talk the language have to want to keep it anyway. You can't tell them they have to do it.

Anonymous said...

More important to use the common language of the country so that they can communicate with ALL those around them.