Languages and Education in Indigenous Australia workshop

This week I attended a workshop on Languages and Education in Indigenous Australia, hosted by the Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language at ANU. It was an interesting counterpoint to the previous week’s event hosted by First Languages Australia in Adelaide, which focused on the implementation of the draft framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages in the Australian Curriculum and what was happening in various contexts. The Canberra event looked at language acquisition in Indigenous contexts more broadly, including children learning English and contacts languages as well as their own language.

We heard presentations from a number of CoEDL researchers, including work on individual differences in language development, the role of symbolic play in language acquisition, some research into first language acquisition in Papua New Guinea, and the role of prosody and other phonological features in language acquisition in Malay and Barunga Kriol. We heard about projects in communities such as Wadeye and Kukatja where English is not spoken much outside the classroom, and in communities such as Jilkminggan and Gunnedah where traditional languages are no longer strong. We explored some of the challenges inherent in language revival programs, the role of  Indigenous language in the Maths classroom, the effects of otitis media on Indigenous children’s language acquisition, how print literacy may impact learning Standard Australian English, the impact on children in remote Indigenous communities of NAPLAN testing and English language assessment more generally, and the ‘affordances’ of language programs in  the context of the Australian Curriculum. It was also interesting to hear about some contexts that don’t neatly fit into general approaches to language acquisition, such as the complex linguistic ecology of communities where neither Standard English nor traditional languages are spoken or taught, and what that means for contact languages such as Kriol, and literacy practices outside of the school in endangered language communities.

A public event gave opportunities to share about wonderful work on the Warlpiri theme cycle and the investments in education made in Warlpiri communities, then discussion and demonstration of some language apps for Indigenous languages. These included community involvement in the development of Memrise for languages of Tennant Creek, and making short videos using Powtoon for Gamilaraay, some other potentially useful game apps, innovative means of testing phonological awareness in Yolngu Matha, and the incredible work that’s gone into the creation of the world’s first Australian indigenous language app Tjinari in Ngaanyatjarra.

The final afternoon was spent brainstorming the issues raised throughout the previous day and a half, focusing on:

  • where we want education of Indigenous children to be in five years time;
  • how does our existing research fit into that
  • how can we engage with, learn from, and work more closely with policy makers, teachers, principals and other education workers about what research is needed
  • how can our research contribute to teacher professional development
  • how can this research be translated and impact on those who
    • determine policy
    • implement policy, i.e. teachers and principals

CoEDL has a wealth of experience in its researchers and projects, and can play an important role in this space. It was great to network with so many keen and interesting researchers, and we look forward to seeing where this discussion takes us next.

National Indigenous Language Teaching and Employment Forum report

For the last two days I’ve been attending the First Languages Australia National Indigenous Languages Teaching and Employment Forum in Adelaide. Around 100 people gathered from all around Australia to share ideas about this important topic.

The schedule moved from ‘big picture’ to local activities, starting with a presentation from ACARA about the national framework for Indigenous languages in the Australian Curriculum. Having established the framework, it’s now up to the different jurisdictions and schools to work out how to implement it. The framework aims to be inclusive but also deliberately generic, to allow for the many different contexts in which it will be implemented. Examples of implementation will be posted to the ACARA website.

Following a presentation about the function and purpose of First Languages Australia, presentations from each state or territory (except Tasmania) gave an overview of some of the activities, opportunities and challenges in each location. It was noted that the publication of the framework “has been a game changer for Indigenous languages in schools,” and each state is implementing it in different ways according to their populations and existing curricula. The value of language as a tool for social, cultural and economic development, including workforce development was highlighted, as well as the importance of community engagement in language programs.

Presentations about the MATSITI program to get more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers in schools, and from various training providers demonstrated the range of programs available for professional development and qualifications for teachers of Indigenous languages. (I was able to share briefly about the Living Archive alongside some of the training courses offered at CDU through ACIKE which focus on Indigenous languages and linguistics.)There are some interesting things happening in Alice Springs, with senior secondary students taking on Translation Tracks through VET in schools, looking at how to translate ‘real world’ documents, and visiting workplaces where language skills are needed. We also heard about the MILE program at Sydney Uni, which uses the resources from students’ own communities, and the Cert IV Teaching an Endangered Aboriginal Language which started in SA but is now available through Muurrbay in NSW. The AnTEP Aṉangu Tertiary Education Program from the APY lands, and the Gumbaynggir tutors program, opportunities through VACL, all reflected one participant’s comments “it’s not just language we’re teaching, it’s all about culture, our ancestors, our land, all together.”

On the second morning, we heard from school programs doing interesting and important things, and some of the challenges they face. Longstanding programs such as mother tongue education in the APY Lands, newer ones such as the Lurra program in several languages in Maningrida (where the point was made that learning in language gave the children a chance to be successful where they might struggle in English), Warlpiri and Anmatyerr in TiTree, efforts in Broome to create 20 fluent speakers of Yawuru in the next five years, Arrernte teching in Ltyentye Apurte, the strong history of language at Yipirinya School, and the challenges facing Indigenous language teachers in WA.

What emerged throughout the program was a series of ‘themes’ which were then explored in smaller groups, and issues were identified for each theme. In the final workshop, small groups aimed to write ‘one sentence’ which would sum up the situation and give focus to what is required. Key questions were addressed such as:

  • who will teach these languages?
  • who will fund the great ideas?
  • how can teachers be recognised and supported when their numbers are so small?

The value of events such as this is in bringing together groups of people with similar interests but working in very different contexts. The specifics are very diverse, but the challenges are just as vast. From languages with no speakers being revived from documents, to highly multilingual communities struggling to learn via English, the common thread was that each community was committed to passing on their knowledge to the next generation.

Besides the important issues discussed from the front, the support and encouragement felt among all attendees was very encouraging. In the many conversations during breaks, connections were renewed, relationships created, ideas shared, notes compared, resources shown, contact details swapped, stories told, and support demonstrated. People involve in teaching Indigenous languages can sometimes feel isolated and disconnected from support networks, so opportunities such as this are invaluable for connecting people and reminding everyone that they’re not alone, and that what they’re doing is important and valuable.

Thanks to Faith and the staff at First Languages Australia for bringing this group together, and to Karina and Simone for keeping it moving, and to everyone for being willing to share and support.

Katherine Language Centre audit

KRALC_signThe Katherine Regional Aboriginal Language Centre was a hub of linguistic activity from 1991 to 2010. Run by the Diwurruwurru-jaru Aboriginal Corporation, it served all the Indigenous languages of the Katherine region, creating resources and running teaching programs in schools.  All the materials in the library have been locked away since the centre closed in 2010, under the auspices of Mimi Arts, and last week a team from CDU (Cathy Bow and Trish Joy) and Western Sydney University (Sarah Cutfield) had the opportunity to audit the collection for archiving purposes.

The books and videos and other items on the shelves were stored in good order, but the rest of the room had become a bit of a dumping ground for boxes of paperwork and random AV equipment, so our first job was to clear that out.

before

Trish looking for treasures

admin_boxes

Plenty of admin paperwork

When we were able to access the bookshelves and two compactus units containing the resources, we found them in very good order. Everything was catalogued and stored in alphabetical order on the shelves. On one wall was shelves of video materials (both VHS and DVD), one compactus had text materials of languages of the region (separated into ‘Kriol’, ‘Eastside’ and ‘Westside’), and the other compactus had multimedia resources (cassettes, CDs, DVDs, minidisks, DV tapes, etc), and a great collection of language and linguistic resources for Aboriginal languages more widely, including languages of other regions, reference materials, etc.

Gurindji_shelf

Sample shelf of Gurindji materials

shelves

Shelf of multimedia materials

Catalogue

Sarah opening the catalogue

There was a Mac G4 computer which we weren’t sure would even switch on. Fortunately it did, and contained a catalogue of materials, but we couldn’t export it or find any way to extract the data, so that’s been taken back to Darwin to see if we can do it there. The library catalogue will be very useful to cross-check with what we found, and help us identify what material may already exist in digital form.

We created spreadsheets to record basic metadata for all the items we found and filled them out over  the next few days. Trish listed over 300 video materials in 30 languages, Cathy documented 560 text materials in 35 languages, and Sarah (who used to work in the language centre) had the job of working through boxes of ‘uncatalogued’ or ‘miscellaneous’ materials – some of which needed language identification.

It’s a fantastic collection of materials, including resources produced by the Language Centre itself (readers, story books, teaching resources, etc), plus reference materials (grammars, dictionaries, academic articles), video footage of local events, recordings of old people who have now passed away, collections of photos, reports, flashcards, games – all incredibly valuable for languages which have few speakers left.

Once we collate all our lists and cross-check with the catalogue, the next step is to identify what materials have already been digitised (or were born digital), to help us prioritise what materials still need to be digitised. Perhaps some of the linguists and language workers who used to work there have kept digital copies of some materials that they could repatriate? Perhaps the G4 computer has some useful files on it? We know there are some materials digitised in the Living Archive collection, and AIATSIS may have some also. (Please contact us if you have or know where we can find any digital files of materials produced at the Centre.)

Dennis

Mimi Arts manager Dennis Stokes

Special thanks to the lovely Dennis Stokes, manager of Mimi Arts, who made us very welcome in our task, and has exciting plans to reopen the Language Centre and continue the valuable work it did in the past. We also acknowledge Barbara Ambjerg Pedersen, the former manager, who kept the materials safe and in good conditions for years while the centre was not functioning. Also thanks to Caroline Jones from CoEDL for initiating the process of auditing the materials, and to Trish and Sarah for doing the hard yards auditing all those precious materials.

Unlocking a mystery

Decades after many of the language materials created at Gunbalanya were sent to the tip (only to be rescued by the local missionary and later sent to the Living Archive), a locked filing cabinet in the school (with no sign of a key) remained. Sue Reaburn was present at its unlocking and shared the story and photos with us.

Although no one knew what the filing cabinet contained, it was known to contain treasures of the past. To be sure it contained nothing secret or sacred, Joseph, an elder, took each drawer down the back of the room and systematically checked through it, removing anything he thought was inappropriate for full public viewing.

Among the things it contained was copies of old mission records, discs of images from the past with catalogues, old books some of them very rare related to Gunbalanya. While much of it had been through a flood, that which was considered worthy of preserving digitally was bought back to Darwin to be digitised either by LAAL or the Aboriginal Education Heritage Program. Digital copies of everything are being returned to the community, the final resting place of the important historical material is still being decided by the Gunbalanya School Council.

Gunbalanya_filing_cabinet (2)  Gunbalanya_filing_cabinet (4)

Gunbalanya_filing_cabinet (3) Gunbalanya_filing_cabinet (5)

“An extremely useful research tool”

Academic linguist Dr David Wilkins from ANU shares his reflections and experience using the Living Archive.

I can’t express effusively enough how wonderful (and important) I think the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages is.  It’s been amazing to see new life breathed into materials I had thought were lost in the mists of time.  I know at least one Arrernte woman who was very moved to find that some of her past work was now publicly available on the web. Moreover, I have found it to be an extremely useful research tool.

The reproduction of the materials in both original (pdf) and text format has made it very amenable to comparative linguistic research through the search function.  As a simple example, I used LAAL to explore uses of the “pan-Australian” exclamation /yakay/ ‘wow!; ouch!; hey!; oh no!’ (and its variant spellings) and found data from languages as different as Anindilyakwa, Arrernte (Eastern and Western), Djambarrpuyngu, Gumatj, Murrinh-Patha, Pintupi-Luritja, Tiwi, Warlpiri and  Wubuy. At least one of these languages had no entry in the available (and extensive) dictionary and grammar, but did have numerous text examples in readers that were only discoverable through LAAL. Also, where /yakay/ was recorded in a grammar or dictionary, it was commonly the case that no examples of use were given – and, once again, LAAL came to the rescue.  The availability of the pdf version means we can also get a much better contextual understanding of the use of the interjection because of accompanying pictures or illustrations. Further, in several cases /yakay/ is used in a speech bubble in  a picture or photo, thereby making it clear what accompanying bodily and facial expressions co-occur with the use of the exclamation.  I understand this is a simple, and perhaps minor, example of how LAAL can be used, but it should suffice to indicate the archive’s rich potential.

I also believe that the numerous books where the author has also illustrated their own work can provide important evidence on issues which are relevant to linguistics, social semiotics and cognitive science, since the two perspectives (linguistic and visual / pictorial) allow researchers to explore similarities and differences in how information is represented in the drawing vs. how it is represented in language.  In other words, it is not just a language archive, it is a multimodal archive that demonstrates, among other things, a nice range of local artistic representational talents and choices.

Finally, I applaud the attempts that have been made to expand the usefulness of materials for schools and communities through initiatives like the Living Archive’s Digital Story Competition. It was great to be able to hear and see stories that had previously only had a ‘print’ presence. It would be nice to see further similar initiatives.

I only have one current suggestion for improving the usefulness of the archive – fuzzy string searching (approximate string matching). This would help both community members and researchers alike: given the variability in orthographies and spellings even in one language, it can be hard to find exactly the items one is searching for.

All this is simply to say congratulations to the members of the LAAL development team.

Wilkins Photo.JPGDavid P. Wilkins, PhD
Research Associate
ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language
Australian National University
and
Language and Linguistics Consulting

Corpus building workshop

The Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language held a workshop in Melbourne last week to “develop accessible corpora from lesser-described languages for new ways of empirical research on diverse languages.” Many language documentation projects collect a range of texts (both audio and written) which can be collated into a corpus for various different types of research. Having these resources available in appropriate formats makes it easier to do research, both within a particular language and across different languages.

After a plenary by Ulrike Mosel from the University of Kiel, a number of different researchers spoke about their own corpora – including some of the challenges and opportunities presented by their collections. Michael Christie spoke of the growing collection of texts by Yolŋu researchers on topics such as housing, gambling, education, etc., created through the Yolŋu Aboriginal Consultants Initiative, the Yolŋu Studies program (both at CDU), and many other research projects. He commented on the depth of  knowledge available in Yolŋu Matha texts, and the opportunities for Yolŋu themselves to explore and expand these.

It was gratifying to hear a number of presenters refer to the Living Archive as a source of material for various language corpora, and Greg Dickson also described a small experiment he did creating a small corpus of Kriol texts from LAAL and using a corpus linguistics tool called AntConc to do some simple analysis.

Having been mentioned several times on the first day, the Living Archive was officially presented on the second day of the conference, with one attendee describing it as “magnificent”, and some suggestions about how to handle materials for which we haven’t yet got signed permission.  We are already sharing LAAL resources with some other researchers who are developing a corpus of Warlpiri materials, and are happy to share ideas and resources with others.

This was a good opportunity to connect with others collecting materials in languages for which there may not be much material available, and to discuss the best ways to keep the materials safe, best practice for metadata, as well as what kinds of access conditions are most appropriate. We look forward to the next steps so we can ‘shepherd’ these materials into useful resources for research and reuse.

Creative Commons workshop

Investigating the use of Creative Commons licenses with Indigenous language materials Northern Institute, Charles Darwin University
March 29-30, 2016
Workshop report

Thanks to a small grant from the Faculty of Law, Education, Business and Arts (LEBA) at Charles Darwin University, granted to the Northern Institute (Cathy Bow) and the School of Law (David Price), an expert in the area of Copyright law and Creative Commons was invited to facilitate a two-day workshop in Darwin in March.

Our invited guest, Dr Anne Fitzgerald is a barrister who has practised, taught and researched in the areas of intellectual property law, internet/e-commerce law and international trade law for more than 20 years. She was a key part of  Creative Commons Australia’s engagement with the Australian public sector,  which resulted in Creative Commons licences being adopted as the default copyright licence by the Australian federal government. On this visit to Darwin, Anne was accompanied by another experienced IP and crown lawyer, Neale Hooper, who has also been heavily involved in the Australian arm of Creative Commons and its implementation across government departments.

Workshop participants were invited from partner agencies of the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages project (Northern Territory Library, NT Department of Education, Batchelor Institute, CDU Library), as well as other interested parties (ACIKE, ARDS, SIKPP (Yolngu Studies), iTalk Library, NAAJA, Northern Institute).  There were 23 participants on Tuesday and 16 on Wednesday.

Dr Fitzgerald presented a helpful overview of Creative Commons (CC) and the six CC licenses available, and how they align with copyright law and facilitate the remix and reuse of digital materials. There was information about how the licenses have been used across different sectors in government and research, and some cases where the validity of the licenses had been tested and approved. There was a demonstration of some of the tools available for facilitating the use of CC licenses and appropriate attribution. David Price from CDU’s School of Law gave a useful overview of copyright law and how it relates to Traditional Knowledge (TK) and Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP), which was highly relevant to the participants.

The remainder of the workshop focused on specific case studies, where participants were able to share from their own experience some of the challenges and concerns they have about using CC licenses. Cathy Bow shared in detail about the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages, and the challenges involved in the decision to use a CC-BY-NC-ND license to promote engagement with the materials while respecting their integrity. Kerry Blinco from NT Library presented on their Community Stories project, and tried to separate some issues which are often grouped together, such as copyright, moral rights, ICIP, conditions of use, access control (secret/sacred/sorrow), cultural warning and metadata. Hannah Harper from ARDS presented on the importance of developing a shared vocabulary to discuss issues of ownership and copyright with Yolŋu people, before presenting a particularly interesting case about a film project which raised some thorny issues about ownership and IP. Karen Manton from Batchelor Institute spoke about the CALL collection and their focus on preservation, access, growth, promotion, and supporting community activities to preserve, maintain and revive culture and language practices. She identified some of the concerns they face in the digitisation project and the website project, and their reasons for not using Creative Commons, in order to include specific protocols.

The discussion of specific projects and issues was most helpful, as it connected the general issues of CC and copyright law to specific practices, and the input from two very experienced lawyers in this area was most valuable. There is room within CC licensing to include reference to specific protocols for respecting ICIP, however these protocols are not enforceable by law. Both Anne and Neale pointed out that practice often precedes policy, as was their experience with the implementation of CC licensing with public sector information leading to official announcements about open data in government. As our projects establish best practice, we can create new norms which can then influence government policy. It was agreed that the discussion about these issues should continue, with plans for a conversation circle to meet regularly to enable ongoing work in this space.  There is potential for a larger project exploring how this may happen on a wider scale.

In addition to the two-day workshop, Dr Fitzgerald also presented a public lecture as part of the Open Territory program, hosted by Northern Territory Library and sponsored by the Northern Institute.  The audience came from business, government and education, and were given an overview of how different sectors have used CC licensing to enable the opening of huge quantities of data, and the benefits of this across a number of areas.

Thanks to our presenters, Anne Fitzgerald and Neale Hooper, and all the workshop participants for an excellent event. Special thanks to LEBA for the small grant funding which allowed the event to occur, and to the Northern Institute for their support and assistance.

CC workshop

VALA 2016

Jayshree Mamtora, the Research Services Coordinator from Charles Darwin University Library shares her experience presenting about the Living Archive project at a national library conference last month.

 VALA 2016 Conference

In February, I had the opportunity to attend the VALA 2016 Conference and present a paper, Preserving the living archive of Indigenous material, jointly written with Neil Godfrey, CDU Library’s Digital Collections Coordinator, and Cathy Bow, LAAL Project Manager. The VALA Conference is a major Australian library conference held biennially at the Melbourne Convention Centre, and  this year attracted 1300 delegates.

Our paper primarily focussed on the contribution of the CDU Library to the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages project. The Library was responsible for setting up a digitisation program to preserve the language materials, establishing, hosting and maintaining the digital repository, and developing a web application to make it more easily accessible. As such, the Library played a key role in facilitating both Indigenous community engagement and international linguistic research with these Indigenous language materials.

My presentation generated a number of interesting questions at the end – about the range and types of materials in the collection, how the material was collected, and the future of the archive. The presentation also generated some very positive tweets:

VALA_LAAL_tweets

The tweeter who said “what a jewel this archive is” was actually brought to tears by the presentation. Kris Wehipeihana, the President of LIANZA (Library and Information of New Zealand Aotearoa), was very moved by the work that had been done in the setting up of the Archive, from her experience with Maori language and culture.

The project serves as a rich case study demonstrating how academic libraries can work with researchers to support the archiving of cultural heritage and will prove useful to others planning similar projects. Our conference paper is available (open access) through CDU Library’s eSpace repository.

Jayshree 

Today we celebrate International Mother Language Day, and this year’s theme is

Quality education, language(s) of instruction and learning outcomes

Languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage. All moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.

In that context it is interesting to reflect on the history of the bilingual programs in the Northern Territory and the legacy of these programs, including the books that were produced to resources these programs, to help children develop literacy in their first language before transitioning to English. Many of these books became endangered as a result of the declining support for the program, but are being preserved and made accessible online through the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages.

Andrew Manakgu from Gunbalanya was involved in the Kunwinjku bilingual program from its early days. Now working at Injalak Arts in Gunbalanya, he was recorded recently telling the story of the origins of that program, and about the books that were created and why they’re important. Listen to his story below and check out some of those books here

Thanks to Andy Peart for making the recording, and working with Jill Nganjmirra and Murray Garde on the translation.

Kunwinjku and other Bininj Kunwok languages are also the focus of a new research project, which will use some of these materials to develop online teaching programs for Indigenous languages in Australian universities.

LAALcomp ibooks entries

A number of entries into the LAALcomp used iBooks Author to create their entries. These files only play on Apple devices but you can download them here and play them on your own device. WARNING – the files are very large!

GitkitGitkit ga Wäḻuŋu (iBooks) in Warramiri from Gäwa (Elcho Island)

From the author: “This is an important story for Warramiri people. It teaches the kids how to speak language. I recorded an old lady telling the story, then wrote the text and recorded it. Ranhdhakpuy drew the pictures, and Colin put it together using iBooks author.”

Ngay_kaNgay-ka ngurrinidha ku kurnern-nu in Murrinh-Patha from Wadeye (ZIP file – 21Mb)

From the author: “I was taken for mussels in mangroves by a family and I was amazed at the children’s ability to spot the mussels camouflaged in the mud. I thought it was a fun way to use the hunting trip as a way of introducing counting to the very early years. I took photos on the trip and reduced the size in Photoshop. I used ibooks author to create the digital story and at the end used widgets from ibooks Author and iAd producer to give some interactive activities for the children.”

MiyernuMiyernu nangkal nukun in Murrinh-Patha from Wadeye (ZIP file 26 Mb)

From the author: “It is a fun, inquisitive text for very early years. I typed the text, then an artist drew pictures. I scanned them and reduced the size in Photoshop. I used ibooks author to create the digital story and at the end used widgets from ibooks Author, Bookry and iAd producer to give some interactive activities for the children.”