Viability of Aboriginal Language Revitalization in New South Wales

By Kabir Matharu.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Australia, while widely recognized for its biological diversity, is also regarded for its linguistic diversity. Prior to European colonization in 1788, Indigenous communities collectively spoke around 260 languages. However, European influences decimated these languages via disease, war, and draconian policies that forbade the indigenous expression. The state of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages has been in a precipitous descent since colonization. Currently, only a few have more than a thousand speakers. In New South Wales, the premier state of settler-indigenous contact, only six languages out of seventy have a population of speakers with the potential of sufficiently propagating them. With the endemic demise of minority languages, extensive research has been conducted on endangered languages internationally, juxtaposed with the continuing domination of certain languages in contemporary society. However, most of the research literature is focused on the situation in the Americas. There are currently several avenues for language revitalization in New South Wales despite little intergenerational transmission of surviving Aboriginal languages. School- and university-based language programs have been established by indigenous communities and prominent linguistic activists. However, problems still exist within monetary, political, and social domains. Nevertheless, the recent upsurge in Aboriginal languages spoken by indigenous and non-indigenous scholars indicates that while revitalization is still in its trial stages, it is an active process attempting to override past actions which have silenced the voice of many Aborigines.

Keywords: Indigenous Languages, Language Revival, Australia, Aboriginal Australians, Torres Strait Islanders, South Pacific, Bilingual Education, Minority Health and Outreach, Linguistic Identities

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp.157-162. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 497.569KB).

Kabir Matharu

Researcher, Department of Linguistics, Koori Centre, Cornell University, University of Sydney, Ithaca, New York, USA

Kabir Matharu is a graduate of Cornell University, with a BA in English Literature and Concentration in Indigenous Studies. He became interested in the field of sociolinguistics through coursework on development of the English language and minority linguistics. Studying abroad at the University of Sydney under the auspices of the Cornell Presidential Research Scholars and Gilman International Scholarship programs, Kabir conducted research on Indigenous Australian language revitalization efforts in the Sydney-area. This work took him to various parts of the country to speak with community leaders, including the Northern Territory and the state of Queensland. He holds a special interest in minority health and outreach, due to the inextricable link between language, culture, and health. Kabir currently conducts research at Harvard Medical School within the field of pathology.

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