$500,000 grant to preserve Indigenous languages

13-Nov-2013

$500,000 grant to preserve Indigenous languages

A project aiming to preserve more than 4000 books, recordings and audio-visual materials in 25 Indigenous languages has been awarded more than $500,000 in ARC funding


A project aiming to preserve more than 4000 books, recordings and audio-visual materials in 25 Indigenous languages has been awarded more than $500,000 in the Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellowships and Major Grants funding announcements.

With Australian Indigenous languages and literature under threat, the team of researchers from Charles Darwin University has travelled thousands of kilometres throughout the Northern Territory, in search of the stories produced in 20 Literature Production Centres.

CDU Professor of Education and project leader Professor Michael Christie said the “Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages” project, aimed to build a digital archive of endangered literature in collaboration with the language-owning communities.

“Thousands of books and other school materials were produced in Australian Indigenous languages by Aboriginal people, in collaboration with staff in school bilingual education programs across the NT,” Professor Christie said.

“The stories are valuable tools chronicling Indigenous cultural heritage, and range from environmental knowledge to traditional practices, oral literature, ethno-botany and history.”

Dr Brian Devlin is the other Chief Investigator at CDU who will be working on this project alongside project manager CDU linguist Cathy Bow and the CDU Library. "The collection of previously unrepresented languages will be of key significance to remote schools in the NT, where new educational policies emphasise the bilingual nature of all schools in communities where Aboriginal languages are spoken," Dr Devlin said.

An ARC Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities grant in 2012 enabled the team to digitise and create a living archive of 16 Australian Indigenous languages. The next step of the project aims to involve more partner organisations to radically expand the number of languages and document types that will be available through open online access.

“Stage II of the project will allow us to preserve books and other materials including many items from language communities, which never had bilingual programs but still produced written stories in Indigenous languages by Indigenous authors,” Professor Christie said. “We’ll also be able to focus on re-engaging people in communities with these stories and in classrooms and research organisations all over Australia and the world.”

Professor Christie said that, when launched, the website would be more than simply a repository of materials to preserve language. It also aimed to engage academics and the wider community.

“The web-based archive will enable researchers nationally and internationally to engage with the texts and related resources, and with the original language-owning communities to pursue collaborative and grounded research,” Professor Christie said.

“Australia’s languages have evolved over many thousands of years to enable and enact unique human relationships with the social, cultural, technical and natural worlds. This resource will make publicly available a large archive of previously unavailable resources to support this work.

“Moreover, as a living archive that will continue to grow, this resource will facilitate connections with knowledge and language owners, most often descendants or relatives of the original story tellers.”

The project is collaborative with the Australian National University, Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education, NT Department of Education, Northern Territory Library, and the NT Catholic Education Office.

For more information visit W: www.cdu.edu.au/laal