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Nov 3, 2010

And the UN Award goes to… (how do you say that in Gumbaynggirr?)

I love statements like the one Aden Ridgeway has made. Influencing language policy isn't just the stuff of governments, lobby groups, reports and other potentially snore-worthy documents. Language policy decisions and changes also happen on community and personal levels.

Greg Dickson writes…

I’m of the impression that the great work done by the small band of Australians dedicated to supported Australia’s first languages usually flies under the nation’s radar.  (Which at times, makes me a tad cranky!).

So it’s great to see that a bilingual opinion piece published this time last year on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald was recently awarded the UN Media Peace Award for Promotion of Aboriginal Reconciliation.  The piece was written in English by former Democrats Senator Aden Ridgeway and translated into Gumbaynggirr by the people at Muurrbay Language Centre in Nambucca Heads who are doing great work breathing life back into the original language of the area.  Congratulations and well deserved!

I love statements like the one Aden Ridgeway has made with his piece.  Influencing language policy isn’t just the stuff of governments, lobby groups, reports and other potentially snore-worthy documents.  Language policy decisions and changes also happen on community and personal levels.  We make personal decisions all the time about how we use language – which one to use where – and this can be deliberate and political.  I, like everyone else, am constantly making little personal language policy decisions.  I might talk more like a bogan when I’m around people who I think are trying to sound too posh, to try and bring them down to earth a little or show that I don’t want to belong to their group.  Or I’ll pronounce names of Aboriginal languages “correctly” rather than Anglocise them not just to show off but because I think all Australians should have a better awareness of how to pronounce Aboriginal language words.

Publishing a front-page article in Gumbaynggirr makes a statement, one that is a non-governmental language policy decision.  It’s the SMH deciding that yes, Gumbaynggirr is a language valuable enough to give it considerable space on our front page.  It’s Aden Ridgeway saying yes, my words are powerful not just in English, but also in Gumbaynggirr.  It’s the Gumbaynggirr mob at Muurrbay Language Centre saying yes, our language should be prominent.  Front-page.  In your face.  Sometimes these statements can be just as influential on the wider community as any document a government can put together.

Gumbaynggirr dictionary and learner's grammar - all 414 pages of it!  Published by Muurrbay Language Centre.
Gumbaynggirr dictionary and learner's grammar - all 414 pages of it! Published by Muurrbay Language Centre.

And all this before we’ve even looked at the content of Aden’s piece: “Language is power; let us have ours”.  It’s powerful stuff, speaking about the important of Australian languages to Aboriginal and Islander Australians.  And how governments fail to appreciate this, citing in particular the NT Government who abolished mother-tongue (or bilingual) education in favour of a policy mandating English instruction for the first four hours of every school day. Ridgeway says (in the English version) that this policy demonstrates “a mindset plaguing Aboriginal affairs that devalues and demonises the strength and value of culture and identity within our indigenous communities”.  The NT Government continues to stand by their English-in-schools policy, even though it sends a clear message to remote Territorians that their languages aren’t good enough for classrooms.

Again, Congrats to all involved on the article and the award.  Keep talking because some of us are listening.

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One thought on “And the UN Award goes to… (how do you say that in Gumbaynggirr?)

  1. Australia’s Indigenous languages “Top 10 moments in the sun” | Fully (sic)

    […] The article went on to win the UN Media Peace Award for Promotion of Aboriginal Reconciliation (as discussed previously on Fully (sic)). It is a great effort to be able to push Australian languages into such domains and […]