Posted by: brian | June 5, 2007

Australia – the land that’s down under, and white

And “should” speak only English, apparently. Thanks to Mary for pointing this one out. Choice excerpts:

In Australia the Indigenous Affairs minister, Mal Brough, declared on May 24 that “he was considering a plan to restrict welfare payments to aboriginal parents in order to force their children to attend school and learn English.”

[T]hese [aboriginal] languages are at the lower threshold of size with respect to having a sustainable populations of speakers.

The story cites Laklak Burarrwanga of Yirrkala as reporting that she was made to wash out her mouth with soap if she was caught speaking her aboriginal language at school. Worse used to go on: aboriginal children were literally kidnapped by the state and taken away against their parents’ protests to be educated far away in English-speaking schools.

Despite the inevitability of the demise of these languages, what function does it serve to punish native speakers who do not yet speak English? It is likely that, with such small populations, the languages will die out of their own accord within a couple of generations. What rational explanation can they offer for this proposal?



  1. Surely the situation is dire, but inevitable?…

    “Language revitalization efforts bloomed in 2006”

    Aboriginal Language Program Handbook (or part thereof — page down for success stories)

    A few language revitalization efforts:

    A few resources:
    (This third item is an awesome book, and I’m not just saying that because I’ve met one of the authors)

    Without a doubt English is a juggernaut and as time goes by more and more languages will cease to be spoken in favor of this latest worldwide lingua franca — but when you stop fighting, that’s when you officially lose.

    (Also, just a note: some are a little less careful than I’d like with the terms “language revival” and “language revitalization.” Typically the former refers to the rare sitch when a language w/no native speakers is brought back into use, and the latter refers to strengthening and stabilizing a language that still has some capacity for language transfer from parent to child, use in home and/or community, etc.)

  2. I gotta stop double-commenting. Right after this.

    As long as we’re talking about treatment of minority languages, let’s not forget France. Maybe not quite as racist as Australia, but just as absurd. As always, Language Log puts it best:

    (The second one has a funny anecdote which, true or not, is believable given similar statements from French politicians that exist in attestable form.)

    Okay, that’s it, back to my neglected blog.

  3. Points taken. I guess the part that might be most inevitable is that the speakers in these small communities will learn English eventually. Whether it supplants their native tongues is a matter for debate, and there is where the efforts ought to be spent.

    Also: Those crazy French!

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