More deeply depressing news from the Northern Territory


Jane Simpson Endangered Languages and Cultures July 6, 2011

Central Australia is home to some of Australia's few communities where Aboriginal languages are still spoken by children: Warlpiri, Pitjantjantjara, Pintupi and some Arandic languages. For many years they had mother-tongue-medium instruction programs at school, often taught by trained Indigenous teachers and supported by linguists and teacher-linguists. Governmental support for these programs has eroded over the years. Fewer Indigenous people have trained as teachers — reportedly only a handful have graduated in the last couple of years over the whole Northern Territory.

And now Central Australian government schools have lost their last linguist. The funding allocated for the salary for the remainder of the year will go to the Darwin Languages Centre, which deals with non-Indigenous and Indigenous languages, but is mostly about teaching as a second language.1 No funding has been allocated for a Central Australian linguist in 2012.

There's an Indigenous Language and Culture Officer position who supports schools, but again no funding is guaranteed for 2012.

So for the rest of this year and maybe forever — no linguist to support teachers in Central Australia in

  • Indigenous Language teaching and curriculum development
  • developing, providing and archiving resources for Indigenous language enrichment
  • teaching English as an additional language – i.e. helping teachersunderstand the language background of their students so they teach them English more effectively

Let alone get new teachers up to speed on the language background that kids come to school with.

Let alone look after the immensely valuable language resources developed in Central Australia over nearly 40 years of mother-tongue medium instruction programs.

E-mail your constructive suggestions to the relevant NT Government ministers and officials: and Gary Barnes, CEO, NT Department of Education and Training:

1. For example, the website states that the Darwin Languages Centre library currently caters for Arabic, Auslan, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, Tiwi, Vietnamese, Yolngu Matha.

Jane SimpsonJane Simpson
PhD, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, BA(Hons) and MA, Australian National University.

Jane teaches linguistics in the Linguistics Department of the University of Sydney, and works on the Australian languages Warumungu and Kaurna.

Jane has carried out fieldwork on Indigenous Australian languages since 1979, and received a PhD in linguistics from MIT in 1983 for a study of Warlpiri in the Lexical-Functional Grammar framework. She then worked in Central Australia on Warumungu language and language maintenance, and helped set up a language centre in Tennant Creek. She also carried out various consultancies (e.g. Aboriginal Legal Aid, Aboriginal Sacred Sites Protection Authority), and worked on the Warumungu land claims. - Read More | Jane Simpson's recent blog entries

Parliament of Australia - House of Representatives

House Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs
Committee activities (inquiries and reports)
Inquiry into language learning in Indigenous communities

The Committee will inquire into and report on Indigenous languages in Australia, with a particular focus on:

  • The benefits of giving attention and recognition to Indigenous languages
  • The contribution of Indigenous languages to Closing the Gap and strengthening Indigenous identity and culture
  • The potential benefits of including Indigenous languages in early education
  • Measures to improve education outcomes ion those Indigenous communities where English is a second language
  • The educational and vocational benefits of ensuring English language competency amongst Indigenous communities
  • Measures to improve Indigenous language interpreting and translating services
  • The effectiveness of current maintenance and revitalisation programs for Indigenous languages, and
  • The effectiveness of the Commonwealth Government Indigenous languages policy in delivering its objectives and relevant policies of other Australian governments.