The soon to be lost Indigenous languages of SA: Research

Brett Williamson ABC Adelaide 4th March, 2011

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With the disappearance of many Indigenous languages in South Australia a current threat, a group of Univeristy of Adelaide researchers have spent the past five years investigating how the languages could be preserved.

For the past five years researchers from the University of Adelaide have travelled the width and breadth of South Australia to track the survival rates of the many Indigenous dialects in the area.

Their research has revealed that the survival of up to 20 community languages may lie in the hands of its most pressured generation, today's youth.

By interviewing 145 Indigenous voluntary candidates throughout South Australia, Peter Mühlhãusler, Paul Monaghan and Petter Naessan were able to ascertain generational trends that would soon decide the survival of several of the Indigenous dialects.

By interviewing candidates from the ages of 16 to 70, primarily in Adelaide, Ceduna, Murray Bridge and Port Pirie, the researchers found most primarily spoke English, and through the likes of generational attitudes and relocation, several Indigenous languages were not being passed on.

"Some people spoke two, or new about two, and some said that they mainly speak English," Petter Naessan said.

"The diversity is quite extensive."

Petter found that, as with other cultures, many of the surveyed residents in particularly Adelaide and Port Pirie had moved to these locations from other areas, and had lost touch with the dialects from their original mobs.

"For instance in Port Pirie, the majority of the people we interviewed were Arrernte speakers from Hermannsburg and Alice Springs.

"That was surprising but still quite interesting," Petter said.

With the two dominant Indigenous languages spoken in South Australia being Pitjantjatjarra and Yankunytjatjara, Petter said the other languages were in various states of 'severe endangerment'.

"Most are actually no longer spoken, particularly in the southern and eastern parts of the state."

Petter found that there was a significant difference in preservation interests of the languages from those surveyed who were born after 1967 due to a change in assimilation policy from the governments of the times.

"The younger people are, the more they tend to be willing to support Aboriginal-English and to teach that to their children."

With the future of the minor Indigenous languages lying in the hands of the current generations, Petter found a strong gender difference in the peer networks of young Indigenous cultures, with young females tending to have less ethno-linguistic members of their own groups in their peers.

"I think that there are a lot of younger Indigenous people that are very proud of their ancestry and heritage, and that is definitely a strength."

Petter also said another strength in the research that was discovered was the sense of ownership of the languages, and a wish to continue dialect preservations through non-governmental agencies.

Through the results of the research, the team has compiled a booklet with recommendations on how people can recognise, capture and reuse whatever parts of a dialogue they currently know to ensure languages survive.

And for those worried that teaching children more than one language may confuse and even hinder their educational process, Petter says the introduction of a second, or even third language to a child is actually quite healthy.

"A child can learn two or three languages in the time it takes to learn one.

"To know more than one language is neuro-linguistically good for your brain."

You can download a PDF file of the full 435 page report (file size: 2.07 MB) or the booklet of recommendations (file size 20.1 MB)

Bilingual children have an edge, research shows

Psychology professor and senior researcher Diane Poulin-Dubois
Photo by Concordia University

Aaron Derfel, Montreal Gazette January 20th, 2011

Bilingual children as young as the age of 2 start showing greater "cognitive flexibility" than toddlers who are unilingual, suggests a new study by researchers from Concordia and York universities.

The research appears to confirm what bilingualism supporters have long argued: that learning two languages -rather than "stuffing" the brains of children with too many words -actually gives them an edge over kids who speak only English or French. Earlier research showed this benefit in 5 and 7-year-olds, but the Concordia study shows it starts much earlier.

"Academic performance and school readiness are based on many abilities, but one thing is for sure: this is one ability that will be helpful. Exposing toddlers to a second language in their development provides a bilingual advantage that enhances attention control," Poulin-Dubois said.

"Exposing toddlers to a second language in their development provides a bilingual advantage that enhances attention control," Poulin-Dubois said.

Partners in research:
This study was funded by the Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

"Bilingual children outperformed their unilingual counterparts on tasks where they were distracted," says Poulin-Dubois. "The small bilingual advantage that we observed in our 24-month-old bilinguals is probably due to a combination of infants’ experience listening to and using their two languages."

"These new findings have practical implications for educators and parents", says Poulin-Dubois. "Exposing toddlers to a second language early in their development provides a bilingual advantage that enhances attention control."

The effects of bilingualism on toddlers’ executive functioning