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Language revitalisation – an overview | Language, Communities, Linguists, Community, Role, Committee, Linguistic, Skills | FATSILC, Fed. Aboriginal Torres Strait Island Languages and Culture
Language revitalisation – an overview PDF Print E-mail

For present and future generations, communities consider recording, documenting, and publishing of language materials to be vitally important. Communities have been involved in producing a wide range of resources, such as dictionaries, grammars, language learning and teaching materials for the classroom. Further, communities are developing a broad range of experience in publishing various electronic as well as printed formats, including books, audio and video recordings, CD-ROMs and websites.

Increasingly, members of communities are undertaking training and receiving qualifications in the fields of linguistics, applied linguistics, language policy and planning, education and ICT; more and more they are working as academics, teachers, teacher aids, linguists, teacher-linguists, language workers, language specialists, web designers, software developers. Also, communities continue to find willing partners among non-Indigenous staff in schools, linguists and ICT specialists and consider them to be important collaborators and supporters in language revitalisation. Many consultants respond to this need with commitment and in generous ways. There is much work to be done and many people are very involved in this important work.

The rights and role of communities PDF Print E-mail

Communities are the owners and custodians of their languages and cultures. They have the right to the greatest possible access to the best available linguistic and educational supports and resources for the revitalisation of their languages. They have the right to develop as many skills as possible, in the course of any language project. They have the right to be consulted about all aspects of materials published in and about their languages.2

While many materials are available for many languages, it is also true that some of these materials have not been of immediate benefit to language communities. It is good for communities to deal with this, for example, if they are not already familiar with the linguists who have done work on their languages, communities could find out who the linguists are and approach them and talk with them. It is helpful to get to know the person behind the linguistic documents. If the linguists who have materials on their languages are still alive, communities can gain a lot from contacting them.

Increasingly, Indigenous people are emerging from within communities and are researching and teaching their languages and acting as a ‘connector’ between the linguist and the community. These people have a very important role to play on behalf of their communities. While communities consider non-Indigenous consultants to be important supporters and collaborators in language work, there is nothing more important and powerful than Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people working on their own languages.

The Australian Linguistic Society has described linguistic rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities which members of
the society respond to in their work with Indigenous language communities. See
2 The Australian Linguistic Society has described linguistic rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities which members of the society respond to in their work with Indigenous language communities. See
The role of linguists PDF Print E-mail

The role of linguists includes working both with communities and with other linguists. When working with communities, linguists provide expertise in documenting and describing languages. They have training in analysing the rich and complex structures of languages. They work creatively with archival documents, sound recordings, language speakers and informants. They apply their intellectual labour to the data collected from these various sources in order to compile and produce publications such as grammars and dictionaries. Publications such as these can take years of work. Linguists need to respond to the requests, ideas and aspirations of communities for the revitalisation of their languages. Linguists can support communities by being committed to developing practical as well as theoretical resources. As part of any language project, a linguist should be passing on useful skills and knowledge which the community can continue to use independently, eg computer skills, skills in language description and analysis, using and maintaining recording equipment, applying for grants.

When linguists work with other linguists, they share the results of their research, through teaching and through publishing books and papers and speaking at conferences. This is an important part of their role. Through writing and speaking in national and international contexts, linguists critique and appraise each other’s work in order to more accurately analyse and describe the languages they are working on.

The role of language centres PDF Print E-mail

There are numerous language centres in Australia.3

These language centres are in the unique position of being driven by and directly answerable to the communities for which they do their work. The work of each language centre is determined by the decisions of its committee. The committee is comprised of representatives of language groups in the region. Through the committee, there is community control of language projects. Ideas for projects, whether suggested by communities themselves or by researchers, go through the committee. In this way, the committee is in a position where it is aware of, and informed about, all of the language work that is happening in the region serviced by its language centre.

Language centres employ staff to facilitate linguistic work in the region. Staff members are directed by the committee. The resources produced by staff and communities are for the use of the community from which they come.

Not every part of Australia has a formal language centre, nor is all language work undertaken only through such organisations. Yet, in many regions, language work is still very active. Often, where a language committee has been established, it may be found working out of a local community organisation, or simply out of someone’s living room. Even where there is not currently enough funds for a formal language centre, the language work being done is still vital and the language committee still an important reality, keeping  track of various language projects in the region.

3For contact details of language centres and an outline of the projects they are each involved in, see the FATSILC National Indigenous Languages contacts directory at

The role of schools PDF Print E-mail

In some locations, schools play a crucial role as a delivery point for language projects which are initiated in, and controlled by, the community. These language programs are of central importance to the students’ academic progress, personal development and cultural pride. In schools with effective language teaching programs, community language teachers are recognised as valued members of staff, contributing in meaningful ways to school policies, plans and schedules and involved in professional development opportunities.

Trained classroom teachers have skills that they can pass on to community language teachers. These skills include lesson planning, creating age/stage appropriate resources and classroom management techniques. During the language lessons, classroom teachers can continue to be supportive of the community teacher by showing interest in, and being respectful of, the content of the lessons, and by being prepared to learn alongside the students

Language teams PDF Print E-mail

In many successful language revitalisation environments, a language program will have a team of people working together – community members, teachers, linguist. Ideally one of these people will have knowledge of theories and research on language acquisition and skills in effective language teaching methodologies.