Awabakal language program
"I was bottom of the class in English at school. I sat in the back row and stared out the window because I just couldn't keep up with it all."
This was the surprising introduction to a talk from Daryn McKenny, who many people have come to rely on for his expertise in all areas related to information technology. Daryn was in fact reflecting the dilemma faced by so many Indigenous students who are forced to learn in a language that isn't that of their own people, and therefore does little to engage them in the learning process.
With his own early learning experiences shaping an understanding of the needs of students of all ages, Daryn has adapted state of the art technology for use in language programs.At the Alice Springs forum Daryn demonstrated the breadth of the Arwarbukarl Cultural Resources Association (ACRA) language teaching database to the audience.
Language revitalisation is a key function of the Arwarbukarl Cultural Resources Association (ACRA) despite the fact that only a smattering of documentary evidence of the language exists from the 1880s.
While this situation is not unique to the Awabakal language, the Lower Hunter New South Wales community has been greatly helped by the development of software tools for language analysis and recording, appropriate to the needs of their situation.
Specifically, database application designer Daryn McKenny has developed software which can be easily used and understood by the non-linguistically trained user. This is said to contrast with the majority of linguistic analysis software available at present. Many Indigenous cultural organisations involved in language work find such tools too complicated and as a result don't make use of the full capacity of the application they've bought.
The ACRA database is an example of grass-roots development which comes with a simple design, layout and directions (user interface), but is backed by powerful analytical capabilities to ensure maximum effectiveness for any language program. The design of the system is made more attractive by graphics, sound and video imaging, and encourages users to incorporate their own multi media into the program.
The database itself is one that can be copied by other communities with similar needs to the Awabakal, and will in effect save people having to "reinvent the wheel." Most importantly, the ACRA database combines a range of functions most requested by Indigenous cultural heritage organisations, that aren't available from most larger scale projects offered at a state and national level. This is the ability to provide basic linguistic analysis and the capacity to create language resources from the data that has been collected. McKenr therefore sees the database as meeting a strategic need for smaller organisations, while allowing ease of integration with larger Indigenous language resource management frameworks.
The project has been designed to comp with internationally accepted best practice standards for the creation and manageme of linguistic data.
This ensures that the initial finances and effort invested in the creation of language materials has a long term benefit for futur generations of the Awabakal people.
Here is a brief case study of the project. highlighting the key aspects that have contributed to its success.
The ACRA Language database has the following main features:
- a simply formatted word user area. Allows language workers to input all information related to listed words. eg. Indigenous word, translation, descriptive categories, grammatical categories, note related multimedia, audio, video and still images.
- a production area. Allows the user to collate and/or print lists chosen by different categories. eg. Words list order by Aboriginal to English, or English to Aboriginal, a list of plants, cross selection c categories.
- a learning area. This consists of 3 level of learning, basic, intermediate and advance and draws heavily on the multimedia archiving for a user friendly presentation, especially for young children.
Flexible linguistic tool
Perhaps the most important feature of this database is that it allows the language worker/linguist to make full use of the power of the computer and the program itself to help unlock the grammatical secrets which may exist within a language, specially where there are no speakers left to assist the community. It has been designed for ease of use of nguage users, whether or not they have linguistic training.
For workers involved in the Awabakal nguage projects, it has meant that they are able to maximise the benefits of any funding ley receive. They believe they are ableto optimise the time spent by a linguist on their project to give the funding provider flue for money, while allowing community members to be involved in all stages of research and development of resources.
As it is important that children are introduced to their language as young as possible and in fact many pre-schooler children are computer literate, Daryn is developing a screen that will be usable by a hild before even they can read.
If you would like to know more about he ACRA database please contact Daryn McKenny at the:
Arwarbukarl Cultural Resource Association
T 02-4961 05 15
F 02-4961 0516