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Digital not always the answer

Emma Waterman

Digital is not the Messiah that will save dying Indigenous language says academic.
Digital not always  the answer

Digital is not the Messiah that will save dying Indigenous language, says academic.

Prior to British settlement in Australia, there were 250 known Indigenous languages thriving across the country. In 2013  a meagre 20 remain.

Arts Minister, Tony Burke, recently announced that the government would start accepting proposals from individuals to assist in the revival and maintenance of Indigenous language.

The minister is seeking to develop programs for community-driven and culturally appropriate, digital and multi-media language resources.

John Hobson, Director of Graduate Indigenous Education Programs, at the University of Sydney, said he welcomes the government's allocation of $14 million to support and protect Indigenous languages in Australia. However, he hopes the government doesn't select a disproportionate number of digital solutions from the submissions.

‘The internet and digital world cannot save us. They cannot save Indigenous languages. Of course these things have benefits but they are not the Messiah,' Hobson said.

'We don't need another website or DVD or multi-media application, these are short term, quick fix solutions. What we really need is sustainable initiatives, to create opportunities for Indigenous language users to communicate with each other in their native tongue. To get people speaking again.' 

Hobson outlined the need for the public's proposals, to be consulted with experts in the area. ‘I think we would see better outcomes for the indigenous communities involved, if the programs were informed by people with expertise in the area, who know what works and what doesn't and where money is most effectively spent.'

'I would be concerned that people at the grassroots level may not have a clear and comprehensive idea about what is most useful to a diverse range of Indigenous communities on a large scale - about the logistical realities of what can be done, what cannot be done, what is too expensive and what is too cheap.' 

For two weeks starting today, the government will accept proposals for the Indigenous Language Support program, under the National Cultural Policy, Creative Australia. 

Minister Burke said language is central to the practice and continuation of culture for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

‘People often talk about translating different languages as though language is a code which can automatically be transferred from one language to another. The truth is, that is a myth, and there are always ideas, concepts and emotions in any language which simply can’t be translated.’

‘Preserving indigenous languages isn’t simply about preserving the languages themselves, it also ensures that culture, concepts and values remain part of Australia forever.’

In September last year, a report, Our Land Our Languages, from the House of Representatives inquiry into language learning in Indigenous communities identified the critical need for government investment to counter the steady erosion of Indigenous languages.

Launched earlier this year, Creative Australia, the national cultural policy, allocated nearly $14 million, in new funding for Indigenous language support, over the next four years. This extended the government’s investment in the maintenance for Indigenous languages to $54 million, across the four years.

Applications open Thursday 16 May 2013 and close 6pm AEST Thursday 30 May 2013.

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About the author

Emma Waterman is an Adelaide journalism student.