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Perspectives on the Role of Elders in Intergenerational Language Transmission in Australian Aboriginal Language Communities

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posted on 05.12.2017, 09:26 by Amy Budrikis
This paper is part of ITML3

In the literature on language shift, intergenerational language transmission within the family is often presented as the crucial element for language vitality; where the family unit doesn’t use the language every day, language communities are doing little more than ‘biding time’ (Fishman 1991). However for many Australian Aboriginal language communities this key element has been and continues to be disrupted by the policies and practices of colonisation, including the forced removal of children from their families.

My PhD research looks at the perspectives of semi-speakers of Australian Aboriginal languages, who have experienced disrupted language transmission, on the question of reinstating intergenerational language transmission. Using interviews from four West Australian communities, I present some initial findings about semi-speakers’ ideologies and experiences regarding the roles of Elders in language transmission, including 1) Elders as language experts; 2) Elders as the leaders of language revival; and 3) ‘reverse’ language transmission from grandchild to grandparent. I discuss how these perspectives may contribute to the reinstatement of intergenerational transmission, but also how they may contribute to other community-led ways of keeping language strong.