Lost languages day - reservations

David Nathan djn at aiatsis.gov.au
Wed May 29 00:42:51 UTC 1996

Dear colleagues

Following discussions about the "Lost languages day", I would like to
mention some views that might also be taken into account. These views come
from an Australian perspective, in particular from some Aboriginal people,
linguists and other language workers in the south-east of the country.

Many people here believe that describing languages as "lost" is a way of
obscuring the colonial experience whereby much more than language was
indeed lost, often in terrible circumstances. In other words, "lost"
seriously obscures the agency of the process: some say that instead we
should use the word "destroyed" and say who did so.

Secondly, some Aboriginal communities in Australia believe that their
languages are their own (whatever the state of knowledge about it), and
that action in relation to languages should follow protocol and ethics that
take place at a community level. Communities that feel like this want to
locally determine the direction that their language takes, both in its use
and representation.

Thirdly, there is significant work in language reclamation and revival
going on in Australia, as there is in many other countries. In some of
these cases, it is possibly not helpful to have statements such as "these
words will never be heard again", or unequivocal pronouncements that the
language is "dead" while others are working very hard trying to make the
words heard again and give the language new life.

It is also certain that some Indigenous peoples and individuals here will
support the  "Lost languages day" proposal in its current form - the
comments here are merely suggestions gathered from several individuals.

thank you

Dave Nathan

Dave Nathan
Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
GPO Box 553, Canberra 2601, Australia
djn at aiatsis.gov.au       djn at coombs.anu.edu.au
Ph 06 246 1166 Fax 06 249 7714

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