Academic journal article Babel

Embracing Babel: The Framework for Australian Languages

Academic journal article Babel

Embracing Babel: The Framework for Australian Languages

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) has been developing language-specific curricula for a range of languages in the Australian Curriculum: Languages and has also undertaken development of a Framework for Australian Languages, to provide guidance for the development of curricula for specific Australian Languages (Aboriginal languages and Torres Strait Islander languages) to accommodate the varied situations across Indigenous Australia. Foremost among the challenges for the Framework for Australian Languages is the multiplicity of languages potentially to be covered. It is estimated that there were some 250 Australian Languages at the time of the first sustained contact with outsiders. Of these only about 20 are still spoken 'right through'. The other languages are in various states ranging from minimal documentation and language use through to significant advances in language revitalisation (Walsh, 2001). Because there are so many languages, the framework is not, and cannot be, a language-specific curriculum.

The learner pathways for the framework are: first language learner, language revival learner and second language learner. Typically the first language learner pathway will be for Indigenous students 'on country' in more remote parts of Australia. The second language pathway, on the other hand, will typically be learned 'off country' as is the case for Pitjantjatjara in places like Adelaide and other centres in South Australia quite distant from the Pitjantjatjara homelands. The largest array of languages is in the language revival learner pathway, which will most often be studied by non-Indigenous as well as Indigenous students.

In this article we explore some of the framework's challenges in embracing the concept of Babel- from the Biblical story of the scattering of people across the earth and the 'confounding' of communication through the introduction of multiple languages.

KEY WORDS

Australian Curriculum, curriculum, curriculum development, Aboriginal languages, Torres Strait Islander languages, intercultural language learning, curriculum design, linguistic and cultural diversity

THE FRAMEWORK FOR AUSTRALIAN LANGUAGES

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) has been developing language-specific curricula for a range of languages, and has also undertaken the development of the Framework for Australian Languages (hereafter the Framework). This document will provide guidance for the development of curricula for specific Australian Languages. It therefore has been pitched at a high level of generality so as to be able to accommodate the varied situations across Indigenous Australia. One point of comparison might be to consider what a Framework for European Languages might look like: it would need to cover Finnish and French as well as German and Greek! The Framework has been designed so as to assist people in developing a language-specific curriculum for potentially any of the 250 Australian Languages.

THE ECOLOGY OF AUSTRALIAN LANGUAGES

Broadly speaking, it is estimated that there were 250 Australian Languages at first significant outside contact. Roughly 20 of these are still spoken 'right through' with the remainder in various stages of decline or revival (Schmidt, 1990, p. 1-2; Commonwealth of Australia, 2012, p. 34). In addition, for most languages there is dialectal variation which can be important for group identity and thus adds to the complexity of the overall linguistic situation (see, for example, Dixon, 2010). Particularly over recent decades there has been an extraordinary increase in language revitalisation activity (e.g. Troy & Walsh, 2010; Walsh, 2001). Some languages that had been written off are gaining new texts and new vocabulary. One such example is Butchulla from south-east Queensland for which a lullaby has been performed and written by the Aboriginal language activist, Joy Bonner (see https://open. …

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