Framework for Aboriginal Languages and Torres Strait Islander Languages


Context statement

The Language Revival Learner Pathway (LR) provides opportunities for students to study Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander languages that are being revived by their owners or custodians and are in various stages of revitalisation, renewal and reclamation.

The LR category covers a much broader range of language types and ecologies than either L1 or L2, and the vast majority of Aboriginal languages and Torres Strait Islander languages are included in the LR category.

Schools teaching the Language Revival Learner Pathway (LR) will most likely be located broadly within the region of the target language and culture, sometimes in towns and cities, and other times in rural and remote regions. Classes will likely include students who relate closely to the language and culture, as well as students with varying degrees of affiliation with the language and culture, including some who have no connections to either the language or the culture. A key expectation in the LR pathway is that of students having opportunities to interact with Elders and particular places on Country/Place.

The Language Revival Learner Pathway draws on the Australian Indigenous Languages Framework (AILF) and takes into account key variables such as: how much is known and documented of the language; the extent to which it is used or remembered, ranging from no longer being spoken (owners often use the term ‘sleeping’) to being spoken fluently by members of the older generations; and the extent to which it has been reintroduced into the community of owners and custodians.

These variables give rise to the following broad categories of language revival:

  • Language Revitalisation: where there are fluent L1 speakers (typically members of the older generation) but where intergenerational transmission of the language has been interrupted. Younger generations may understand some of the language and may use some words and phrases, but do not speak it as their first language. Examples of revitalisation languages include Walmajarri in the Kimberley, Yindjibarndi in the Pilbara, Meriam in the Torres Strait, Dyirbal in north-eastern Queensland, Wubuy (Nunggubuyu) in Arnhem Land, and Adnyamathanha (Yura Ngawarla) in the Flinders Ranges. .
  • Language Renewal: where there are a number of adult speakers who use the language to varying degrees in the community, but not ‘right through’, and where there are other language resources to draw upon. Examples of languages being renewed include Noongar in south-west Western Australia, Gumbaynggirr on the north coast of New South Wales, Ngarrindjeri on the Lower Murray Lakes in South Australia, Djabugay in the Atherton Tablelands in northern Queensland, and Yugambeh in southern Queensland.
  • Language Reclamation: where language revival, by necessity, relies primarily on historical documentation of the language in the absence of active community knowledge of it. Examples of reclamation languages include Kaurna from Adelaide, Narungga from the Yorke Peninsula, Dharuk or Eora (Iyora) from Sydney, Yuwibara from central Queensland, Wemba-Wemba and Woiwurrung from Victoria, and Awabakal from the Newcastle area in New South Wales,

A number of factors and variables will need to be considered when developing a language revival curriculum, including:

What is known and documented about the language:

Many languages may only be known from wordlists, which are typically of widely varying quality. Some may have sketchy grammars. Others may have recorded texts from which some grammar may be extracted. Others, which have slipped from everyday use, may have audio and film resources. In the case of poorly documented languages, where speakers no longer exist and sound or film resources were never made, there will be many gaps to fill. Source materials will need to be interpreted through comparison with each other and with closely related languages, if documentation of these languages exists.

Where there are still speakers of the revival language, fewer gaps will need to be filled and fewer assumptions will need to be made. The remaining speakers of the language will be the arbiters of what is correct or not. In such cases, it is not unusual to have widely differing opinions about what is right, which may simply reflect underlying dialect differences or processes of language change. Where a language is only known from written, historical records, there will be more need for interpretation and the support of historical and comparative linguistics in rebuilding the language, with the understanding that the revived language will most likely never precisely match the original language in structure, vocabulary or usage.

The extent to which the language is used or remembered

Revival languages also differ in the extent to which they have been re-introduced into the community of owners and custodians, for example:

  • the range of functions for which the language is now used (for example, private conversations, written communication, digital messaging, social media)
  • the extent of its use in the public domain (for example, public speeches, Welcomes to Country, Acknowledgements of Country, naming of public entities and institutions)
  • its use in educational programs (for example, at school or post-school level, in community schools, involving both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people)
  • the degree of development of contemporary resources (for example, alphabet books, dictionaries, grammars, learner’s guides, readers, animations, radio shows, television shows, websites with online language lessons, phone apps).

Some languages have only just begun their journey of revival, while others have advanced to a point where initial generations of new first language speakers are emerging, as parents use the revived languages with their children.

For languages with limited documentation, English or another community language might be used in school programs in a complementary fashion, for example, to fill in for missing words or expressions. Alternatively, language owners and the community in general may decide to sidestep these gaps altogether, avoiding the use of English or other languages entirely.

Implications for developing language specific curricula and language programs

The curriculum content and achievement standards in the Language Revival Learner Pathway are generalised in order to cater for the range of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander languages that may be learnt within this pathway.

The Language Revival Learner Pathway is pitched approximately at middle-of-the-range revival languages; that is, those languages which no longer have fluent first language speakers but have sufficient resources, including a grammar and dictionary, to enable a comprehensive, cumulative, rigorous and meaningful teaching program to be developed. Where there are major gaps in knowledge or documentation relating to a particular language consideration needs to be given as to how far the curriculum content and achievement standards can be realised and sustained for long-term, cumulative learning. An Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander cultural studies program may be the better option under circumstances of severe constraint.

Many programs will use the LR pathway for languages that have few, if any, speakers or associated language community. It is conceivable, however, that over time a language functioning well in revival mode could develop a sufficiently substantial speech community across all generations for it to be taught and learned in either the L1 or L2 pathway. Until a revival language achieves this critical mass, however, the recommended language learning pathway remains LR.

The content descriptions, content elaborations and achievement standards for the Language Revival Learner Pathway will need to be adapted when developing language-specific curricula.

Language-specific curriculum development for languages that are being revived, still have first languages speakers, are regaining fluent speakers, or have substantial resources, could consider incorporating some aspects of the content and achievement standards from the First Language Learner or Second Language Learner pathways; or using the L2 pathway as a base for curriculum development. In these instances content descriptions, elaborations and achievement standards will need to be adapted and modified to ensure that the curriculum is appropriately pitched and reflective of the nature of the language, the nature of the learners and the context of learning.

Summary of Key Features of the Language Revival Learner Pathway

Language Revival Learner Pathway

Languages being revived by their owners and in various stages of revitalisation, renewal and reclamation

Language learners who relate closely to the language and culture, as well as learners with varying degrees of connection to the language and culture and some with no connections

Curriculum written on the assumption that LR programs will typically occur broadly within the geographical region of the language and culture

Curriculum pitched approximately at middle-of-the-range revival languages

Back to top