Foundation for Endangered Languages

Home | Manifesto | Membership details | Proceedings | Grant Applications | Newsletter | Links | Bibliography

 

4. Appeals, News and Views from Endangered Communities

From The Times of Tibet - http://www.timesoftibet.com
Why Bhoti language should be included in the 8th Schedule of the Indian Constitution
Stanzin Dawa

The right of language is a basic cultural right of the people and linked with their economy, culture, social system and political right. UNESCO recognizes the concept of language equality among all languages, irrespective of whether they have a script or not. Irrespective of their power and specific ranking in the world systems of states (Laponce 1987; De Swaan 1993,2001), the language best able to survive the competition are likely to be those that have the support of a government. Unfortunately the Bhoti language has no official support as it is not included in the 8th Schedule of the Indian Constitution. A nation marked by acute socio-cultural and linguistic diversity must lay down structures and processes that safeguard its unity and integrity. Do we have adequate processes and structures? Keeping people out, denying them the basic human rights because of their region and language is unjustifiable and inhumane. Insisting that they adopt the dominant language and culture is an equally unjust way of denying it. Non inclusion of Bhoti language in the 8th Schedule of the Indian Constitution and the Australian Aborigines whose children where forcibly taken away by the state, brought up in missionary orphanages and never returned to their families so that they lost all identity are two extreme examples of enforced uniformity and compulsory assimilation.

The Constitution of India is not rigid and it has no fixed number of languages to be included in the 8th Schedule. Many languages have been included in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution after India's independence . Many languages were found neither numerically stronger nor more grammatically richer than Bhoti. Assamese, Sindhi, Nepali, Konkani, Manipuri, Kashmiri, Sanskrit (1991 census) have lesser population than Bhoti speaking population but Bhoti has unfortunately not been included in the 8th Schedule. Again, BUT WHY? Bhoti is a language of the masses, language of the people who have struggled for centuries, language of the Himalayans that blessed and bestowed the world with wisdom and prosperity, language of the saints and poets, language of the hills and valleys which treasured the beauties of the nature, language which unites people by heart and mind, language of peace and compassion. Today this language is struggling for its identity in a country which is being considered to be the world's largest democracy and proclaims the "Unity in Diversity" its backbone.

After India's independence the destiny of the people living in the Himalaya was decided by the people who were mostly alien and ignorant about the realities and condition of the Himalaya. Time and again plains friendly developmental policies and programmes were imported and imposed in the Himalaya, such policies and programmes have broken down the indigenous system of economy, culture, ecology, employment and languages. The inappropriate and irrelevant intervention have not only made them confused and frustrated but also developed an inferiority complex to their own culture, identity and language. They have been displaced from their own lands and villages. Family values and cooperative social system has broken down. Narrow outlook and prejudiced attitude of the outsider policy makers coupled with difficult accessibility have resulted in consistent marginalization of the region by the Governments, Media and Donor agencies. Not including Bhoti language in the 8th schedule of the constitution is a clear evidence of Government's discrimination against 3 million people of the Himalaya, who live day and night with this language. For them it is not a mere language but a way of life that propel progresses in harmony with the nature. Non inclusion of the Bhoti language in the 8th Schedule is a fountain-head of alienation, violence, social discord, intellectual dependency and cultural degradation. Today the Indian Constitution has recognized 22 languages in the 8th Schedule; the recognition of the language in the 8th schedule seems to be completely arbitrary and political.

Today, unfortunately, Bhoti language has been ignored and marginalized by the mainstream politics. The framers of the Indian constitution have not included this language in the 8th Schedule of the Indian constitution. Bhoti is speaking in the Himalayan region of India from Ladakh to Tawang spreading through Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, West Bengal, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. The glory and grace of this language is not only confining to the Himalayan region of India but also in Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet, China, Mongolia and Pakistan. This language is a symbol of "Unity in Diversity". People from different religions, regions, cultures and countries are using this language. The Bhoti script was developed by Thomi Sambhota in the 7th century by modifying the four vowels and thirty consonants of the Devnagri script and grammar which was derived from the Sanskrit. It has a rich literature in different fields; such as Medicine, Architecture, Astrology, Music, Arts, Dance, Drama, Yoga, Philosophy, Tantric and Grammar. The collection of Buddha's teachings "Tripitaka" that comprises of 108 volumes and Tantras is also available in the Bhoti language. How many languages in the eighth schedule have such a rich literary work? In fact very few of them have such enriching literature.

Five states including Jammu and Kashmir, Sikkim, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh have recognized the Bhoti language. Different schools, colleges and universities throughout the world are imparting education in and education for this language. All India Radio Leh, Shimla, Gangtok, Karshang Darjeeling, Tawang and Delhi broadcast their news in the Bhoti language. More than ten newspapers and magazines are available in the Bhoti language and nearly 7000 monasteries of the Himalayan region follow this language in their practices and operations. Oh my dear Government of India and the representatives of the people, please may we know what more evidences are you looking for? Why are you treating us as an aliens and foreigners in our land and country? What are your interest for not giving due recognition to our language? Are we not Indians? Do we not have the right to protect our own language? Will you accommodate our language in the 8th Schedule of the constitution? Will you allow the winds of the Constitution to blow in the hills and valleys of Himalaya to imbibe the music and nectar of our language and culture based on cooperation and peace? In the eyes of civil and criminal law of the land (with the exception of personal laws) all citizens are equal. I don't think all are equal in the real sense; non inclusion of Bhoti language is another form of punishment without being committed any crime for the whole community. The Article 29 of the Indian Constitution deals with the "Protection of interests of minorities" It states that "Any section of the Citizens residing in the territory of India or any part there of having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same." I think not giving due recognition to the Bhoti language is a violation of the minority rights; there fore it has killed the spirit of the Article 29 of the Constitution. Being minority and different seems to be a crime and insecure because you get deprived from certain fundamental rights which is constitutionally mentioned.

In the era of globalization and liberalization, the Himalayan region is more vulnerable and fragile to the economic, political, ecological and cultural forces of the outside harsh and aggressive world. Language is an important agent of connecting people and continuity of culture. With the advancement of modern harsh and hostile civilization and prejudiced policy of the Government, the language and culture of the Himalayan region is disappearing, declining and degenerating very fast. The language and culture of the Himalayas was developed over the centuries. It reflects traditional wisdom and technology to live in harmony with the nature. The modern civilization is preaching these peace loving people to conquer the nature, which is bringing irreparable destructions and calamities. It is a shame for a country like India which claims to be the world's largest democracy and the Preamble of the Constitution proclaims that India is a secular, socialist, sovereign, republic and democratic nation. What democracy are we talking about, when our language is not recognized by our own government in our own Constitution? What socialism are we talking about when the Government is not socialist enough to give due recognition to the Bhoti language? Do I need to question the secular fabric? The Article-15 of Indian Constitution states deals with "Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, sex or place of birth." It states that the State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them. The majority of the people who are using this language practice Buddhism although it's a secular language. Is it not a strategic discrimination against any particular religion minority? Non inclusion of the Bhoti language kills the spirit of the Article 15 of the Indian Constitution, as it discriminates mainly a particular religion which practices this language in their religious affairs besides social, political and economic. I think we have miles to go to live with the spirit of the constitution. A dynamic, united, progressive, secular and democratic India is only possible when we practice what we preach. Many scholars are of the opinion that it is a strategic policy of the Government of India to create inferiority complex and dependency among the Himalayan people over other languages and culture. Is this what we are getting for our loyalty and sacrifice made for the country during all the crisis situations (wars)?

Unity in diversity can only be possible if you are giving equal respect and recognition to small, poor, weak and minorities. I think India and Indians have to work day and night to protect its identity of "Unity in Diversity". Are we not deceiving ourselves as we are preaching something and practicing something differently? How long and how far can we live and be governed by the duality? We cannot afford to lose our dear language and culture. Language is not only a medium of communication, but it also reflects the history, culture, people, relationship, system of governance, ecology, religion, politics etc. Bhoti is a systematic, scientific, culturally and intellectually rich language. In a country like India the richness of the language hardly matters, because the protection and preservation of the sanctity of the language is a more of an arbitrary or number game.

The low representation of Himalayan region in the Indian parliament is a major constraint for strongly advocating for bringing reforms in policy. Even the handfuls of representatives from this region were mostly scattered and unorganized in different directions. The Himalayan people are not only geographically scattered but also politically unorganized. On 12th December 2005 the Trans Himalayan Parliamentary Forum has submitted a memorandum to the Home Minister of Government of India for the inclusion of the Bhoti language in the eighth schedule. The memorandum was signed by 8 parliamentarians from the Trans Himalayan Region. On 25th September 2003, Himalayan Buddhist Cultural Association has submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister of India for the inclusion of Bhoti language in the eighth schedule of the Constitution. On 21st February 1995, 81 parliamentarians from different political parties made a formal request to the Prime Minister to introduce a bill in the parliament to include Bhoti language in the eighth schedule of constitution. On 22nd May 1995 approximately 49 members of parliament belonging to different political parties have submitted a memorandum to Shri P V Narasimha Rao, then Prime Minister of India. Shri Virbhadra Singh, Chief Minister Himachal Pradesh Government, Dr Karan Singh, T K Lochen Rinpoche, former Member of the Minority Commission, Lama Chosphel Zotpa, Member of the Minority Commission and many concerned individuals and institutions are consistently engaged in this movement for the inclusion of Bhoti language in the 8th Schedule.

It is difficult to wake up a giant elephant which is intentionally pretending to be sleeping. All these efforts are of no use, when the Government of India is neither concerned nor interested in the promotion and development of language and culture of the Himalayas. The continued negligence and alienation of the Himalayan people in the mainstream may compel them to demand for greater political autonomy in the form of Statehoods and Union Territories. If the Government of India sincerely and honestly wants to unite and strengthen the whole country, including the peace loving and vulnerable communities of the Himalayan region, it should not hesitate to include the Bhoti language in the 8th Schedule of the Indian constitution, so that the people in the Himalayas can also be proud of their own language; our students can also appear in the Civil Service Examination with their mother tongue as an optional paper, our members of Parliament can also represent us in a more effective way by addressing our problems and aspirations in our own mother tongue; more research and development work can be feasible, with adequate government's support and the benefits are many more if it included in 8th Schedule.

In the era of globalization and vastly more efficient communication networks, languages die more frequently than they are born. The stronger language eliminate the weaker ones, sometime violently but more often peacefully as a result of people shifting to a language with a greater purchasing power, whether the purchase is of economic, political or cultural goods (Bourdieu 1991; Krauss 1992; Grin 1994; Breton 1999; Nettle and Romaine 2000; Crystal 2000). The prediction that most of the existing 7,000 odd languages spoken today in the world will disappear and that relatively few will be born (7,000 are upper estimate given by Fergusen 1064 and Grimes 1998). India as a state is an assimilators and protectors of languages. It tend to weaken if not destroy the languages of the minority internally while protecting their own dominant languages on the national and international scene. Globalization may well weaken the state in the economic field, but if that weakening increases the sense of insecurity of a language community, globalization will then, very likely, strengthen the state in its role of protector of language and culture.

Keeping this into consideration I must request to all individuals and institutions concerned for Humanity, Human Rights, Democracy, Peace and above all who believe in Unity in Diversity to write letters to the Honorable President, the Prime Minister, Home Minister, Chief Ministers, Members of the Parliament and media to include Bhoti language in the 8th schedule. I must request all non Bhoti speaking people and communities to help us to protect and preserve the sanctity of our language. As we know that Government of India is appealing to the world power to include India in the Security Council of the UN, similarly with folded hands we are appealing to the Government of India for the inclusion of Bhoti language in the 8th Schedule for the security and promotion of our language, culture, identity and dignity. Buddha says, "There is nothing permanent in this world except the change itself". As a trustee of change, I am showing my concern for a better change and I am very much optimistic? Are you?


Threat to Chuvash Autonomy
October 4, 2004

This, from the New York Times, makes an interesting, though discouraging, follow-up to the lead article in our last issue of Ogmios.I have emphasized the specific mentions of the Chuvash language. - Ed.

Unrest Over Moves to Curb Autonomy
by Steven Lee Myers

CHEBOKSARY, Russia, Sept. 30, 2004 - President Vladimir V. Putin may have cowed Russia's national political leadership with his plan to concentrate still more power in the Kremlin, but in regions of the country that stand to lose the most, he has inflamed fierce popular discontent. People in this region along the Volga denounced Mr. Putin's proposal to end direct elections of governors and other regional leaders as unconstitutional and potentially destabilizing. They fear that the Kremlin is planning further steps to recreate a Soviet-like power over the people.


Goodyear man saves the Zuni language from extinction: puts it in writing
Christine L. Romero, The Arizona Republic 13 July 2006

The boxes of documents were tucked away when the government found Curtis Cook on the Internet.The papers the Goodyear man had created with the help of seven Zuni elders had not been forgotten but were collecting dust.They held the origins of the written Zuni language. They represented 15 years of Cook's life and work. And now, at last, the Library of Congress wanted them.

After Cook finished some graduate linguistic studies in the mid-nineteen-sixties, he set out to create a Zuni version of the Bible. But he quickly realized the language didn't have a written form. So he turned his attention to a more basic task: creating a Zuni alphabet, setting down in written form the Zuni language.

Without Cook's efforts, the Zuni language could have perished as the elders died and young Zunis forgot the tongue. Forgetting the language would have forever cut a tie between the generations of Zunis, who live predominantly in New Mexico and in Arizona east of Flagstaff.

"I became concerned that many of their old stories and the richness of their history would be lost to posterity as the elders, who were the storytellers, began to die off," Cook said. The elders were all older than 100 when Cook began his work.

The Library of Congress' intention is to preserve the work and eventually make the traditional Zuni stories more widely available. Cook's work has allowed the Zunis to teach their written language to children from kindergarten through high school on the reservation. The Zuni words are even on street signs, which Cook proudly notes are spelled correctly.

By the end of this year, The Curtis Cook Collection is expected to be finally inducted into the Library of Congress' American Folklife Center.

During his time on the reservation, Cook also approached the Zuni Tribal Council and suggested that some of the tribe's stories should be recorded and preserved. The council agreed and eventually, about 300 reel-to-reel tapes were created with Zuni oral histories, folk tales and religious teachings.

The Curtis Cook Collection will include those tapes, transcriptions, learning guides and some Zuni publications. Now at 67, Cook is the associate state director of community outreach for AARP Arizona. Previously, he was director of the National Indian Council on Aging.

When Cook talks about his time with the Zuni, known as "a friendly people," his eyes light up and seem to dance with respect and excitement. Cook, also known as the Locust, wears turquoise Native-styled rings on his hands. In telling traditional Zuni stories, he infuses rhythmic Zuni words with English ones. To the English-speaking ear, the Zuni language seems breathy and includes many pauses that translate into meaning.

On the reservation, Cook's constant chattering and repetition of Zuni words and phrases earned him the names the Mockingbird and later the Locust among the Zuni Pueblo, now around 10,000 people.

Language experts say there likely still are pockets of the world where some languages exist only orally.

Cook's intent was to create a Zuni version of the Bible. Other oral traditions have morphed into written languages in a similar missionary fashion, experts say.

"Oral tradition keeps certain kinds of intergenerational contacts," said Guha Shankar, folklife specialist with the American Folklife Center. "It keeps memories alive." Without written documentation, the Zuni oral tradition could have been lost, Shankar said.

Cook's work piqued the Library of Congress' interest because he collaborated directly with native speakers in the pueblo, Shankar said. "The difficulty with some cultural communities is that as older speakers of the language pass away, the future generations aren't as likely to pick it up," he said. "Then you have some suggesting that the language might not be around for future generations."

Cook meticulously made language records, including transcribing traditional stories passed down through the generations. Cook learned these stories from several generations, including the oldest that included a handful of men older than 100 who knew these tales by heart."I was concerned that all of their history would be lost forever," Cook said. "My belief is when people get their language in writing it launches a whole new era. We take notes so we can remember."

Cook used the International Phonetic Alphabet, a commonly accepted set of symbols among linguists, to capture the Zuni language. It took Cook only about six months to learn the language, he said. He admits he's one of those people who is gifted in linguistics. He studied Latin and "ate it up."

The Zunis loved to see the language in print, he said. Reading became something of a novelty on the reservation. He taught a young boy to read in Zuni and soon the boy was going from house to house simply reading. "He became a rock star with the Zunis because he could read and the older people couldn't," Cook said.

Cook contends that the symbols themselves aren't sacred. What is sacred is the process by which an oral tradition becomes fixed in time with written symbols and how that affects the perception of the world. "It becomes sacred when you start communicating," Cook said. "I think there's something that happens when it moves from the mind to the head to the heart."


Standing by their words: Ditidaht
A native community is doing all it can to rescue a language only 8 people speak

Matthew Kwong [Toronto Globe & Mail]

MALACHAN INDIAN RESERVE NO. 11: - A cool air blows under the shifting shade of clouds, restoring the deep green of Mount Rossander's old-growth cedars. The ancient forests wrap around Ditidaht village, a native community of 210 people accessible only by a hazardous two-hour trek that snakes along logging roads 50 kilometres from the nearest paved road at Port Alberni, B.C.

The silence that swallows the little reserve can be unnerving, symbolizing a community that's at risk of losing its own voice.

"I was about 7 when my mother died, and my father died two years later," said Christine Edgar, an elder who still speaks Ditidaht in her head, but struggles to get the sounds out of her mouth. "All of a sudden I no longer heard the language. There was just nobody to talk to."

It's a familiar story here. In spite of the Ditidaht's isolation, outside forces have pushed their language toward extinction. With only eight competent speakers left, the Ditidaht language is on the verge of vanishing, along with half of the languages now spoken around the world.

These projections are a concern for Mike Fortescue, a British linguistics professor who has been living on the reserve for two weeks to study and fill in gaps for a 500-page Ditidaht and Wakashan dictionary he's compiling.

"If they lose this, they stand to lose a direct window on their cultural background," the linguist from the University of Copenhagen said. "Of course there are languages in B.C. that have already become extinct, but this is a very endangered language and . . . there is the chance to revive it."

So the Ditidaht are fighting back. The survival of their language now hinges, perhaps, on three tiny bodies crammed together on a couch in the Asaabus day-care. The giggling children are the first to take part in a Ditidaht language-immersion program that begins in early childhood.

"Qaatqaat, hiihitakiitl, hi7tap7iq, kakaatqac'ib," recites four-year-old Krissy Edgar, singing and doing actions to a Ditidaht equivalent of Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes. It has been three years since the band council approved construction of the $4.2-million Ditidaht Community School to teach students their language and culture from kindergarten to Grade 12. Previously, village students were bussed out to an English-language school. Already, the village is astounded by the program's success, Elsie Jeffrey, the language co-ordinator for the 70 children enrolled in the school, said.

"We're doing whatever we can to document what's left. We've put out CDs, DVDs; we're working on digitizing the language on FirstVoices.ca," she said, referring to a website that holds audio records for 15 endangered native communities. "We just have to do what we can because we're endangered."

Five years ago, Ms. Jeffrey would have been perplexed if an elder greeted her in the native tongue; now she sees children greeting elders in Ditidaht and teens writing short speeches in a language that existed only orally before 2002. Last year, the school produced its first high-school graduate, Selina Atleo. The 19-year-old now speaks more Ditidaht than her mother and assists in the day-care language-immersion program.

Elder Mike Thompson, one of four fluent speakers assisting teachers in the school, said that another bright light shines in 14-year-old Daryl Patterson.

"He's one of the ones who actually wants to learn," Mr. Thompson said. "He's one of the ones who takes the language and just sticks with it."

At a cultural exchange with a group of visiting Makah students last year, the quiet, shaggy-haired teenager extended an invitation in a stirring speech in Ditidaht, then repeated it in English. In the richly expressive tongue of his ancestors, Daryl implored the audience to sample his people's food, participate in ceremonial games and experience his culture. The lengthy address stunned a village that hadn't heard the voice of its youth at a ceremony in years.

"It was such a proud and emotional time for us," Ms. Jeffrey said. "When Daryl got up and just let it out -- just incredible. That was pretty darn cool to see the progress of the kids."

Ms. Jeffrey, who has been learning the language herself for the past four years, was born on the reserve and raised by a mother who spoke fluent Ditidaht. Dorothy Shepherd, her mother, never abandoned the ancestral language, but rarely spoke it to her children. She believed it was lost.

Only when the band council approved construction of the school did Ms. Shepherd join the effort to save Ditidaht by becoming one of four fluent elders to help teachers at the school. At 8 a.m. on a Monday, as a group of adult learners still rub the sleep from their eyes, Ms. Shepherd's voice rings clear.

"Remember to pop your 'k,' " she directs."Baaqiidax7aa7pik."
"Baaqiidax7aa7pik," they repeat. It means, "What are you doing?"

Around the table, the elders discuss the capacity for creating new words and even reinventing their ancient tongue.

They now have Ditidaht terms for "computer" (a translation of "thing with a lot of information") and "refrigerator" (a translation of "cold inside"). Above their heads hangs a 53-character Ditidaht alphabet, a reminder that every student in the room is learning the basics. Some, like day-care teaching assistants Kelita Sieber and Esther Edgar, are Ditidaht teachers and students themselves. During a rehearsal of Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes, Ms. Sieber and Ms. Edgar gave a clumsy rendition and laughed as they tripped over the words. "Usually it's easier when we do the song with the kids and we can see them," Ms. Sieber whispered. Later, while little Krissy sang along in the day-care, the two adults leading the troupe stumbled but recovered discreetly.

"La7uu," the child requested as the song ended. "Again."


Congress urged to save native languages

Zachary Franz [Bismarck Tribune]

Ryan Wilson, president of the National Indian Education Association, listens to Tex Hall, chairman of the Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara Nation, during a press conference dealing with the loss of native languages and the connection between those languages and academic performance in Native American students Thursday at United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck.

Indigenous languages will die out in America unless Congress acts soon, a leader in Indian education said Thursday. "We're on the very verge of losing our languages,"said Ryan Wilson, president of the National Indian Education Association. "We don't have tomorrow. This has to happen today."

Wilson spoke at United Tribes Technical College in a press conference regarding legislation to preserve American Indian languages. Also speaking at the conference were Tex Hall, chairman of the Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara Nation, and David Gipp, UTTC president. The conference promoted passage of a bill co-sponsored by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., that would create grants to establish immersion schools where Indian children could learn their traditional language.

Before Europeans came to America, there were about 500 different American Indian languages, Wilson said. Fewer than 100 have survived, and only 20 are spoken by American Indian children. Immersion schools are important for two major reasons, Wilson said. First, indigenous languages are an important part of America's culture and history. Second, research has shown that Indian students do better academically when the lessons are relevant to their culture, he said. Language is an important part of that.

At a language immersion school, of which there are already a few in the country for Indian students, children learn traditional languages and are then taught other subjects in the language. Most of the schools focus on young students, for whom it is easier to pick up new languages.

Graduates of the existing programs have been more academically successful than students at traditional schools, Wilson said.

There are far too few of the schools, though, he said.

"You have one system that's scientifically proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, to fail our kids," Wilson said. "Here's another system that might be a potential answer."

Furthermore, he said, other research has shown that studying any language fosters intellectual development. For Indian students, an indigenous language is the logical choice for study, he said.

At Thursday's conference, Indian leaders urged Dorgan to continue championing the cause, and push to get the bill signed into law in this congressional session. Dorgan is the vice chairman of the senate's Committee for Indian Affairs.

"Indian country is resting its hopes on him," Wilson said. "He's the only one that can carry water on this."

The bill doesn't set a fixed dollar amount, but Wilson said the program would likely cost around $8 million.

Fast action is important because some languages have only a few remaining speakers, said Tex Hall. There are only 8 people alive who speak Mandan fluently, he said.

"If we don't do this now, it will be gone," Hall said. "These speakers are passing on. When they pass, they take a wealth of knowledge with them."

One reason there are so few speakers is because the government discouraged previous generations from speaking or learning indigenous languages in an attempt to force cultural assimilation, Wilson said. Many Indians attended boarding schools, where they were punished if caught speaking their native tongue.

"We know that while that was well-intentioned ... we also know that it did great damage to Indians," Wilson said. "We're not playing the role of victims; we don't believe in that. But the U.S. government made the biggest investment in the destruction of the languages, and it should make a commensurate investment in helping to bring them back."

Wilson said that while most immigrants in the country's history have been eager to assimilate, American Indians traditionally have not shared that desire. That is something mainstream America has struggled to understand, but is the right of Indians, nonetheless, he said.

"We ceded millions of acres of the most productive land in the world for the right of continued sovereignty," he said. "It's our right. We've already paid for this."

Phraselators for Cherokee

CITIZEN-TIMES.com: 29 Aug 2006: High-tech language lessons from tribe

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will use a federal grant to buy hand-held computers that translate English into Cherokee.

The computers, called Phraselators and made by Maryland-based VoxTec International, will help the tribe teach members how to speak Cherokee.

The Phraselator is a small hand-held translation device. In the articles I've read about the device, it's mostly been used in combat (if I recall correctly it was first developed for the military). It's nice to see it being used in a language preservation situation.

With about 20,000 speakers, Tsalagi, the Cherokee Language, is one of the most-spoken Native American languages.

The 900-year reunion: separated by distance, united by language Sam Lewin 22 Aug 2006

A coalition that existed a century ago will be replicated in a mid-sized Oklahoma town next month.

The Shoshonean Language Reunion takes place Sept. 25-27 at the Comanche Nation's tribal complex in Lawton.

The reunion stems from the Snake Tribe, a partnership located in what is now the state of Montana and made up of "Shoshone, Paiutes, Utes and Comanches," according to Comanche historian Reaves Nahwooks of Indiahoma, OK.

Nahwooks tells the Native American Times that he became interested in the Snakes while living at the Fort Hall Indian Reservation in Idaho during the 1960s and seeing how close his Comanche language is to the dialect spoken by the Shoshone of the region. Years of research led Nahwooks to continually contemplate one tantalizing mystery: Why did the Snakes split?

Various theories abound and many are passed off as fact. One idea is that the groups separated because of a "fight over meat or a fight between kids where one was killed while they were playing, so the families left," Nahwooks said. But he discounts that theory, saying that the tribes involved "don't forget, and they hold grudges. There would be some very prevalent stories [about the feud] still around."

Another thought, which Nahwooks give more credence, is that the Comanches left in order to follow the buffalo, moving south into Mexico then north to Texas and Oklahoma.

The idea for a reunion had been bandied about for many years but it wasn't until that late 1990s that the ball really got rolling, motivated primarily by the fact that there remained a group of tribes living 3000 miles apart yet speaking the same language. The Comanches today number about 10,000, with roughly half living in Oklahoma. Some historians believe the tribe may have once numbered 20,000. With a dwindling membership, the desire to learn more about the past apparently became even more pressing.

Another factor in creating an annual reunion is use of peyote, which created a "more intense reason to promote communication," according to a write-up in the Comanche Nation News attributed to the Reunion Committee Staff. Up until the reunions began, "most information has been put together by non-Indian anthropologists, teachers, explorers, linguists, writers and others. Though this is a valuable service, it does not include in-depth information about tribal customs and traditions," the article states.

The reunion places a strong emphasis on the cultural, Nahwooks said, featuring "storytelling, singing and talking about the cultures. Every tribe there does that."

"Highlighted in every reunion was the hospitality that each tribe extended to visitors," the Comanche Nation News article relates. "The histories began to come together and the tribes seemed to become comfortable with each other."

The first and second reunions were held in Fort Hall, with the Comanches hosting the third. Subsequent reunions have taken place in Wyoming and Nevada. With the seventh incarnation returning to Oklahoma, reunion organizers are seeking to pull out all the stops. The Comanche newspaper account is accompanied by an announcement that the reunion committee is putting out bids for caterers.

"We are one people in language and tradition, but learn more customs in food and practices which makes us more knowledgeable and proud to be together," the reunion staff says.

You can contact Sam Lewin at sam.at.okit.com


Device may help preserve languages
By Diane Huber
The Olympian
http://159.54.227.3/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060909/NEWS01/609090306/1003

SHELTON - A hand-held electronic device could help the Squaxin Island Indians - and tribes throughout the country - preserve their native language.

"After the elders pass on, that's it," said Corey (Bear) O'Lague, who lives on the Squaxin reservation and grew up speaking a southern dialect of the language.

He was one of about a dozen people who came to the Squaxin Island Tribe Museum, Library and Research Center Friday for a demonstration of the Phraselator, a tool for revitalizing American Indian languages.

"We could take it to the elders, who still speak the language," O'Lague said.

The Phraselator was developed by a defense company after the Sept. 11 attacks and was first used strictly for soldiers to communicate with non-English speakers.

Don Thornton of California-based Thornton Media Inc. thought the technology would apply well to American Indian tribes, inspired by his own Oklahoma Cherokee background.

Now he and his wife, Kara, travel the country showing off the $3,300 device.

They're working with more than 40 tribes.

"If your kids aren't learning the language, then the language is in trouble," Thornton said.

The device looks like an oversized calculator with a computer screen. The user can speak an English phrase or select one on the screen, such as "Hello, how are you?" and "My name is.' " A male or female recorded voice then speaks the phrase in the tribal language. It also can play back entire prayers or songs.

The tribe hopes to purchase some of the devices, museum Director Charlene Krise said.

"It will be important because we have language that has been so diminished" by the introduction of English, she said. "The language for our tribal people has always been extraordinarily important because the language is connected to the land."

Many families speak the tribe's language with their children at home, and preschoolers learn the dances, songs, numbers and ABCs in school, she said. But people her age - from 40 to 60 - have trouble speakingthe language.

"We hear it and can understand it, but it's very difficult to speak," she said.

Peter Boome, an Upper Skagit Indian who lives on the Squaxin Island reservation, said he'd like to use the device to teach his four children the tribe's language.

"Language conveys a way of thinking. ... You view the world through your language," he said. "And English is very different than American Indian languages, the thought processes and philosophy."

Words for "fire," for example, convey that it has different forms and is living and moving, he said.

He knows little of his own language, Ute, because his parents' generation went to boarding school and were disciplined for speaking their tribal languages, he said.

Thornton told a similar story about his mother.

Valerie Bellack, a coordinator for the Muckleshoot Language Program, said she will take information on the Phraselator back to her tribe in Auburn.

"I think it's a tool. I don't think in itself it can create a fluentspeaker," she said. "With the children, they learn a language by hearing it, so I believe this will be a useful tool for the younger generation."

On the Web

For information on the Phraselator, go to www.ndnlanguage.com

For information on the Squaxin Island Tribe Museum, Library and Research Center, go to www.squaxinislandmuseum.org

Diane Huber covers the city of Lacey and its urban growth area for The Olympian.


Australia picks first Aboriginal-language movie as Oscars entry

The Guardian, 1 September 2006
Australia has picked the groundbreaking Aboriginal-language film “Ten Canoes” as its official entry for the 2007 best foreign-language film Oscar.

The movie, the first ever to be filmed entirely in one of Australia’s indigenous languages, will vie for a nomination in the prestigious Academy Awards category, the Australian Film Commission (AFC) said.

“Ten Canoes is exemplary in terms of the director’s vision, the craft of filmmaking and presenting a uniquely Australian story,” said acting AFC chief executive, Chris Fitchett.

“We are hopeful that the entry of Ten Canoes results in an Academy Award nomination,” he said of director, Rolf de Heer’s critically-acclaimed film.

The movie, which was filmed entirely in the indigenous language of Ganalbingu, was screened at the Cannes film festival in May, winning de Heer a special jury prize.

Starring Jamie Gulpilil, Richard Birrinbirrin and Frances Djulibing, it tells a fictional story set in the distant past in which the lead character is attracted to one of the wives of his older brother.

In order to teach his brother tribal law, the older sibling tells a mythical story of love, kidnapping, sorcery and revenge.

To be eligible for an Oscar foreign-language nomination, a film has to have been released in its country of origin for at least seven days and consist of dialogue that is predominantly non-English.

Oscars’ organisers are expected to pick the shortlist of contenders vying for a nomination in the best foreign-language film category later this year.

Nominations for the 79th annual Academy Awards will be unveiled on January 23 next year and the famed golden statuettes will be handed out at Hollywood’s Kodak Theatre on February 25.


The lost tongue of Provence

By Ros Taylor, The Guardian, 6 September 2006
Unless you happen to be at the Occitan festival in the Italian village of Sancto Lucio di Coumboscuro this week, it’s extremely unlikely that you will hear Occitan spoken by more than a few elderly people. (But if you do want to know what that sounds like, listen to Radio Occitania).

There are a few places in France where you might encounter Occitan - in Toulouse, for example, which has bilingual street signs. But Britons who are familiar with the high street soap and unguent purveyor L'Occitane en Provence might assume that the language is only spoken in that region.

In fact, there are dwindling Occitan-speaking populations in Spain, Italy and Monaco and even corners of Germany and the United States. Quite how many people use Occitan on a daily basis is not clear: several hundred thousand in France, perhaps, most of them elderly. So great is the number of sub-dialects that no one has much idea how big the lexicon is: estimates vary between 250,000 and a million. But very few, if any, of them speak no other language.

Occitan (or Languedoc) speakers are rightly irked by the suggestion that their language is merely a dialect of French (or Langue d’oil). Languedoc – “oc” means “yes”, where northern French speakers said “oil” (the modern “oui”) - was the language of medieval troubadour poets during the 13th century.

But linguists trace its decline back to the Edict of Villers-Cotterets in 1539, which established the langue d’oil as the language of all French administration. As France’s national identity emerged during the Sun King’s reign, the revolution and the First World War, so Occitan became marginalised. It rallied slightly in the late 19th century when a Provencal poet, Frederic Mistral, took up the cause and was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for his efforts.

Occitan is not to be confused with Catalan either, though a speaker of one can usually understand the other. No doubt the revival of Catalan in the Spanish region of Catalonia and the official promotion of Welsh have encouraged Occitan speakers to call for more broadcasts in the language.

The EU’s support for minority languages has also helped embolden them. Occitan has not stood still: it has a word for the web (oèb) - and indeed it could be the web that saves Occitan from the fate of, say, Cornish. After all, if Geoffrey Chaucer can blog in Middle English, what’s to stop Occitan speakers from following his example?

Salish, Kootenai keyboards coming to a school near you

Students across the reservation will have the languages of the Salish and Kootenai tribes right at their finger tips.

Modified keyboards featuring unique characters will soon be available in area schools and will enable students to type in traditional Salish and Kootenai languages -- the result of hard work by a former SKC technology director.

Something that was once blamed for taking a toll on tribal languages and customs could actually help preserve the native tongue.

"When modern technology first arrived here, it started taking our language and culture away from us," said Tony Incashola, director of the Salish Pend d'Oreille Culture Committee, in a prepared statement. "But now we're learning how to take that same technology and turn it around, using it to teach our children our language and culture."

Using the newest creation of software, former Salish Kootenai College technology director Jim Ereaux has created two new fonts that will work on both PC and Mac platforms.

To have fonts that work on both Mac and PC was critical, he explained. While most of the world uses PCs, Macintosh computers are still used in many educational settings, and Ereaux said the program had to work with both operating systems to be effective.

"We needed to bring standardization to it," he said.

The keyboards are like any other, he explained, only the English letters have been replaced with either Salish characters or Kootenai characters. The Salish language has more characters than the English language so it doesn't quite fit on the standard English keyboard. The solution? Use the numerical buttons on top and replace them with Salish characters, Ereaux said.

Also, with the simple tap of the caps lock button, people can switch between writing in a native language or English. Plus, the keys are removable, allowing you to place more commonly used characters within comfortable reach of your fingers, allowing for more efficient typing.

But what really allows for quicker typing speed is the OpenType technology. Many languages use require several glyphs to compose one character. Rather than type two or three glyphs per character, one key stroke is all it will take for the glyphs to be assembled automatically, he explained. (However, if you're accustomed to punching each glyph, you will still have that option.)

Because the project largely aims to educate students in Salish and Kootenai Languages, the new fonts also allow for use of teaching programs like crossword puzzles and software that creates teacher user plans.

Native language fonts are nothing new, he explained, but what makes this program unique is that it can spellcheck documents written in both tribal languages. It also has a find /replace feature, which is also a new option for programs of this kind.

The new fonts were created using two new technologies called Unicode and OpenType. Unicode is the global standard for multi-language word processing and houses thousands of languages and is capable of supporting over one million possible characters.

The Salish and Kootenai Tribes have had access to a variety of computer fonts and applications in the past to produce publications and historical documents, but these programs are antiquated and becoming more and more obsolete as computer technology advances, Ereaux explained.

The Salish and Kootenai Culture Committees tapped Ereaux to help develop the new software last year. Since then, he estimates he has put in about 400 hours on the project. With the coordination of Culture Committees, several linguists and the typographic community on the Internet, the project was underway. Tony Incashola, Shirley Trahan and Thompson Smith provided guidance from the Salish Culture Committee while Vernon Finley and Dorothy Berney provided guidance from the Kootenai Culture Committee.

In April 2006, a grant was written through Salish Kootenai College, from both Blackfoot Telephone Cooperative and the Lower Flathead Valley Community Foundation to support the creation of customized keyboards for both languages. Both organizations donated nearly $6,000 to the project.

The idea behind this new word processor is that it will be compatible with more advanced systems. The minimum operating requirements are Windows XP and higher on the PC and OS 10.4 on the Macintosh.

"We knew there was this globalization with other processors and that is the direction we wanted to head," he said


Alternative Eurovision Song Contest

Stockholm, 27 September 2006
Onno P.Falkena (www.eurolang.org)

The lesser used language song contest Liet-Lavlut in Östersund is arousing a lot of interest from Swedish and international media. On Saturday the 14th of October Swedish P2 radio will broadcast the songcontest live from the Storsjöteater in Östersund. Sámiradio, Sisuradio and Radio Norrbotten are also involved in the live broadcast. The weekend will also feature the first ever Sámi ‘joikopera’.

Listeners outside Sweden can follow the developments on P2 radio’s live web stream, http://www.sr.se/p2/., it will be the first time that Liet will be broadcast live.

Swedish television SVT will film the songcontest and broadcast it later.

At least four of the participating artists will be accompanied by a TV-crew from their own country. Also, various other radio stations and newspaper journalists from across Europe have expressed their interest in the songcontest.

Liet-Lavlut started in 2002 in Fryslân, the Netherlands, as Liet Ynternasjonaal with the aim to promote the cultural, musical and linguistic diversity of Europe.

This year Liet-Lavlut moved to the Swedish part of Sápmi, because the Sámi won the last two editions of Liet Ynternasjonaal in Friesland. This makes the Sámi the ‘most musical minority of Europe’, according to Frisian newspaper Leeuwarder Courant. The first edition of Liet Ynternasjonaal was won by the Catalan group Pomada.

The organisation of Liet-Lavlut is proud of the programme for the fourth edition, it comprises some of the finest bands and singers the stateless nations of Europe have to offer. Out of 61 entries, the jury selected eleven new songs; in Basque, Friulian, Frisian, Gaelic, Galician, Manx, Meankiëli, Occitanian, Romani, Sámi and Votian. One thing is certain, never before have songs in all those languages be heard at the same music festival.

By gathering singers from minority language communities the organisation aims to promote cultural, linguistic and musical diversity to a large international audience.

In a few years Liet-Lavlut has become one of the most succesful events win terms of promoting minority languages to a large audience.

The following artists have been selected for Liet-Lavlut:

Arbe Garbe - A lively band from Friûl, in the north of Italy.

Anna Murray - One of Scotland's best Gaelic singers and pipers, from the Outer Hebrides.

Gari - A distinguished Basque singer, also a veteran from the Basque rock scene.

Johan Kitti and Sara Ellen Bähr - A very strong joik duo and this years winners of the Sámi Grand Prix in Kautokeino.

Jord - a Tornedalian folkband full of harmonies.

Karavan Familia - A lively Romani band from Hungary, creating new songs based upon the rich Romani tradition.

Liza - One of the most promising singers from Occitania.

Moot - Manx Gaelic drum and bass from the Isle of Man.

Narf - One of the finest troubadours of Galicia, with a touch of samba.

Raud Ants - Estonian folk metal band, who sing in Votian - a language with very few speakers in Ingria (now north west Russia).

Van Wieren - One of the best Frisian rock bands, the winners of the Frisian song contest at Liet 2005.

In various of the participating nations the selection of their singer has aroused a great deal of interest. This is particularly true in Estonia and Friesland. The Votian band Raud Ants will travel to Östersund with a bus full of fans and Estonian music lovers. The Frisians are sending 25 people among them the delegate for culture of the Frisian government, Bertus Mulder, and the councillor for culture of the Frisian capital of Ljouwert/Leeuwarden, Yvonne Bleize.

Music lovers are also in for a treat as the Storsjöteater in Ostersund hosts the world premiere of joikopera ‘Skuvle Nelja’. During the weekend of Liet-Lavlut the joikopera will be performed five times. Joiking refers to traditional Sámi singing and this first joikopera in the history of music has been composed by Frode Fjellheim. He won Liet-Lavlut in 2003 with his band Transjoik. For 2006 he will be presiding over the contest’s jury.

The winners are elected by votes from a jury from the eleven participating nations. The Swedish audience will be invited to vote by sms-message immediately after the concert. The international audience will be able to join the voting process on the internet. The procedure is explained on the Liet website, www.liet.nl.

Liet-Lavlut in Östersund is organised by SWEBLUL, The Swedish Bureau for Lesser Used Languages, and Estrad Norr, with the support of the Liet Foundation in Friesland.

Websites:

www.liet.nl (7 languages)
www.sweblul.se
www.sr.se/p2/


Breton: New school year marks small increase in numbers attending immersion and bilingual schools

Davyth Hicks, Brussels (www.eurolang.org)

Ofis ar Brezhoneg, the Breton language office, report a small increase in the number of Breton immersion and bilingual schools at the start on the new school year, but the current trend means that, despite an increase in numbers by 6.5%, it will fall short of the Breton regional government target for 20,000 in bilingual and immersion education by 2010.

Ten new bilingual sites have opened, five by the public bilingual model (Diw Yezh) in Briec, Daoulas, Queven and Landerneau; three under the Catholic bilingual model (Dihun) Melrand, Plouarzel, Plouvron. And two with the immersion model (Diwan), Chapelle Neuve and Louannnec.

Altogether it marks a slight improvement on last year where nine new sites were opened with only a moderate increase in pupil numbers.

It is now possible to follow a bilingual education at 157 sites in Brittany in 114 communes, making up 8% of Brittany’s communes. For this year the majority of the new sites, 6 out of 10, are in Penn ar Bed (Finistère) of which 4 are in the Brest area, where the number of pupils in bilingual education are the highest in absolute terms. In Landerne or Karaez areas around 20 – 25% receive their education in bilingual and immersion schools.

All the new sites are in Western Brittany with no new openings in the East.

Currently there are 11,090 pupils in Breton bilingual/ immersion education, it marks a growth from last year’s figures (10,407) of 683, a 6.5% increase.

All three models saw an increase : Diwan (immersion) has 2,943 pupils, Div Yezh (bilingual) 4,264 pupils, and Dihun (Catholic bilingual) 3,883 pupils.

The administrative Region Bretagne aims to have 20,000 schoolchildren in immersion and bilingual education by 2010 which, however, will need a 15% increase per year. This target is set in order to help replace the natural loss of older speakers.

The numbers of those in Breton bilingual/immersion education account for 2% of Brittany’s total school going population. (Eurolang 2006)

Ofis ar Brezhoneg http://www.ofis-bzh.org/index.php


V Mercator International Symposium on Minority Languages “Linguistic Rights as a Matter of Social Inclusion” 19 - 21 October 2006

Institut d'Estudis Catalans (IEC), Barcelona
Organizer: Mercator-Legislation, CIEMEN (Barcelona, Catalonia)
www.ciemen.org/mercator/simposis/2006ML/index2006en.htm
11th International Conference on Minority Languages (ICML 11), 5-6 July 2007 Pécs, Hungary.
Call for papers and further details
http://www.nytud.hu/icml11/ICML_call_for_papers.doc
http://www.nytud.hu/icml11/ICML_call_for_papers.pdf
Conference website
http://www.nytud.hu/icml11/


Noongar, Native Title, Linguistic Evidence: A Small Celebration before the Night

Jane Simpson, 21 September 2006
From: Transient Languages and Cultures Blog

The cause for celebration is Justice Murray Wilcox's finding that Noongar people have 'native title' to certain parts of the Perth Metropolitan area (Federal Court (Bennell v State of Western Australia [2006] FCA 1243), Perth, 19 SEPTEMBER 2006).

The pursuit of native title (like the Snark) has cost heaps and caused much grief. But when native title is recognised, it's great, and when the value of linguistic evidence in determining it is recognised, this is also great. Wilcox's findings have lots of interesting things to say about Noongar language, what the claimants said, and the expert linguistic evidence provided by PARADISEC's Nick Thieberger.

Wilcox finds:
The evidence indicates that Noongar people have continued, since sovereignty, to occupy, use and enjoy those parts of the lands and waters of the claim area to which they have had legal access. It will, therefore, be appropriate to make a determination of a non-exclusive right (at least) to occupy, use and enjoy the claimed land and waters of the Perth Metropolitan Area (excluding all off-shore islands and waters below low-water mark). 'Native title' consists of a bundle of rights to land which are intended to translate in a way that makes sense to Australian law, the relationship between Indigenous Australians and the land. To have it recognised, groups of indigenous people have to apply to the Australian Courts and argue that they descend from the original owners of the claimed land, have a continuing attachment to that land, and have laws and traditions relating to land use that have been passed on from before the European invasion.

Language often plays a role in determining native title (HENDERSON, JOHN and NASH, DAVID (eds.) 2002. Language in native title. Native Title Research Series. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press). One reason is that nineteenth century word-lists often give some indication of what language was spoken in a place, and if the claimants still speak some of the language, this is an indication of their historical connection with that place. They can also suggest that a particular area was occupied by a single group, speaking one language. Linguistic evidence (including expert evidence from Frances Kofod) was important in the 'Miriuwung Gagerrong case' where claimants were found to have native title (Western Australia and Ors v Ward and Ors (2000) 170 ALR 159).

Two decisions relating to native title that many people found shocking involved groups who still speak Pitjantjatjara or Yankunytjatjara, and whose lands were only taken over by Europeans in the early twentieth century. Both groups had fine linguists offering expert testimony (Cliff Goddard and Peter Sutton). In the case of the Yulara decision, Justice Sackville found against the claimants, even though they had been found a few years earlier to have Aboriginal freehold title for the surrounding land (which requires similar evidence of ownership and traditional laws) (Jango v Northern Territory (No 4) (2004) 214 ALR 608. 23).

In the case of the De Rose Hill pastoral lease, Justice O'Loughlin found that the claimants did not have native title because they had left the pastoral lease 20 years ago, had only been back to hunt kangaroos, and had suffered a breakdown in tradition since they'd left. Justice O'Loughlin said:

The evidence showed [the owner of the pastoral lease JHS]...was mostly well disposed towards his Aboriginal workers and their families, but ...would not hesitate to physically assault people...He would not tolerate Aboriginal people who wished to visit friends and relatives...living on the station...[O]nly those who worked for him and their families were, in his assessment..., entitled to be on "his property"....[H]e would not hesitate to resort to the occasional use of firearms to make his point...Even allowing for his shooting of the [Aboriginal people's] dogs, his conduct was not such as to justify a claim from the resident Aboriginal people that he was the cause of them having to leave their land. (De Rose v State of South Australia [2002] FCA 1342)

(O'Loughlin's decision was modified on appeal in a Full Bench appeal decision of the Federal Court - one of the judges was Murray Wilcox. (De Rose v State of South Australia (No 2) [2005] FCAFC 110)

This was some of the background to Wilcox's decision in the Noongar case. If two groups who still spoke their language, carried on traditional ceremonial life, and lived in the remote parts of Australia couldn't prove native title, what hope did the Noongar have of claiming land in a boom-town city after two hundred years of occupation?

Well, Wilcox's judgment shows a great deal of refreshing common sense. Rather than complaining that every single claimant couldn't show unbroken genealogical descent to ancestors at the time of the invasion, he writes:

While the evidence does not permit me to make a positive finding in relation to the claim of any particular witness, it is highly unlikely that all the claims are wrong. After all, we know some thousands of Aborigines lived in the Perth Metropolitan Area at date of sovereignty. In the ordinary course, those people would now have hundreds of thousands of living descendants. Nineteenth century families (Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal) were usually large. There was a high rate of infant mortality and European settlement must have resulted in loss of Aboriginal lives and forced dispersal of Aborigines to other areas; but it seems most unlikely that the wider Noongar community contains no descendant of any of them.

Uncommon common sense!

Nick Thieberger provided linguistic evidence about the Noongar language, about the historical sources on the association of the language with the areas of land under claim, the Noongar dialects and the differences between Noongar and the neighbouring languages.

Wilcox summarises both the expert linguistic evidence and the claimants' comments on their language use and that of their parents, (which is interesting reading itself, as they talk about singing songs, about telling stories, about announcing oneself to the country, about word order, as well as the way language developed in contact with English) . And here are Wilcox's conclusions:

As appears from the Aboriginal evidence I have summarised, the oral tradition of south-west Aborigines is that there is, and always has been, only one indigenous language in the south-west; that language is called ‘Noongar’ and is still spoken by many of them. [...] Dr Thieberger expressed a firm opinion that, in 1829, there existed a common language, although with dialectical differences, throughout the claim area. He expounded his reasons. Although Dr Thieberger was cross-examined at length, his opinion was neither challenged nor explicitly contradicted by other evidence. I thought him to be an impressive witness: knowledgeable, careful and fair.
[...] I conclude that the evidence about language in the claim area provides significant, although not decisive, support for the Applicants’ claim that, in 1829, there existed a single community throughout the claim area.

The last line of Wilcox's findings is also terrific:

In short, it would seem to be desirable for the parties to engage in some serious thought and discussion before any of them spends more money on legal action.

So what does our Prime Minister say? Does he congratulate the Noongar on having kept community and culture alive for 180 years since invasion? Does he indicate a desire to heed Wilcox's final remark? No. Here comes the dark night:

"My initial reaction is one of considerable concern," he said."I know that the judge has said that the grants of freehold and almost certainly leasehold will have extinguished native title claims. Many people will regard it as somewhat incongruous - there could still be some residual native title claim in a major settled metropolitan area. We will consider our own position in relation to an appeal."

Contents