A fading language revived in online uni course

In celebration of the United Nations’ International Year of Indigenous Languages, two Australian Universities have partnered to incorporate the teaching of an endangered Indigenous language into their online curriculum.

Charles Darwin University (CDU) and the Australian Nation University (ANU) will introduce the teaching of Kunwinjku, an endangered Indigenous language spoken by the Bininj people of West Arnhem Land in northern Australia.

There are currently less than two thousand native speakers of Kunwinjku, which is being threatened by the increasing use of English and Kriol.

The program is coordinated by CDU-ANU PhD scholar, Cathy Bow, and the Bininj Kunwok Regional Language Centre.

Ms Bow believes that many tertiary educators have shifted away from using Indigenous languages, as most Indigenous people speak fluent English.

“Indigenous knowledge isn’t always very visible at university. We talk about Indigenous people, about engaging people, and language is such a key way to access worldview and culture,” she said.

“One word can translate to a whole sentence in English and it makes it challenging to do the translation. Some of the concepts just don’t translate. If you talk about land, English speakers have a certain understanding of it, where to an Indigenous person, it means a whole lot more than just this ground.”

The course is designed to be delivered online to enable students all over the nation to engage with the Kunwinjku language.

It involves a range of audio and video resources supplied by the Bininj Kunwok Regional Language Centre to enable students to gain an authentic learning experience.

Member of the Bininj Kunwok Regional Language Committee and native Kunwinjku speaker, Seraine Namundja, has worked alongside Bow in creating and compiling resources for the course.

“Kunwinjku is our language and we like to help people learn in. It helps them to communicate with us, and they can learn about our culture,” Namundja said.

Bow hopes that the introduction of this course into university curriculum will prompt other tertiary educators to consider the ways in which they recognise, represent and incorporate Indigenous culture, language and knowledge.

The course will operate as a joint program between CDU and ANU and will run first semester of 2019.

By Rachael Knowles



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