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Reclaiming indigenous languages - Leanne Hinton at ANU

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Published on Apr 18, 2012

Professor Leanne Hinton gives this talk entitled Reclaiming indigenous languages: The Master-Apprentice Language Learning Program for endangered languages' at The Australian National University on 28 March 2012.

What constitutes "saving a language?" To scholars, it may mean making sure it is well-documented. But to the people whose languages are disappearing, a language is not saved unless people are speaking it again. Over the last 200 years, the indigenous languages of Australia and North America have been in decline. Language shift to English and Creoles has meant that many languages have lost all their speakers, and many others are remembered only by a few elders. Indigenous communities are starting to reclaim their languages in their own way.

Generations who have grown up without their ancestral tongues are searching for ways to learn them and use them again. One approach, first developed in California and successful in dozens of indigenous communities in the United States and Canada, is the Master-Apprentice Language Learning Program, a boot-strap language learning method where elders who know the language and younger adults who want to learn it are trained to immerse themselves in the language while leading their daily lives together. Now Australia is embracing it. In this lecture, Professor Hinton will discuss how this innovative program may assist Australian Aboriginal peoples in their quest to save their languages. She will report on recent "Training the Trainers" workshops in Alice Springs and in North-west Australia in which forty Australians, indigenous and non-indigenous, learnt how to train and mentor Master-Apprentice teams who in turn will be able to train a hundred teams or so in the coming year.

Leanne Hinton is Visiting Fellow at the Australian National Dictionary Centre and Professor Emerita at UC Berkeley. She has written dictionaries and grammars of Native American languages, and is the doyenne of language revitalisation programmes around the world. Professor Hinton is in Australia to visit Aboriginal communities in Western Australia and Northern Territory, and to train teachers of endangered languages at Kununurra and Alice Springs.

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