Revival languages come from the ancient past but are re-created into something new for the future of Aboriginal people. We are investigating what these languages are actually like, in the present, after all the work people have done on researching past records and Elders’ memories, making community decisions about things like shared words, spelling and ‘things missing’ from the records. Both communities and linguists need good working understandings of what is happening, what is likely, what has worked well and useful pathways to follow. This helps communities to not have to ‘reinvent the wheel’, and helps linguists to understand how to work with the living languages of the present, as well as the historical records of the past.
To get a good picture of all this, we first spent 18 months interviewing Aboriginal people involved in language revival. We are using this to tell us how to describe the languages from Aboriginal perspectives as well as using the contributions of linguistics. The next step was to collect as much ‘real live’ language as possible, which we did with the help of our six case studies – Keeraywoorroong, Wathaurong, Gunnai, Wiradjuri, Butchulla and Gumbaynggirr. Looking at this material from our new combined perspectives will allow us to feed back to communities and linguists a much clearer picture of how revival languages really work.
Funding for this project was provided by AIATSIS and the ARC (Linkage, in partnership with La Trobe University).