Indigenous language learning and maintenance among young Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children

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Abstract

Internationally, cultural renewal and language revitalisation are occurring among Indigenous people whose lands were colonised by foreign nations. In Australia, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are striving for the re-voicing of their mother tongue and the re-practicing of their mother culture to achieve cultural renewal in the wake of over 250 years of colonisation (Williams in Recover, re-voice, re-practise. Sydney, NSW AECG Incorporated, 2013).While 120 Indigenous languages are still spoken in Australia today, little has been documented regarding the extent to which languages are learned and maintained by young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. The current paper offers a unique insight by drawing upon a large-scale dataset, Footprints in Time: the Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children (LSIC), to describe patterns of language use and maintenance among young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Of the 580 children followed longitudinally from the first wave of the baby cohort of LSIC (aged 0'1 years) until wave 4 (aged 3'5 years), approximately one in five (19.3 %) were reported to speak an Indigenous language. Children in the study were learning up to six languages simultaneously, including English (both Standard Australian English and Aboriginal Australian English), Indigenous languages, creoles, foreign languages (other than English) and sign languages. Social and environmental factors such as primary caregivers' use of an Indigenous language and level of relative isolation were found to be associated with higher rates of Indigenous language maintenance. These findings have important implications for identifying ways of supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to learn and maintain Indigenous languages during early childhood, especially for children who may not have the opportunity to learn an Indigenous language in the home environment and for children living in urban areas.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-170
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Early Childhood
Volume47
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2015

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