2M Update – Australian Indigenous languages, the most culturally diverse in the world

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Recently I attended the opening ceremony of the monumental installation DAYIWUL LIRLMIM (“Barramundi Scales”) by our very own Aboriginal Australian artist Lena Nyadbi on the rooftop of the Musée du quai Branly in Paris.

The permanent Aboriginal work painted by the artist on the museum’s 700sqm roof terrace is now visible to the 7 million visitors per year who climb the Eiffel Tower, as well as to Google Earth users. It is the largest permanent installation of Indigenous Australian contemporary art outside of Australia.



The artist Lena Nyadbi from Warmun (Turkey Creek) was the guest of honour, and the interest shown on the night in our Indigenous culture, art and language was at an all time high. As the former Manager of the Kimberley Aboriginal Interpreter Service, I know the Warmun Art Centre and am familiar with the local languages including Kija spoken there. Australian Indigenous languages are particularly close to my heart, so I thought I will give you a little insight today into what is one of our most precious cultural heritages.

Why are they so important?

Australian Indigenous languages are one of the most linguistically and culturally diverse in the world. Of the 100 – 130 that there are, most are critically endangered, as today only about 20 are regularly spoken.

Why provide translations into Indigenous languages?

Australia has a strong language policy to ensure LOTE (Language other than English) speakers have equal access to information in their own language. Although many Indigenous Australians speak English, it is often not their first language and particularly in remote regions,  some might not speak our national language at all.  So it is important for Government agencies, health care providers, telecommunication or other service providers to provide information in Indigenous languages if they want to get their message across to those groups.  Remember my favourite Nelson Mandela quote: If you talk to a man in a language he understands, it goes to his head. If you talk to a man in his own language, it goes to his heart. The same principle applies here.

Which is the best way to provide the translations?

Some of the Indigenous languages, such as Torres Strait Island Creole, can be provided in form of written translations, but the majority are actually oral languages and recordings are more suitable and often the only way to get the messaging across.

What’s the process?wik.mungkan039191

The first step is to provide a plain English text version for a pre-translation brief. Many English terms, concepts and particularly technical content do not have an Indigenous language equivalent, so interpreters and translators will need to ‘unpack’ and interpret them the right way for the Indigenous group. After questions about the subject matter or difficult terms have  been clarified, the text is translated or interpreted straight into recording. Checking by a second linguist and focus group testing with members from different generations and backgrounds of the relevant community ensure that the messaging is being conveyed appropriately.

Couldn’t I just use ‘simple English’ and speak slowly to get my message across?

Simple English is not a good way to communicate essential information. Important bits of information are often left out, because it is too hard to explain them in simple terms. In any case, ’simple English’ still uses all the grammar that confuses non-English speakers. If you don’t understand Japanese, it won’t matter whether someone speaks to you in that language very quickly or very slowly, you still won’t know what they are talking about.

Isn’t Kriol just bad English?

That is another question I get asked on a regular basis. Kriol is a discrete language with its own structure and meanings. It should never be thought of as simply ‘bad English’. Kriol has an English base and may sound like English, but treating it as English will lead to serious miscommunication.

So, what do our Indigenous languages sound like?

Curious how they sound? Here is your chance to listen to some recordings that the 2M Team provided, warning ATM users not to disclose their PIN:

Gija/Kija (the language of the artist mentioned above) is spoken in the East Kimberley of Western Australia. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2SciHboIZWY

Walmajarri is spoken in the West Kimberley: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TK_DK82I3k

Kriol is spoken in many parts of Australia. This is WA Kriol:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6P0cQqi1mPI

Another East Kimberley language is Mirriwong: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WMpA67Tv6NI

Wik Mungkan – Spoken in Aurukun/ Far North Queensland: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8i-UCvz1SjQ

Torres Strait Island Creole: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1sdi7wD9Bg

Kala Lagaw Ya is spoken in the Western and Central Torres Strait Islands: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=26LIr_naKlg

This is only a glimpse into the wonderful world of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island languages. I hope that you have enjoyed hearing about this diverse gem of language and can see why translating into them for indigenous audiences is so important both linguistically and culturally.

Written by Tea C. Dietterich, Director of 2M Language Services.

At 2M we have a specialised unit in indigenous languages as well as other oral languages, click here to find out more.

TokPisin video


Case Study: Dupont Security Training Videos in Tok Pisin (PNG Pidgin)

In charge of producing Dupont’s security videos in Tok Pisin (PNG Pidgin), Bahasa Malay, Bahasa Indonesia and Vietnamese, the 2M Team has been busy recording the multilingual voice-overs with their foreign language voice talents and studio engineers. Just like Australian Indigenous languages, Tok Pisin is also a challenge, as many Western concepts don’t exist in that language.2M successfully managed the entire Tok Pisin voice-over production working with Cairns based PNG linguists and talents.Using Multicultural Australia’s unique resources has provided for successful export activities for 2M Language Services in spite of the high AUD over the last year. Click here for a preview of the Tok Pisin video.



Meet 2M at FECCA 2013

FECCA 2013 is approaching fast! The biennial conference, held by the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia in conjunction with the Ethnic Communities Council of Queensland (ECCQ) and the Multicultural Communities Council Gold Coast (MCCGC), takes place from Thursday 7 to Friday 8 November at theGold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre.

This year’s conference theme is Breaking down the barriers: A strength-based approach for a just society. As a Silver Sponsor, 2M is proud to be supporting this theme, and we look forward to coming together with leading decision makers, thinkers and practitioners to discuss key issues relating to Australia’s cultural and linguistic diversity.

For more information and to register visit http://www.fecca2013.com. We look forward to seeing you there!

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