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Seminar to unravel secrets of saving vanishing indigenous languages


Zuleika Henderson
29 July 2009
Visiting US scholar and Native American Stephen Neyooxet Greymorning will tackle the issue of saving Indigenous languages in seminars at Southern Cross University in Tweed Heads and Coffs Harbour in the coming weeks.

Entitled ‘The Relevance of Saving and Keeping Languages Alive,’ the seminars are open to the public and will take place at the Riverside campus in Tweed Heads this Thursday, July 30 and at the Coffs Harbour campus on Wednesday, August 12.

An Arapaho Indian, Professor Greymorning teaches at the Department of Anthroplogy and Native American Studies at the University of Montana and has developed a new method for second language instruction called Accelerated Second Language Acquisition (ASLA) as part of his work towards developing strategies for native language restoration. He will be accompanied by his daughter Amber, who has learned the Arapaho language through the ASLA method.

Professor Greymorning said the matter of language loss was a serious global issue, with Indigenous cultures bearing the brunt of the damage.

“For the last 30 years, linguists have watched the slow death of Indigenous languages and cared more about the language in terms of its technical aspects than the people who are using it,” said Professor Greymorning.

“As we have seen in the US, when a native language is lost, problems begin to creep in to the Indigenous community and young people in particular struggle with their identity, often adopting elements of other cultures - like rap music for example - to express themselves because they are losing the connection with the values of their own culture and it no longer seems to fit.

“Our presentations will look at why this is happening, what is unique about Indigenous languages and the relevance of these languages in the world today.”

Professor Greymorning has researched language issues among the Indigenous peoples of Australia, Canada, Columbia, New Zealand, East Timor and the United States.

He said exploring new language instruction techniques was one of the tools that could be used to tackle the rapid rate of loss of Indigenous languages throughout the world.

“A language can only live as long as its youngest speaker lives, so it is crucial that young people have the opportunity to learn their tribal language and reconnect with their Indigenous identity,” said Professor Greymorning.

“Standard teaching methods are slow and require a great deal of application, which is why I have developed a new technique based on how a baby learns a language that helps overcome these difficulties so language can successfully be passed on to newer speakers.”

Professor Greymorning will be demonstrating the results of his language learning methodology with his daughter Amber, who has learned the old and difficult narrative style of traditional Arapaho storytelling – a skill usually only achieved by elders.

All are welcome to the seminars, which will take place in at Southern Cross University’s Riverside campus in Brett Street Tweed Heads on Thursday July 30 from 1pm-3pm in Harvard Room 1, and at the Coffs Harbour campus on Wednesday August 12 from 12-2pm in Room A127. Spaces are limited.

RSVP to [email protected] for the Tweed seminar and [email protected] for the Coffs Harbour seminar.

Photo: Professor Greymorning (high resolution image available on request)