You are here
Frequently Asked Questions
DO ABORIGINAL PEOPLE SPEAK ONE LANGUAGE, OR DIFFERENT DIALECTS?
Though traditional Indigenous languages around Australia share some features, there is ample evidence that these languages are distinct. For example, people indigenous to Central Australia do not typically speak or comprehend Yolŋu languages of North East Arnhem. Patterns that are common in some languages (eg: suffixes on the ends of words in Yolŋu languages) are dramatically different from grammars in neighbouring languages (eg: prefixes on the start of words in the Kun- languages).
So, Indigenous people do not speak different dialects of the one 'Aboriginal' language, they speak many languages.
Linguists recognise that Indigenous people within a region may speak different dialects within a language group. These are often defined along clan lines. For example, within the Yolŋu family of languages, there are 6-8 subgroups, each of which may contain 3-6 dialects. Even within a Yolŋu language group, the clan dialects show different grammatical features, and distinctive vocabularies.
Indigenous people of a given region may speak and comprehend numerous varieties of a bridging language - firstly because their parents typically come from different clan groups (and different dialects, or languages), and secondly because they are very often surrounded by relatives speaking other languages in multi-lingual community. For this reason, 'intelligibility' is not a good measure of whether these are separate languages or dialects.
In meeting with Indigenous people from another region of Australia, or with non-Indigenous people, Aboriginal people often use English as a 'lingua franca'. It is significant that in this context, they are using a language which may be 4th or 5th on their 'list' of languages, and very foreign from any of the traditional Aboriginal languages. English fluency and literacy varies greatly across the Aboriginal population.
In summary, there are many Indigenous languages in Australia, and Aboriginal speakers of traditional languages are typically multi-lingual - speaking and/or understanding more than one dialect of their region.
WHAT IS COORDINATE DOING TO ASSIST TROUBLED INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES?
Indigenous communities face many challenges. Christians in these communities are not immune to these concerns. Though it is not the primary purpose of Coordinate to offer services in aid or development, it is very clear that positive things are happening through the engagement, training and support of Indigenous Scripture workers.
The Coordinate approach is church-based and holistic. As a project of the Uniting Church in Australia Northern Synod, and the Indigenous Presbytery (NRCC) of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC), Coordinate works alongside others in ministries of pastoral care and community development.
The Aboriginal Resource and Development Service (ARDS) is the development arm of the Uniting Church in Australia, Northern Synod. This organisation specifically aims to empower the Yolŋu people of North East Arnhem Land, particularly in health, economic, legal, social and governance issues. The capacity-building methodology uses Yolŋu languages and worldview to communicate across cultural and linguistic barriers.*
From a 'community' perspective, Coordinate maintains that the provision of Bibles and resources in Indigenous languages is effective in at least two key ways:
- It is an affirmation of Aboriginal identity and expression;
- The Bible contains God's own words of comfort and hope for people in every context.
Indigenous Scriptures workers throughout the four areas of the NRCC are offering all kinds of services in their family and community networks. In many cases, Indigenous Christians apply the experience and training from Scripture translation projects to a wide range of complementary roles in government advisory services, language interpreting, community development, and lay ministry. Their intimate knowledge of the Scriptures is a key influence on their community life.
In addition to training and workshops, Coordinate is sometimes able to employ experienced Indigenous Scripture workers as Translation Advisors to share their wealth of knowledge with other language groups. The shared experience of Scripture work is a unique bond between Indigenous people around Australia. These relationships between communities are profoundly encouraging to Indigenous Christians, even across linguistic boundaries. In this sense, Coordinate is a grass-roots networking agency, supporting Indigenous Christians in their vision for participation in the wider church, and for resources in their own languages.
*ARDS runs periodic 'Bridging the Gap' seminars around Australia to inform and train non-Indigenous people in cross-cultural understanding and capacity-building. For more information, visit the website, www.ards.org.au.
TELL ME MORE ABOUT HOW COORDINATE WORKS?
Coordinate is the Uniting Church strategy for support of people who are involved in Scripture and resource work in the four ministry areas of the NRCC. Existing networks within Indigenous churches and communities are fundamental to the success of Scripture projects.
Indigenous Christians commit their time and effort to translate material in their own languages. Other people focus on integrating Indigenous Bibles into their congregations and communities. The desire and initiative for Scripture work is organic: chuch and clan groups discuss and decide their resource needs, in consultation with Coordinate and others.
Indigenous Scripture workers require training in translation and Scripture-in-Use. Some Indigenous translators have completed Certificates in Translation. Still others aspire to do this training in the future. Other training is less formal - in the context of workshops with more experienced Indigenous leaders or translators. Many possibilities exist for efficient language and Scripture work using new technologies, particularly the 'OurWord' program.
Coordinate works with a network of para-church organisations to support projects in Indigenous communities:
- AuSIL (training provision, linguistic and technical support)
- The Bible Society in Australia (linguistic consultation, resource development, and publication)
- Nungalinya College (training facility)
- ARDS (shared resources under the umbrella of UCA, Northern Synod)
- MAF (travel and technical support)
- Quarterly Reference Committee meetings provide a forum for Indigenous Scripture workers, church leaders, and partner organisations to come together and share activities, struggles, hopes plans.
As our name suggests, we exist to coordinate support for Indigenous Scriptures in the four areas: nurturing partnerships between local church and clan groups, the wider Uniting Church in Australia, and the relevant para-church organisations.