Language Continuation Continuum

The Kimberley Language Resource Centre uses the term Language Continuation to help explain how Aboriginal language groups in the Kimberley are working towards keeping their languages ‘alive’ for future generations.

The main goal is to make sure languages are still spoken.

The phrase Language Continuation is used instead of other words such as ‘revitalisation’, ‘reclamation’ and ‘maintenance’. These terms are used in certain ways by both the academic community and government funding bodies to refer to specific language endangerment situations. They often define what kind of programs or strategies are used for the languages. These levels of endangerment are measured by how many speakers there are, how old they are, and whether children are speaking the language as a first language. But these are subjective observations and language groups often disagree on how these things are measured.

This diagram above is used to demonstrate the whole scope of language work that language groups can do to support their languages.

Deciding how strong a language is with measures of age and number can miss out on what is happening in the community. For example, if a language is said to have only one remaining fluent speaker linguists will say the most important thing to do is document – to make a grammar or dictionary. But there may be a lot of motivation in the family to learn language and knowledge from this speaker. The work needed to develop a grammar or dictionary cannot include the family in the way they would like.

For a community with a number of fluent speakers, the suggestion is often a school program and resource-making (e.g. bilingual books and teaching resources). But there may be speakers of more than one language in the community, speakers might not want to go into the school, or there may be other social concerns the community as a whole has decided need to be dealt with first. So the language may continue to disappear because focus is not put on supporting the certain people or groups within that community who have the motivation for language continuation.

Identifying solutions to language loss in this way is what the KLRC refers to as a ‘linguistics-driven’ approach to language continuation. This approach chooses the outcome or activity before first gaining an understanding of how the group or community see the loss of their own languages. It does not include them in developing and managing the appropriate activities.

The diagram below demonstrates that when the foundation of Teaching On Country is strong all other types of language continuation have a solid base to build on.

We acknowledge the old people, elders and language speakers who have passed.

Please be aware their images or voice may appear on this website.