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Access to language materials | Materials, Language, Communities, Community, Access, Copies, Often, Aiatsis | FATSILC, Fed. Aboriginal Torres Strait Island Languages and Culture
Access to language materials PDF Print E-mail

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are the custodians of their cultural and linguistic heritage. The lived experience Indigenous people have of their languages should be valued and respected as highly as the technical knowledge which consultants bring to a project.

Access to existing materials PDF Print E-mail

AIATSIS is a valuable resource and often the first place that community language researchers visit when seeking existing materials on their own languages. AIATSIS assists community people to access materials on their languages. However, due to copyright restrictions and the way materials are deposited, the process of obtaining copies from AIATSIS can be slow and complex. The materials often have access restrictions placed on them by the copyright owner or by particular individuals within a community, which add to the challenges faced by community people when collecting documentation and recordings of their languages. Permissions have to be sought, even though the materials are in the language of the community researcher and even though the materials were made possible by the relatives or countrymen of the community researcher. Obstacles experienced by community language researchers need to be significantly reduced for all language materials which are produced in the future by communities and their consultants. Community access rights can be maximised by ensuring that agreements or contracts are prepared at the time the materials are created, which clearly state that the material is owned by community members. Similarly, those depositing material at AIATSIS should nominate access conditions which will benefit the whole community (where appropriate).

Many linguists have copies of their own work, including unique materials, which may not be published. These materials, are of great value for future language analysis by linguists and they are also of great value to community people who are working to revitalise their languages. Some of these unique and valuable materials are stored in places and organised in ways not known by communities. It is vital for linguists to organise, copy, label and catalogue all of their materials during their lifetimes and make them available to communities and also make provisions for beyond their lifetimes. Linguists need to give serious consideration to depositing copies of their original/unpublished materials in an archive such as AIATSIS and assigning copyright to the appropriate communities or to AIATSIS. This would ensure that communities have access to all materials available about their languages. Once copyright is assigned to a community, that community will then hold rights in perpetuity to those materials for all future generations working on their languages.

Access to copies of language materials PDF Print E-mail

Communities involved in language revitalisation need access to primary and secondary materials (audio visual recordings as well as written records). These are held in many local, state and national archives and libraries, in both public institutions and private collections. These locations are often very remote from local individual communities. Often it is not possible for community people to be aware of all of the various locations of every piece of research material and it can take years for them to collect and repatriate copies of all of the materials.

For future generations, wishing to continue to revitalise their languages, copies of all materials produced should be stored in safe locations within and beyond the community. Copies need to be kept in the local or regional language and culture centre or other relevant local community organisation. Copies also need to be lodged with an archive, such as AIATSIS, which has suitable storage facilities. Just as past recordings and pieces of language documentation are a valuable resource for present generations, language materials being produced by present generations will add to the valuable body of work and knowledge for future generations

Access to culturally-sensitive materials PDF Print E-mail

As many consultants are well aware, there are sensitivities around making some linguistic and cultural materials widely available. Well-established language centres have mechanisms to make sure that only appropriate people have access to certain materials. For example a regional language centre may have a database or catalogue of all of the language materials it holds and each piece of material in the collection, on the advice of language informants, will be labelled with details such as who may see it.

At the same time, however, experienced consultants, with long term connections with a community, often notice changes in community attitudes over the years. Materials that were once strongly considered by communities to be highly restricted may later be considered to be less restricted or unrestricted; and vice versa.6

This underlines the need for ongoing consultation with communities over a long period of time. Communities who have lodged materials with archives, such as AIATSIS, should revisit the access conditions placed on their materials as often as necessary. The community should develop a close relationship with the archive which holds their materials and keep that archive informed of any changes in contact details, especially in cases where a specific person may be the nominated contact or a corporate body which may be disbanded. It is also beneficial to both community and archive if the archive is notified of any deceased persons. This enables the archive to curate the materials appropriately in line with local protocols.

6 For example see Koch and Anderson (2003).

Access to the content of language materials PDF Print E-mail

Communities want to be able to interpret and use what is recorded in, and published about, their languages. Many publications about languages are very theoretical and require linguistic training to be read and understood. Technical grammars and dictionaries are immensely valuable as bases for practical materials for language learning and teaching. However materials such as these are read by very few people and there are often not many copies of them available. These relatively inaccessible materials represent a huge body of work on endangered languages in Australia and contain a lot of important research which needs to be made more useful to communities.

In recent years, learners’ dictionaries and grammars of various languages have been published and the content of these publications are often more accessible and more useful to members of communities who are relearning and revitalising their languages. Aboriginal Studies Press and IAD Press have numerous examples of publications which take into account the learning and literacy needs of Indigenous audiences. Many of the publications are authored or co-authored by Indigenous people.7

7 See list of organisations at the end of this guide for details of how to contact Aboriginal Studies Press and IAD Press.

On-line access PDF Print E-mail

On-line is one way of making language materials accessible to language communities. Increasingly, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are taking up the internet as a way of communicating and learning language. For example, Nathan (1999, p6) states:

The number of Australian Indigenous-related websites has grown from about 10 sites in 1994 to 60 in 1996, to over 200 today.

Communities see both benefits and risks in putting their language materials on-line and they vary greatly in their uptake of the internet for language work.

Communities in favour of on-line language work consider that one of its key benefits is that it overcomes the distance and isolation experienced by people who are working on revitalising their languages. They can communicate, work collaboratively and use resources on-line, even when they live many kilometres from each other. Communities in favour of on-line language work consider most language to be open rather than restricted and so they feel comfortable about storing their language materials on-line. Making language materials available on-line is also seen as practical since hard copies, if lost or misplaced, can be easily replaced. Another major benefit is that, while traditional channels and ways of publishing can be limiting for communities, placing language materials on-line is a form of publishing. Through this means of publishing, communities can assert more control over their cultural and intellectual property.

However, some communities, especially those in remote areas, do not have good telephone lines, nor reliable internet access. Also, many community members lack the computer hardware, software and opportunities for skills training to be in a position where they can make an informed decision about whether they wish to take advantage of possibilities that the internet has to offer. Even where on-line storage is possible, some communities have concerns about whether it is really possible to keep their languages safe on the internet. Current on-line projects for Indigenous languages in Australia and other countries make use of tools, such as password protection, to safeguard their materials. Through password protection, materials can be stored in a way which grades or restricts access to those materials, as determined by communities.

Before making any materials available on-line, consultants need to be aware of the situation of particular local community they are working with – the range of technologies available to the community, the skills base and the attitudes and beliefs held by community members.

On-line access to language materials has been successfully encouraged in circumstances where communities have been able to form a dialogue with other Indigenous communities (in Australia or overseas) which already access their language materials on-line. The most effective learning about online storage can occur where there is sharing of knowledge between communities which have first hand experience of it and communities which are considering making their language materials available on-line.

For various reasons, some communities may not wish their language materials to be available on-line, yet they may still be interested in computer technology and keen to develop digital and multimedia products off-line. They prefer formats such as CD-ROM when publishing their language resources. They feel this provides them with more control over physical storage of, and access to, the language resource once it is published.