Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Language, parliament, hypocrisy: Happy (belated) International Mother Language Day

February 21 was International Mother Language Day,  a day dedicated to celebrating, preserving and protecting languages of all peoples. In the week leading up to the day, media reported that, late last year, NT MLA Bess Price was told off by house speaker Kezia Purick for using Warlpiri, her first language, in Parliament.

Purick told Price “the language of the assembly is English”, although it remains to be seen where, exactly, that rule is written down. Around one third of the Northern Territory population is Aboriginal, and Warlpiri is one of the stronger NT languages, with around 3000 people still speaking it. In the NT, there is a daily ABC Radio news broadcast in Warlpiri (and another one in Yolngu Matha).

The news about Price being denied the right to speak her language came shortly after PM Malcolm Turnbull’s February 10 Closing the Gap report, which once again showed the extent to which Australian governments are failing the first people of this country. Turnbull started his speech in Ngunnawal, the language of Canberra’s Aboriginal people.

Australia: where the leader of a racist government can use a few words of an Aboriginal language while brushing over the ongoing impacts of colonisation and racism, while an Aboriginal MLA gets a dressing down for speaking her language, the language of her constituents.

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