I read Wendy Baarda’s report on her Warlpiri phonics software this evening, thanks to Jane’s post. It’s a great report, for all the reasons Jane mentions. A couple of other things stood out for me. One was Wendy’s comment that schools aren’t allowed to install their own software on LATIS machines without permission from the Department of Education (LATIS is the networked system used in Northern Territory schools). With an official non-bilingual policy, I can imagine that would be a big disincentive to develop localised versions of Indigenous reading programs (note to self: make sure that the Yan-nhangu talking dictionary can be run with no special software!) Second was the enthusiasm the kids had for the program (Wendy mentions one young child crying because she wasn’t chosen to play with the reading program that day). Third was this slightly surprising observation:
It may not meet the approval of linguists who might see the Warlpiri literacy program as an opportunity to reinforce traditional vocabulary. The goal here is student understanding. So far, linguists who have worked on Warlpiri have always been supportive and not critical of locally produced Warlpiri materials which sometimes contain English words commonly used by Warlpiri speakers when speaking Warlpiri.
I’m not sure if this paragraph was aimed at any linguist in particular, or whether it’s just a reaction to linguists tending to work with older speakers. Maybe I’m being unimaginative, but I can’t imagine a linguist wanting to highjack a program like this in order to teach young kids more traditional vocabulary. Far better to get the kids reading so they can look at the old sources for themselves!
Another fantastic part of the report is the list of things that work and don’t work in language CDs. The list is relevant for revitalisation projects, for example.