Taiwan Church News
October 27 - November 2, 2014
Let Kaurna and Siraya Be Spoken! A Seminar On The Language Revitalization Of The Australian Aboriginal Kuarna Language Is Kicked Off To Share Experiences With Taiwan's Aboriginal Tribe
Reported by Hwang Yi-lek
On October 27, a historic seminar of the language revitalization of the Australian aboriginal Kaurna language, is held at Kou-bei elementary school, Tainan. This event is organized by Siraya Culture Association(SCA) and supported by Department of Taiwan Literature of National Cheng Kung University(NCKU), Association for Taiwanese and Vietnamese Cultural Exchange(ATVCE) and Taiwanese Romanization Association(TRA).
Dr. Rob Amery and Dr. Mary-Anne Gale, who are a couple and both serve in Adelaide University leading the research project to revitalize the Gaurna and Ngarrindjeri aboriginal language respectively, are invited to address in this international seminar and share their experiences at their field work.
Before starting the seminar, a local tour to learn something about Siraya culture is arranged: Rev. Lee Hsiau-chung, pastor of Kou-bei Presbyterian Church, welcomes the arrival of the Amery couple and briefly introduce how the church engage in the process of revitalizing the Siraya language. Students of Kou-bei elementary school perform some Siraya folk songs to greet their visitors and communicate with the Amery to show how Siraya language revitalization goes. And then, several tribes, like Green Valley Siraya, Taizuma and Jiucengling, are visited by the Amery via inspecting tribal architectures, photographs and antiques, to learn further about the history, Alid Tsoo faith and current living conditions of the Siraya people.
The reason, why the Amery are invited to address their experiences in language revitalization of the Australian aboriginal languages - Kaurna and Ngarrindjeri, is due to their early start in 1990s. It is about 10 tears earlier than the revitalization of the Siraya language. Wan Su-juen, President of SCA, remarks that the precious experience of the Amery in the language revitalization for the Australian aboriginal tribes could help Taiwanese aboriginal people to find solutions during similar challenges. Wan traces the initialization of Siraya writing up to Rev. Georgius Candidius, a Dutch pastor stationed in Formosa between 1627 and 1631, who translated the Matthew Gospel and a catechism into Siraya, and complied a formulary. All these becomes the important reference material to revitalize Siraya language.
Not incidentally, Rob Amery responds that the documents left by the missionaries are also very indispensable during his field work and revitalization of Kaurna language. Just like Siraya before revitalization, Rob explains, Kaurna only has written records but no sound system to identify. It became a very difficult problem to know the correct pronunciation. So, many techniques were tried to restore the Kaurna language system: new words were created, not only by comparing the languages of the neighboring tribes, but also by borrowing or synthesizing from other words.
Rob Amery said, "Speaking tribal language is totally different from speaking the official language, people can feel the difference from the bottom of their heart." Rob stresses the importance of aboriginal lyrics in the process of language revitalization. He also organizes workshop to collect how people talk within their family relationships and translate them into tribal languages in order to imbuing old language with a rich vocabularies of daily lives. Over the past 25 years, more than 10,000 Australian students had learned the aboriginal languages at some extent. And more and more school wish to open the course on aboriginal languages. Yet, the insufficiency of teachers is always the problem.
Another method to make the aboriginal language popular is to restore the aboriginal name in naming administration district, city park, transportation system, even the art in public plaza. Just like people can use the old Siraya name, Tah Bah Kan, to rename Shihua district, and it would trigger lots of creative action in language revitalization, explained by the interpreter Mr. Ou Cheng-lian.
The Ngarrindjeri language, explains Mary-Anne Gale, has less power to revitalize and restore because the Ngarrindjeri tribe locates in more rural area and lack of adequate political support. In the beginning of her linguistic field work, only 500 words could be collected. Now it has reached 3,700 words and could be compiled as a dictionary. But, Gale reminds the audience that the thoughts of linguistic scholars are sometimes different from the tribal elders. In addition, some historical documents could go wrong, so the job of language revitalization has to be very careful!
Translated by Peter Wolfe
Dr. Rob Amery and Dr. Mary-Anne Gale, experts of aboriginal linguistics and distinguished professors from The University of Adelaide, Australia, are invited by Siraya Culture Association at Tainan, Taiwan, to share their experiences of language revitalization of Kaurna and Ngarrindjeri aboriginal tribes in Australia on October 27, 2014.
Photo by Hwang Yi-lek