Ghil'ad Zuckermann is a linguist who works in the revival of endangered languages.
He says not allowing NT Minister Bess Price to speak in Warlpiri freely during parliamentary debates, is indicative of a larger problem Australia has with bureaucracy and linguicide, and this is having a detrimental effect on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“Because when you lose your language, you lose your cultural autonomy, you lose your intellectual sovereignty, you lose your spirituality, you lose your soul,” he said.
His comments come after a member of the NT Legislative Assembly, Bess Nungarrayi Price, was told that she could not speak her first language, Warlpiri, on the floor without prior approval from the Assembly or the Speaker.
Mr Zuckermann said that the process for asking for approval delegitimises native Aboriginal languages, and sends a message to native Warlpiri speakers that their language is not as ‘prestigious’ as English.
Traditional languages can be spoken in parliament with prior permission, to allow for interpreters. But Mr Zuckermann says Warlpiri should be an official language of the parliament.
“English is a de facto language, but it is not defined as an official language. We need to wake up, and make all these native languages official languages, and then Bess Price should have the right to speak it in the NT parliament,” he said.
He said making changes to accommodate native speakers shouldn’t be seen as a barrier.
“I believe defining Aboriginal languages as the official languages of the region means more teachers are needed, more translators are needed, and more interpreters are needed.
“And this is beautiful, I don’t see a problem with this. I think that there are many Aboriginal people who are linguistically savvy and would want such a job,” he said.
John Elferink, Chair of the Standing Orders Committee which oversees these changes in NT Parliament, says while he agrees these changes should be made, he does not see the processes as contributing to the killing of native languages.
“I think there are many, many other things that will challenge the death of native languages, beyond the standing orders of the parliament.
“Popular culture, the increasing use of English amongst the young, all of those things are far more corrosive to the ongoing existence of native languages,” he said.
Mrs Price is currently seeking advice about how to go about changing the standing orders of the NT Parliament.