Language revitalisation on the agenda in Inner Mongolia

Thursday, 23 July 2015
Dr Marmion with a singer of traditional Mongolian throat-singing
Dr Marmion with a singer of traditional Mongolian ‘throat-singing’ (or khoomei) receiving a free lesson.

Dr Doug Marmion, Research Fellow, AIATSIS Centre for Australian Languages, recently travelled to the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia to attend an international symposium on ‘Parallels between Australian Indigenous people and people of Chinese Mongolian nationality’.

The symposium was organised by the Australian Studies Centre at Inner Mongolia University and brought together academics from Australia and across China, a number of them Indigenous scholars.

Dr Marmion said the presenters were from a variety of disciplines, but all highlighted the potential to learn from each other and thus improve their own research and the application of that research.

“As is often the case, much of the best discussion was that held between sessions. I’m now in ongoing contact with a number of senior scholars and postgraduate students, all of whom are very interested to develop areas of collaboration and information sharing,” said Dr Marmion.
In his presentation Dr Marmion gave an overview of Australian Indigenous languages and focussed on research that shows there are substantial health benefits arising from the maintenance of language. Dr Marmion used the Ngunawal language project as an example of language revival in practice.

Dr Marmion finished by considering the situation of Indigenous Mongolian languages in Inner Mongolia, where several still have large numbers of speakers, but almost all are showing substantial signs of language shift, with children growing up without a full command of their heritage language. A situation that is very familiar in Australia.

Dr Marmion said Australia is one of the cutting-edge nations in terms of work to revitalise Indigenous languages.

“Many Indigenous Mongolians were keen to learn more about how this work is carried out in Australia and how they can apply it in their own languages, most of which are endangered.”

While in Inner Mongolia Dr Marmion was also able to attend the launch of a new Australian Studies Centre at Inner Mongolia Normal University. The Centre will have a specific focus on Australian children’s literature.

The Centre has partnered with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) to translate several Aboriginal Studies Press publications in order to make them locally available.

“At the launch I spoke with Wu Haiyan, the Centre Director, who expressed the hope that the collaboration with AIATSIS would continue into the future,” Dr Marmion said.

There are now 40 Australian Studies Centres in China. Australia, and especially Indigenous Australia, is an area of much interest.

Launch of the new Australian Studies Centre at Inner Mongolia Normal University
Dignitaries at the launch of the new Australian Studies Centre at Inner Mongolia Normal University.

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