2 July 2017

In recognition of the theme of this year’s NAIDOC WeekOur Languages Matter—which aims to emphasise and celebrate the unique and essential role that Indigenous languages play in cultural identity, linking people to their land and water and in the transmission of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, spirituality and rites, through story and song— it is timely to highlight the valuable Indigenous language research the Australian Government supports through the Australian Research Council (ARC) National Competitive Grants Program (NCGP).

The ARC supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers through the research funding schemes of the NCGP, including targeted funding through the Discovery Indigenous scheme. NCGP funding is awarded across all disciplines for research projects, fellowships, awards, centres and hubs and is predicated on research excellence.

Since 2012, the ARC has funded 21 research projects, with funding totalling $9.4 million, that involve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language studies[1]. In addition to this funding, the ARC supports other relevant research projects through our ARC Centres of Excellence and Special Research Initiative schemes. For example, the ARC Centre for the Dynamics of Language, established in 2014, is conducting research relevant to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages; and the National Indigenous Research and Knowledges Network (NIRAKN) is connecting Indigenous researchers across disciplines, nationally and internationally, to develop a culturally supportive and inclusive research environment to facilitate new Indigenous multidisciplinary research.

Here are just a few examples of the valuable outcomes made possible through ARC-funded Indigenous language research projects:

  • Professor Michael Christie, Australian of the Year Nominee (2011), working with researchers at Charles Darwin University has created a Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages of the Northern Territory. The Living Archive received funding under the Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities scheme.
  • Professor Len Collard at The University of Western Australia used multiple media platforms, including a dedicated website, to tell the unique story of the meanings of the Nyungar place names; creating 14 maps covering the southwest of Western Australia, based on their regional areas as defined by their linguistic practices. Professor Collard received funding for this project under the Discovery Projects and Discovery Indigenous schemes.
  • Dr Murray Garde, at The University of Melbourne, created a dictionary and cultural encyclopedia of Bininj Gunwok, dialects of the Northern Territory. Dr Garde received funding for this project under the Linkage Projects scheme.
  • Dr Myfany Turpin, a 2014 ARC Future Fellow at The University of Sydney, is working with Aboriginal people in the inland region of Australia to document their traditional songs through a project called: Mapping the diversity of Aboriginal song: social and ecological significances for Australia.
  • Dr Felicity Meakins, a 2017 Future Fellow at The University of Queensland, is surveying colonial language change in Australia to investigate and predict the mechanisms of change across languages and generations of speakers.
  • Dr Ian Green and Associate Professor Rachel Nordlinger, working through the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, are retracing Dr Green’s steps to return the recordings he made, up to 30 years ago, to Indigenous communities. 
  • Discovery Indigenous Research Fellow, Elizabeth Marrkilyi Ellis, also from the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language is working with linguists, art students, and computer programmers to create the world's first Aboriginal Australian-language video game—an endless runner computer game called Tjinari, meaning ‘someone always on the go’ in Ngaanyatjarra. 

More information about ARC support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Researchers is available on the ARC website, including an ARC Statement of Support and Action Plan 2017: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Researchers.