Course: Making linguistics accessible to those who need it

Times: 9:30am - 1pm

Dates: Monday and Tuesday, 2-3 December 2019

Instructors: Emma Murphy, Sharon Edgar-Jones,  Amy Parncutt and Andrew Tanner from Living Languages (formerly the Resource Network for Linguistic Diversity); and Harley Dunnolly-Lee from the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages.

Registration: Please register here for Summer School 2019

Across Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoplere working to re-awaken, or strengthen, their languages – the first languages of this continent. In many instances, this work involves partnering with academically trained linguists, or drawing on their descriptions and analyses of the language. 

But communities also have ideas about language, and priorities for their languages, that can be much broader and more holistic than traditional linguistic models. And linguists’ training gives us a set of tools, and technical terminology, that often doesn’t make sense to people without the linguistic training. So, descriptions of Australia’s first languages can be inaccessible to those who need them most: the people whose languages they describe.

This course presents an overview of language situations across the country: from areas where people are using written materials to re-learn and re-awaken their language, to areas where children still speak the traditional language. We will examine the role linguists can and do play in this range of scenarios, with case studies from communities and community members; explore different ideas about what ‘language’ and ‘language work’ might mean, from academic, community, and cross-cultural perspectives; and do some practical work looking at presenting complex, technical information in Plain English.

Assumed knowledge

There is no assumed knowledge. This course will be of most interest and benefit to people with direct experience working with community language projects: Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. We will use plain, accessible language to breakdown complex linguistic concepts and make sure everyone is included in discussions.

Background knowledge

This course does not assume any particular linguistic knowledge. You may find it useful to read parts of Living Languages and New Approaches to Language Revitalisation Research by Stebbins, Eira & Couzens (2018) beforehand, particularly chapters 1-3.


If you are working on your own language, or supporting a community working on their language, please contact Andrew Tanner if you would be willing to share some of your story as part of the case studies – or willing for our presenters to talk about your language as part of our teaching.


Part 1: Overview of Australian languages and our work

Part 2: Panel discussion: different perspectives on language and language work

Part 3: Introduction to morphology in Australian languages in Plain English

Part 4: Applying skills: look at examples of language description and discuss what it means, and how to explain it in accessible language

Please feel free to contact with any questions. This course is proudly presented with:

Living Languages logo

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University