Most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia use a variety of Aboriginal English for communication, at least within their own speech communities. This paper provides an overview of some of the issues of social justice which are entailed in providing for these people, as Australian citizens, a fair and equitable education.
Concerns are raised in four areas:
- Linguistic myths surrounding Aboriginal English and Standard English (SE). Traditionally, SE has been assumed to be unified, accent-free, inherently superior and unchanging. On the other hand, traditionally Aboriginal English has been ignored or variously described as a non-language, a poor form of English produced by lazy speakers or a pidgin. All of these myths have been dispelled by linguistic research, yet their influence remains.
- Educational Myths relating to speakers of non-standard dialects. It is commonly assumed that their a non-standard dialect’s difference from the standard represents a deficit for which education should compensate its speakers, that their only path to empowerment is through unique focus on literacy in the standard dialect, and that to help them to succeed the demands of the education system should be watered down. These myths predispose systems not to meet the needs of Aboriginal learners and need to be dispelled.
- Contested ownership of English. Within the TESOL profession there have been pressures to attribute the “ownership” of English to those who speak Standard English natively. Increasingly, alternative claims of ownership are coming from marginalized groups, including speakers of Aboriginal English.
- Professed and Defacto Policy. Policies on the recognition of indigenous languages and dialects worldwide are increasingly politically correct. However, practice is guided by defacto policy which resides in the attitudes of education providers and politicians, and which is often influenced by the myths mentioned under 1 and 2 (above).