Indigenous sign languages of Arnhem Land

Marie Adone

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    This report presents some preliminary findings of a pilot study conducted in some communities of Arnhem Land on the use of Indigenous sign languages. The report gives an overview on the domains and contexts in which these sign languages are used, and addresses some of the issues of language endangerment in these communities. It looks at five communities: Elcho Island, Milingimbi, Gunbalanya, Minjilang and the Tiwi Islands. The three key findings are, first, that signing is an integral part of Aboriginal culture; second, the Aboriginal people in these communities (and most probably in many other parts of Australia) are bimodal bilinguals (i.e. they grow up with several spoken and sign languages); and, third, the Indigenous sign languages can be regarded as traditional languages in decline, as discussed by Marmion, Obata and Troy (2014) for spoken languages. Most linguistic work so far has focused on the documentation and description of spoken languages. A close look at the sign languages in Arnhem Land shows that these languages are endangered. The intergenerational transmission of the sign language is taking place only in a few communities. More research needs to be conducted. The report concludes constructively by proposing the immediate documentation of these sign languages and by making some recommendations to keep these languages alive.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)132-136
    Number of pages5
    JournalAustralian Aboriginal Studies
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


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