S57: Can the Revival of Indigenous Languages Improve the Mental Health and Social and Emotional Wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People?

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By September 17, 2018 No Comments

Authors: Stephen Atkinson, Emma Richards, Harold Dare

Year: 2018

Event: 2018 TheMHS Conference


Type of resource: Conference Presentations and Papers

Abstract: The links between language loss and poor mental health have been demonstrated in many settings; however, little research has sought to identify the potential psychological benefits of language reclamation. To date there has been no systematic study of the impact of language revival on mental health and wellbeing. The revival of the Barngarla language on Eyre Peninsula, South Australia offers a unique opportunity to examine whether improvements in mental health and social and emotional wellbeing can occur during and following the language reclamation process. This symposium begins with Barngarla reflections on their experiences of language loss and revitalisation, followed by an outline of the linguistic program of revival/istics with Barngarla communities. It then presents an overview of the study design, followed by a discussion of how wellbeing might be measured in relation to Indigenous language revival. Abstract 1 The Barngarla Language Advisory Committee (BLAC) provides governance, cultural advice, conceptual input, community context and practical support (e.g. recruitment of participants) to the Barngarla Language and Wellbeing Study. BLAC representatives from Port Lincoln and Port Augusta will present the context of language loss within Barngarla communities, with particular reference to the immediate and ongoing impacts of the Stolen Generations on Barngarla families and communities. They will then describe their involvement in Barngarla language reclamation activities including the development of a Barngarla dictionary app and participation in the Barngarla Songs Project, as well as community-based activities such as Welcome to Country, Yarniri Wilya (Barngarla youth movement), NAIDOC activities, community art exhibitions, dual-language community signage and the development of Barngarla language and culture centres. The presenters will then reflect on the individual, family and community impacts of reviving Barngarla language, commenting on changes in language use and observable improvements in social and emotional wellbeing. The presentation will conclude with reflections on Aboriginal involvement and guiding of the study. Abstract 2 From the point of view of Indigenous empowerment and wellbeing, the presence of a fully fluent community that converses in all semantic domains of life is in many ways a secondary consideration. Essentially, the revival process is as important as the revival goals. Revivalistics is a new trans-disciplinary field that studies the universal constraints and mechanisms of language revival, as well as particular, locally-conditioned and culturally-specific nuances of language reclamation across various sociocultural settings. Revivalistics complements the established field of documentary linguistics, which records endangered languages before they fall asleep. This project revises usual linguistic fields by placing the Barngarla people (rather than the Western linguists) at the centre. Grammars and dictionaries should be written for language reclamation in a user-friendly way, aimed at the needs of community members rather than just for the use of professional linguists. By listening to Barngarla Elders, while learning, mapping and characterising the needs, desires and potentials of the target community, this language reclamation project is being guided by Aboriginal leaders to focus more on basic vocabulary and verbal conjugations than on sounds and word order. Abstract 3 The Barngarla Language and Wellbeing Study is a five-year National Health and Medical Research Council funded project that aims to systematically assess the mental health and social and emotional wellbeing impacts of language reclamation with Barngarla people in South Australia. It has four objectives: I. To further develop, deliver and evaluate language reclamation activities with Barngarla; II. To explore the positive impacts of pilot language activities through semi-structured interviews with prior participants; III. To review, adapt and/or develop quantitative methods for assessing mental health and social and emotional wellbeing in partnership with community Barngarla language experts; and IV. To prospectively assess mental health and social and emotional wellbeing of community based language reclamation workshop participants over the course of the project. This section of the symposium presents the overall study design and key findings from work to date, with particular emphasis on the findings of the semi-structured interviews with pilot participants. Abstract 4 Following the semi-structured interview phase of the study described above, where the potential and perceived impacts of language reclamation were documented, the team used key themes from the interview findings to identify, review and adapt existing tools to assess mental health and social and emotional wellbeing in the target population and comparator communities. Each of these identified measures were then interrogated by community members for: face validity; cultural appropriateness; understandable response categories; brevity; ability to self-complete; prior use in cross-cultural settings; and robust psychometric properties. The draft assessment tool then proceeded through a facilitated focus group process with BLAC to clarify local idioms of distress, maximise the conceptual coverage, enhance a holistic understanding of the constructs, and ensure the cultural appropriateness of instruments, their items and response categories. This section of the symposium will describe the process and outcomes of this part of the study, with particular emphasis on community involvement in developing, testing, refining and endorsing the assessment tool.

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