Lost in translation

Aboriginal politician denied permission to use indigenous language in parliament

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An Aboriginal lawmaker in Australia’s Northern Territory government has been told she cannot speak her first language in parliament without the explicit permission of her assembled colleagues or the Speaker. Bess Nungarrayi Price, a native Warlpiri speaker, has written to the Speaker of the Northern Territory Assembly, challenging the ruling. “I am seeking permission to use my first language to make statements or answer questions should I see fit, with an appropriate English interpretation following.”

Price, who is the Minister for Local Government and Housing, told ABC: “I think all other countries that don’t have English-speaking parliamentarians use interpreters. The UN uses interpreters and they are made available… Warlpiri is one of the first languages for the first people of Australia, and Warlpiri to me is the easiest language for me to express myself in.”

“I believe our languages should be acknowledged and we are forever and a day having to listen to English being spoken around us.”

Price, who believes it is a matter of representation, informed the Speaker that more than 75 percent of her electorate is Aboriginal, “most of whom speak a traditional language as a first language.”

Price has been informed that the request cannot be accommodated, with the Speaker replying that “with the number of Aboriginal languages and dialects within the Northern Territory, if we were to permit speaking in Aboriginal languages as a matter of course … we could not choose to be just bilingual, it would be a multilingual Parliament … This would no doubt be a complex and costly exercise.”

Critics have pointed out that the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull spoke in the Ngunnawal language in the Federal Parliament on February 10, without requiring permission to do so.

Read the full story at The Sydney Morning Herald.

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