Language Protocols
There are various protocols that should be followed with respect to Aboriginal languages and their use. This is because Aboriginal languages are an important part of their custodian’s identity and cultural heritage, and should be respected as such. If work is to be conducted in a language project, or if a language is to be taught or studied, it is essential that the custodians of that language be consulted and involved in the process.
Similarly, if an Aboriginal language is to be used to give a “welcome to country’ speech it is important that that speech be given by an acknowledged representative of that language group, and with the endorsement of the Elders. These same Elders should be consulted on all language matters, and preferably be invited to become involved in any language maintenance or revival projects.
If a non-Aboriginal person or institution wishes to use a term or phrase in an Aboriginal language to name something, such as a building or room, they should follow the correct protocols for that language. This may be to contact a particular Elder, or Elder’s group, or even an appointed committee, and ask for suggestions or for permission to use a particular word or phrase. This may or may not require some form of payment by the one requesting a word.

Code of conduct and contracts between communities and outside specialists

At some point in any language program you may need to bring in outside specialists to assist with computer programs, teaching or curriculum writing, analysing the language, deciding on an orthography, producing publications or even to secure funding.

It is important that the community feels comfortable with the person supplying the assistance and that the parameters are set out clearly in writing, before the work is started. A good document outlining these parameters is the:

This guide was produced as a joint project between the Federation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages (FATSIL) and the Arts Law Centre of Australia. The guide specifies the rights and roles of the community, roles of linguists, language centres or schools, issues about access to language materials, community control, ownership and recognition.

Contracts should be made with a lot of care and consideration. It is important that you understand EVERYTHING in the contract, and that it caters for your needs. Make sure that everything is written down and that you have a copy, in case there are problems later on. The Arts Law Centre of Australia have sample contracts on their website:

Compiled by Emma Cother with Dr Mary-Anne Gale, Discipline of Linguistics, University of Adelaide, 2005 Resource Guide project

Funded under the Maintenance and Promotion of Indigenous Languages Program within Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts.