Macro and micro connections in minority language planning: The case of Dinka speakers in Australia

Aniko Hatoss

University of Southern Queensland, Australia


This paper reports the findings of a sociolinguistic study which examined the language attitudes, acculturation strategies of the Dinka-speaking community in a regional Australian settlement. The paper is positioned in the context of language policy and planning both on the macro (offical national) and micro (community-based) levels.

This project is set in a highly unique multilingual setting with sharp differences in the structure, corpus, status, and power features of each language represented. The Sudanese community, mainly from Southern Sudan, represents 4 separate Dinka language groups with 4 separate dialects: Dinka Bhar Al Gazel, Dinka Bor, Neur and Dinka Ngok. The majority of Dinka in Toowoomba are from the Dinka Bor group, but they are highly multilingual and use Arabic, Acholi and Kiswahili as local lingue france. These ‘low-status’ codes are in sharp contrast with the ‘powerful’ host language, English. Given these sharp differences and the complexity of multilinguality, it is crucial to explore whether 'status-seeking behaviour' (Ager, 2001) will shape the future of the less prestigious languages.

The regional Australian context is significant from two main perspectives. Firstly, there is increased policy focus on refugee settlement in regional and rural areas as they offer the ‘highest degree of community support’ (DIMIA, 2003 p. 27). The government recommends that ‘humanitarian entrants settle in regional areas to enhance their prospects of early employment and help meet regional economies’ demand for semi-skilled workers’ (DIMIA, 2003 p. 27). With this long-term strategic plan, the settlement of refugees in regional areas will be a high research priority from policy perspectives. Secondly, the regional context (as opposed to major urban) is a strong factor in language shift studies. It is well documented in the literature that regional and rural communities have different language maintenance shift patterns due to the demographic characteristics.

The paper, firstly, gives a brief overview of current immigration, language and settlement policies in Australia. Then, the paper reports the survey data collected from 67 Dinka speakers in 8 schools and the main findings of the interview data conducted in 10 households. Attitudes and motivations for the maintenance for the Dinka language will be discussed and contrasted with attitudes to Arabic and Kiswahili as well as the the explicit desires of the community to exit the refugee identity and fit-into the mainstream Australian community. Findings of this study are applicable to other communities and have strong implications for building better links between macro- and micro-level language planning.

Session: Paper session
Shift 2 (Maintenance)
Friday, April 4, 2008, 10:30-12:00
room: 05