Efforts to stimulate greater interest in and appreciation for the language sciences


CoEDL Outreach efforts focused on bringing the Centre’s work to the public, students and speech communities. Our work generated greater interest in and appreciation for the language sciences, engaged with new audiences who could benefit from CoEDL insights and translated the research into real improvements in areas like policy, health and education.

The stories shared below — about the Centre’s flagship outreach award, a discussion group promoting Indigenous knowledge and research, a linguistics-themed escape room for school-aged children, a checklist for assessing language development and efforts to translate research into policy — are a small but diverse sample of this work. Other work included bringing attention to languages and their speakers through involvement in nine art and museum exhibitions [1-9].

Explore the Centre’s Connections for a larger selection of CoEDL outreach activities, including public lectures, community language resources, workshops, exhibitions, briefings, commissioned reports and more.

The Patji-Dawes Award

The Patji-Dawes Language Teaching Award honours outstanding achievements in teaching languages other than English by an accomplished practitioner or team of practitioners in Australia.

“We established the Patji-Dawes Award because we wanted to honour the unsung heroes of language teaching in Australia,” CoEDL Director Nick Evans reflected. “Our society needs to realise the power of other languages to open your heart and mind to other ways of being, and of hearing and seeing the world. Brilliant, magnetic teachers are at the front line of this effort, and this award is about them.”

The name of the award commemorates the earliest documented language education partnership in Australia’s history: that between a young Indigenous woman Patyegarang (Patye or Patji, pronounced Pat-chee) and a British naval officer, Lieutenant William Dawes.

Biennially since 2015, CoEDL has conferred the award as part of its commitment to elevating public awareness of languages and celebrating multilingualism in Australia. In the inaugural year, the award went to Sarah Payne, a teacher of French and German at Canberra Grammar School.

Linguist and teacher Dr John Giacon received the award in 2017. John introduced teaching of Australian Indigenous language Gamilaraay at the Australian National University and the University of Sydney.

The 2019 Patji-Dawes award coincided with the International Year of Indigenous Languages. To mark this special occasion, the awarding committee chose to confer two awards. Sophia Mung, a Gija woman from Purnululu (East Kimberley, WA), received an award in recognition of decades of tireless work to ensure the Gija language is passed down to future generations. The second award went to Brother Stephen Morelli, a teacher and linguist who has collaborated with Indigenous communities on the New South Wales mid-north coast for over 30 years, working to revive and teach the Gumbaynggirr language.

In 2021, CoEDL marked its final year hosting the initiative. Three recipients were acknowledged: Maria Lo Presti, an Italian teacher, received an award in the Individual category; the staff of the Charles Sturt University Graduate Certificate of Wiradjuri Language, Culture and Heritage received an award in the Group category; and Sharon Gregory, a Noongar woman and teacher, received an award for Community Outreach.

From 2021, administration of the award, will pass to the Australian Federation of Modern Language Teachers Associations (AFMLTA) and the Languages and Cultures Network for Australian Universities (LCNAU), co-sponsors of the initiative since its inception, showing the value that is placed on its continuance

Decolonising Linguistics

Members of CoEDL and the Indigenous Alliance for Linguistic Research (IALR) formed the ‘Decolonising Linguistics: Spinning a Better Yarn’ study group in 2021 with support from the Centre and the Research Unit for Indigenous Language (RUIL).

IALR commenced in May 2019, initially through CoEDL support and continuing in partnership with the Australian Linguistic Society. The Alliance aims to function as a professional group for supporting Indigenous people working in linguistics and to promote ethical best practice in research.

The Decolonising Linguistics series pursues these goals by fostering discussion around decolonising research methodologies and how to position Indigenous knowledge, experience and agency at the centre of linguistics research. Organisers, including CoEDL members Jakelin Troy, Lesley Woods, Ruth Singer, Felicity Meakins and more, host regular discussions focused on reading research from Indigenous academics; rethinking how to teach and conduct research on linguistics in culturally sensitive ways; and acknowledging Indigenous knowledge-holders and collaborators in academic outputs. Sessions are open to the public and recordings are available online.

Both Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants are encouraged, yet the format and facilitators of the sessions prioritise Indigenous voices, in recognition of the history of marginalisation. Each session is opened by an Indigenous person and many discussions are led by Indigenous hosts. Many emphasised a common goal of making linguistics accessible to the community, fostering knowledge that is authentic to, and recognises the diverse experiences and preferences of, Indigenous people.

“In essence, what we’re really wanting to talk about is how to bring what I think is a developing new-practice model in linguistics — not only in Australia, but worldwide — that linguistics is not only about what is owned by the academies,” AI Jaky Troy explained in the group’s first session. “It is also something that is — perhaps even more so in the case of Indigenous languages — owned by community.”

Rosita Stone

In 2016, a team of researchers at CoEDL’s Western Sydney University node — including CI Caroline Jones and CoEDL members Rachel Hendery, Gloria Pino Escobar and Valeria Peretokina — developed a language-themed escape room by adapting exercises from the Australian Computational Linguistics Olympiad (OzCLO). Rosita Stone introduces school-aged children to linguistics and computational thinking through puzzles that encourage logical skills, creative problem solving and teamwork.

In the exercise, Rosita Stone is a professor of linguistics. Students visit her office and uncover a series of language puzzles, which are designed to be decoded without prior knowledge of linguistics. The challenges include decrypting Egyptian hieroglyphics, interpreting Etruscan dice numbers, and comparing emails written between Professor Stone and her Danish collaborator to translate Danish words that lead to the next clue.

The team ran Rosita Stone exercises several times, including for the Egyptian Mummies exhibition at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in Sydney and for WSU’s Pathways to Dreaming program, which connects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander high school students with university study options.

“No one had even heard of linguistics before the event,” reflected Rachel Hendery after the Pathways to Dreaming workshop. “They certainly all had by the end of it and realised that it might be something they could have fun doing.”

Rachel said it was also a great way of getting some students interested in computational thinking even if they were not drawn to maths or science. “In one group of eight students who put their hands up when I asked who had had fun solving the puzzles, only one kept their hand up when I asked who also enjoyed maths. Yet all of them had enjoyed solving practical puzzles that actually involved logical and computational thinking of the kind that maths and linguistics both involve.”

The WSU CoEDL team conducted training workshops during the 2018 Summer School to show teachers how to use linguistics puzzles to encourage logic and problem-solving skills in the classroom, with the hope of bringing Rosita Stone to more school groups.

Early Language Inventory (ERLI) Checklist 

There are currently few assessment tools for speech and language which are designed for Australian children, especially for health and education professionals working with Indigenous children and their families. Inappropriate assessment tools lead to over-identification of spoken language impairments and inefficiencies in service provision for children who do need support.

Recognising the need for fairer assessment tools for Indigenous children, CI Caroline Jones worked with a team including Jaidine Fejo, Eugenie Collyer and Chantelle Khamchuang to develop the Early Language Inventory (ERLI). ERLI is a checklist of children's first words and gestures (hand-signs). It is an authorised short-form adaptation of the MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventories. Over 2014 – 2019, Caroline and her team co-designed the checklist by working closely with local families in the Katherine region of the Northern Territory.

ERLI includes 120 items (112 words and 8 hand-signs) that are familiar to Indigenous families in the Katherine region. It asks the parent how they say each item at home, meaning the child gets credit for an item no matter the language they know it in. Research shows that Iocal Indigenous children around Katherine perform well on ERLI and produce nearly all items by age three.

“In under 15 minutes, ERLI can help parents, educators or speech pathologists screen for whether a child under 3 may have a speech, language or hearing problem, because it assesses the child in the language(s) or dialect(s) they speak at home, based on expert knowledge from the parent about their child,” Caroline explains.

During her Honours research, CoEDL PhD student and Dharug woman Chantelle Khamchuang found that ERLI was also suitable for Aboriginal families in western Sydney. Children scored higher on ERLI than on the regular Australian English checklist (OZI-SF) and Aboriginal parents in Sydney preferred ERLI. "There are Aboriginal people from all over Australia living in western Sydney, and although of course different groups have different languages and cultures, we do each mostly have a word or hand-sign for the items on ERLI," Chantelle explains.

ERLI is now having impact beyond research, including in speech pathology — for both curriculum, and practice in community health and private settings — and in maternal nurse home visiting. There is also increasing interest from early educators and health services keen for a fairer way to measure Indigenous children's progress in learning to communicate.

ERLI and supporting resources are available for free use here .

Translating research into policy

Language use impacts an individual’s wellbeing and ability to access services. Knowing who speaks what languages where is essential if governments are to make and implement policies that improve outcomes in these areas, yet this type of data is not easy to find.

Several CoEDL members applied their research to improving language policy in Australia. This included investigating language ecologies — the ways of using language for different purposes and to different extents — among First Nations people of different generations. Researchers considered these ecologies alongside Australian Census data to make recommendations to government bodies.

This work led to at least 10 doctoral theses, the Well-being and Indigenous Language Ecologies (WILE) framework [10] and the first quantitative evidence in Australia connecting language use and wellbeing [11]. It also provided the foundation for the National Indigenous Languages Report (NILR) [12], prepared with CoEDL partner institution AIATSIS.

CoEDL members applied this approach internationally in two reports for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). A team led by CoEDL Research Affiliate Inge Kral surveyed Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia and Canada for promising practices in early childhood education [13] and another team including CoEDl members Denise Angelo, Samantha Disbray, Ruth Singer, Carmel O’Shannessy, Deputy Director Jane Simpson and CI Jill Wigglesworth did the same for Indigenous languages at school [14].

Futher information

To learn more about these and other CoEDL outreach projects, explore the Outreach subset of Connections data in map or list form.


Hero image: The crowd of attendees at the 2019 CoEDL Summer School Public Lecture. Image: CoEDL.

Image 1: An illustration of Patyegarang and an image of a notebook of William Dawes. Images: The Notebooks of William Dawes/David Nathan/the National Library of Australia.

Image 2: Participants of the Decolonising Linguistics: Spinning a better yarn reading group on Zoom. Image: Felicity Meakins.

Image 3: Members of the Rosita Stone team (L – R): Dominique Estival, Valeria Peretokina, ‘Rosita Stone’, Gloria Pino Escobar and Caroline Jones. Image: CoEDL.

Image 4: ERLI co-design participants in Campbelltown, New South Wales, May 2019. Image: CoEDL.

Image 5: Artwork for the National Indigenous Languages Report. The artwork by Jordan Lovegrove, a Ngarrindjeri man, of Dreamtime Creative, portrays the vast diversity of different Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages and the National Indigenous Language Report’s goal to maintain, preserve and celebrate the languages. The different patterned sections of leaves represent all the different languages and language groups including sleeping and new languages. The tree provides a visual representation of the flow, connectivity and joy of the languages; the languages branch out like a tree, connecting individuals, families and communities with their culture and identity. Image: Jordan Lovegrove.


[1] the UNESCO Memory of the World in Canberra exhibition (Canberra Museum and Gallery 2016) which featured Glossopticon as a way of visualising the PARADISEC collection https://cloudstor.aarnet.edu.au/plus/s/6o7WdrLTo9hPw4U (Thieberger 2018)

[2] mapping words in Indigenous languages in the Blood: Attract and repel https://cloudstor.aarnet.edu.au/plus/s/QX8XF945aX4uuGd (Science Gallery Melbourne 2017)

[3] films made for the Western Desert Verbal Arts project in the Living Languages permanent exhibit (co-curated by Inge Kral Museum of Western Australia 2020 and in the Ngurra Exhibition (South Australian Museum 2017)

[4] travelling exhibition Still in my mind: Gurindji location, experience and visuality, https://cloudstor.aarnet.edu.au/plus/s/W7GqZIv95JB4CjUcurated by Brenda L Croft in partnership with Karungkarni Art and Culture Aboriginal Corporation and Felicity Meakins

[5] ‘Sydney Speaks’ in the This is a Voice exhibition https://cloudstor.aarnet.edu.au/plus/s/f25fUjBB8DoR1o0 (Powerhouse Museum 2017-2018)

[6] Tamarra: Gurindji termite project exhibition The Arthouse Cafe/Gallery at Charles Darwin University August-December 2021 https://scalefreenetwork.com.au/project/tamarra-exhibition-cdu/

[7] Ankkinyi Apparr, Ankkinyi Mangurr exhibition https://cloudstor.aarnet.edu.au/plus/s/Bm3nseDlYJZ0nQx (co-curated by Samantha Disbray, Tarnanthi Festival of Contemporary Indigenous Arts, State Library of South Australia, 2019)

[8] Nandiri'ba'nya: Language and Country exhibition https://cloudstor.aarnet.edu.au/plus/s/DvJoTHj2A0aom6z (co-curated by Rachel Hendery, UTS Library 2019)

[9] the international exhibition Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori at the Fondation Cartier, Paris, 2022.

[10] Angelo, Denise, O’Shannessy, Carmel, Simpson, Jane, Kral, Inge, Smith, Hilary, and Browne, Emma Clare. 2019. Well-being and Indigenous Language Ecologies (WILE): a strengths-based approach: Literature review, National Indigenous Languages Report, Pillar 2. In Report commissioned by the Australian Federal Government, Department of Communication and the Arts. Canberra: ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, Australian National University. DOI 10.25911/5dd50865580ea

[11] Dinku, Yonatan, Markham, Francis, Venn, Danielle, Angelo, Denise, Simpson, Jane, O’Shannessy, Carmel, Hunt, Janet, and Tony Dreise. 2020. Language use is connected to indicators of wellbeing: Evidence from the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey 2014/15. CAEPR Working Paper no. 132/2019. Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research: Australian National University, Canberra. DOI 10.25911/5ddb9fd6394e8

[12] DITRC, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Battin, Jacqueline, Lee, Jason, Marmion, Douglas, Smith, Rhonda, Wang, Tandee, Australian National University, Dinku, Yonatan, Hunt, Janet, Markham, Francis, Angelo, Denise, Browne, Emma, Kral, Inge, O’Shannessy, Carmel, Simpson, Jane, and Smith, Hilary. 2020. National Indigenous Languages Report (NILR). Canberra: Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, formerly the Department of Communications and the Arts. https://www.arts.gov.au/what-we-do/indigenous-arts-and-languages/national-indigenous-languages-report

[13] Kral, Inge, Fasoli, Lyn, Smith, Hilary, Meek, Barbra, and Rowena Phair. 2021. A strong start for every Indigenous child. OECD Education Working Papers, No. 251. Paris: OECD Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1787/ebcc34a6-en

[14] Angelo, Denise, Disbray, Samantha, Singer, Ruth, O'Shannessy, Carmel, Simpson, Jane, Smith, Hilary, Meek, Barbra, and Wigglesworth, Gillian. 2022. Learning (in) Indigenous Languages: Common Ground, Diverse Pathways. OECD Education Working Papers, No. 278. Paris: OECD. https://doi.org/10.1787/e80ad1d4-en