Code-switching within the Koorie: A Change Less Desired?

  • November 05, 2017      Joy Marie Salgado

Sydney – Australia is known as a land of opportunity. It is home to diverse ethnicities, but there is one distinct community that has survived hundreds of years: the Koorie/Koori. They are an ethnic group who live in the country alongside the Aborigines. However, they are not as acknowledged or known to many. These days, they struggle for survival and to connect with the majority.

One of the factors that affect their interactions in the region is their language. When does proper code-switching happen? Are the learners of another language encouraged to continue sharing their thoughts even though they are not that comfortable with it yet?

Language and Identity

The Koorie is an ethnic community in Australia who has their own history, culture, and language. Like many members of such communities, the Koorie has faced numerous struggles as they lived with their own practices, traditions, and way of speaking throughout the years. Their actions and the way they share their history with succeeding generations give them that distinct identity that connects them to their past.

Another particular factor that keeps them distinct from the majority is their language. Like any other language, the Koorie’s means of communication reflects their culture as much as their ethnicity’s history. The structure, the vocabulary, and even the pronunciation are particular features of their identity as Koorie.

Language Gap and Modern Changes

Aboriginal English, in particular, is a dialect spoken in Australia. Some of its local variations include the Koorie English, which has a different structure and usage that can make it difficult for learners when they attend school and study Standard English. Thus, young Koorie members are taught to use two languages; one to use in school and one to use at home. This is where the confusion starts, as there are contextual differences to the usage of these languages, which is challenging for young and even more mature speakers.

However, can this practice of code-switching by the Koorie minority lead to a smaller gap with the majority? Maybe not yet. Effective code-switching is done when one can confidently and comfortably go back and forth from one language to the other. This is an experience that many Koorie learners struggle with when they are in school and when they are at home. They are forced to switch for better understanding but with minimal expertise in each language.

It is the community’s practice to use the Koorie English at home to maintain a consistent form of communication and understanding. However, if their language distinctions such as pronunciation and structural differences will not be properly addressed in schools, young members may gradually feel a great deal of indifference to Koorie English and settle on using Standard English instead. This could lead to the neglect of their local language to be able to effectively converse with the majority. Koorie English may eventually be limited to casual conversations and may even cease to exist. If young members are only exposed to Standard English in school and feel the need to work on better using this language, they might not have a chance to pass on their Koorie English to future generations.

Image from
State Library Victoria, https://www.slv.vic.gov.au/search-discover/explore-collections-theme/koori-victoria