Another news story about “endangered” Aussie English. This time it’s Dick Smith and Channel 9 star (!?) Scott Camm getting upset about Heinz advertising ketchup fearing that “the term tomato sauce would be lost to future generations”.  (Who is Scott Camm anyway? We don’t have Channel 9 in Katherine. I only watch ABC and Foxtel).

Now, I love speaking like an Aussie as much as the next cobber, but my considered response is boo-f-cking-hoo.

I care much more about actual endangered languages and cultures. There are plenty of real Australian languages that despite all odds are hanging on somehow. They’re amazing languages and unique; once they’re gone, they’re gone.

But the amount of sh-t we give about a single term such as tomato sauce (which I doubt will go away anyway) is totally disproportionate to the amount of sh-t we give about the disappearance of entire language systems, which is currently happening across much of our nation.  Why don’t we get the same reactions about indigenous languages and support for the thousands of Aussies who speak them?

I’m sorry for not caring about the blight on our nation that Heinz is about to launch upon us by promoting ketchup.  I’m more concerned about ignorant politicians who rabbit on about “they need English, they need English” when talking about Aboriginal Australians, as though they don’t recognise it for themselves.  And rabbiting on about “schools need to have a focus on English”, as though there are remote schools that don’t focus on English.

If only we Aussies weren’t all so overwhelmingly monolingual and realised that you can function happily knowing two or more languages.  And are we so insecure about our cultural identity that the first sign of a relatively useless term like tomato sauce being at risk can cause anxiety about the downfall of Australian life as we know it?

Surely this version would resolve all debate.

Surely this product would resolve all debate

I spend a lot of time around elders who, over the course of their lifetime, have watched entire languages slowly fall out of use under the pressures of English, assimilation, awful language policy, economic rationalism and ridiculous levels of ignorance from Westerners until it all becomes too much and the only people they have left to speak their language to is, at best, the 70-plus-year-olds there are still alive, or at worst, only themselves.

So in response to Dick Smith and Scott Camm — I challenge you to start demanding action and investment in the real endangered languages and cultures of Australia.

Tomato Sauce.  Ketchup. Meh. We’re only interested in the sausage roll anyway.

*Note: The language in the title is Rembarrnga, an endangered language of Central Arnhem Land. Oh, and the other one is English.

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