Life and Language Histories

In response to a rising number of community requests, the Mobile Language Team travels to communities to make oral history recordings of Elders. These recordings often focus on the intersection of individuals’ lives and the languages they learned in childhood. Exploring the past through memory can lead to long-forgotten words and phrases rising to the surface, making them available for use today. Creating a record now ensures that future generations have an enriched potential for language use and meaning making in their lives.

The Mobile Language Team seeks to archive all oral history recordings made in communities. Some interviews are brief but these still capture important historical information. In some cases, especially where Elders have led long and interesting lives with a lot of language history, more detailed recording can be made. Some of these recording projects lead to a published book.

MLT Press

The MLT Press publishes a wide range of language learning resources, including:

  • posters
  • flashcards
  • story books
  • life and language histories
  • dictionaries
  • learner’s guides
  • grammars.

Examples of our publications are found here.

How are Life and Language Histories Published?

The Mobile Language Team is committed to capturing stories from multiple perspectives. We encourage people to tell their stories. We believe that truths often emerge from combining a number of perspectives rather than privileging only one. We take inspiration here from the traditional storytelling practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Stories are built up over time and sometimes contain inconsistent details. These inconsistencies can resolve over time and in the telling. Events can be reinterpreted and memory changes over time. Oral stories and storytelling are processes rather than settled things.

The following sections outline the basic 5 step process that is undertaken as the Mobile Language Team. For further details please contact the MLT Office (08) 8313 0707 or email

1. Permissions

Permissions are sought from an Elder to begin the process of creating a published Life and Language History. Early discussions focus on the scope of the project, how many books will be published and distributed and how to establish a strong and trustful working relationship between the project team and the Elder.

2. Manuscript creation

Life and Language Histories are usually digitally recorded and professionally transcribed. During the recording process pains are taken to capture significant events in an Elder’s life and to explore the traditional ways of living and speaking that surrounded these events. The interviewer is guided by the Elder to these major events but then helps the Elders to unpack their memories to provide a rich account, especially where traditional languages and speakers played an important role in the life history. Once the transcriptions are made, the interviewer creates a draft and includes relevant photographs, maps and diagrams in consultation with the Elder. A risk assessment of the manuscript is also undertaken through discussion with the Elder and with an eye to avoiding potential legal transgressions, such as breech of copyright or libelous content.

3. Manuscript assessment

Once a manuscript is drafted it is sent out by the MLT Press to Readers, whose task is to report on the suitability of the manuscript for publication in the Life and Language Histories series. Readers are asked to report on whether the manuscript provides an original insight into the conditions of Aboriginal life and language in South Australia, whether the manuscript can assist in preserving and reviving Aboriginal languages, and whether the manuscript observes accepted Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural protocols with regard to the public expression of Aboriginal language and culture. Two Readers are required to assess the manuscript and make written recommendations for its publication. These recommendations are discussed with the Elder before a final decisions is made. A second risk assessment is undertaken after receiving readers’ comments.

4. Data management

The Mobile Language Team is committed to the long-term preservation of oral history recordings. Digital storage follows best practice standards. Mobile Language Team also provides copies of audio recordings and oral history transcripts to the Elder concerned.

5. Review

The Mobile Language Team will conduct an internal review of the project prior to publication. This review will ensure that all steps in the publication process have been followed and that feedback from Elders can contribute to improving MLT Press processes.

6. Publication

The final step in the process sees the production of hardcopy books. The Mobile Language Team does not seek to profit from theĀ  sale of MLT Press books and distributes free copies to the Elder and communities as negotiated with the author. Subsequent print runs that are made for sale are separate from MLT Press activities.