Learned Nothing
by Oscar Waugh

AustraliaQueensland College of Art, Griffith University
Published online
March 20, 2014

This assignment asks students to choose one or more texts of a total of no more than 100 words, and without altering the text, create a convincing typographic argument in any medium, guided by the principles of classical rhetoric. Tutor: Jason Grant.

Learned Nothing is a booklet built as a plain infographic, quoting a passage from anthropologist W.E.H Stanner’s influential 1968 Boyer Lecture After the Dreaming to highlight the issues of Indigenous relations in Australia, focusing on ‘Indigenous literacy’ and the culture of misinformation and lack of proper consultation with Indigenous Australians.

A percentage of the text on each page is translated into selected Indigenous languages, corresponding with statistics of ‘Indigenous literacy’ in Australia-wide tests. This is revealed when the cropped, partial page is turned, and suggests that an Indigenous child who performs below the national standard of literacy is not ‘illiterate’, but rather speaks a non-privileged language (a language other than english). The languages chosen range in status from endangered (Iwaidja language) to educational (Tiwi language), highlighting the danger of these languages becoming extinct.

From Wikipedia: In the late 18th century, there were between 350 and 750 distinct Aboriginal social groupings, and a similar number of languages or dialects. At the start of the 21st century, fewer than 150 indigenous languages remain in daily use, and all except roughly 20 are highly endangered. Of those that survive, only 10% are being learned by children and those languages are usually located in the most isolated areas.

Oscar uses Stanner’s text and the issue of language and learning to illustrate colonial ignorance and malevolence.

He writes: “The passage of text, the typography of which reflects colonial texts of the period, recounts Governor Phillip’s first years in Australia and states that ‘After almost three years’ experience it is obvious that he had learned nothing of aboriginal mentality or tendency.’

After 225 years, struggling to ‘close the gap’ whilst Indigenous languages to this day become extinct, perhaps we have also learned nothing.”

  1. Guest comment
    by Ellen Lupton

    This is a beautiful experiment in typography and language. The classical language of the book collides with unfamiliar tongues. Transparency of form meets opacity of content in a spare, elegant, and politically savvy project.

  1. Comment
    by Oscar
    April 1, 2014

    Thanks very much for the kind words Ellen! I'm glad you like it.

  2. Comment
    by MORE RESEARCH & THOUGHTS – sevenwords.typography.com
    December 19, 2016

    [...] http://typolitic.com/learned-nothing/ [...]

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