09 February 2009

Linguist says asylum-seeker language test not reliable

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An Australian linguist is concerned that immigration authorities around the world are still using language as a scientific test to decide whether refugees are genuine, reports ABC News.

Dr Diana Eades, a specialist in linguistic studies at the University of New England in Australia, has expressed concern that the use of language analysis by Australian immigration authorities is now an outdated method for deciding whether a person is a bona fide refugee. 

Eades says the traditional testing relies on analysing the vocabulary, accent, and grammatical patterns of a person, but that these days it has become increasingly clear that the concept of an "authentic language" is now redundant.

Eades says the use of language testing has picked up speed around the world since commercial companies have offered their services for a quick and easy report on the origins of a person who arrives in the country without documentation, but that these tests are not standardised to an appropriate level.

"It's equivalent to saying that because someone used the US term 'elevator' instead of 'lift', they are not from Australia," she said.

"That's the level that these reports are operating on."

A spokesperson from the Australian immigration department said those emigrating to Australia without documentation are subject to testing other than the linguistic test. 

"While language analysis is useful, it is not determinative in deciding whether Australia owes protection obligations to an applicant," the spokesperson said.

"The department has a panel of language analysis experts it can use if needed."

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