Aboriginal Language Revival

In reflecting on language loss, maintenance and revival from week 5, I was curious how to find out which Aboriginal languages have been documented and which ones need to be studied further. Given the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, there are bound to be many that need further research.

The best place to start is always the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) and on the AIATSIS site I found a fantastic resource called AUSTLANG: the Australian Indigenous Languages Database.

The AUSTLANG database is a wealth of information about confirmed and unconfirmed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages. It gives information such as classification (Pama-Nyungan/non-Pama-Nyungan), language relationships, location and number of speakers. You can look up languages by name, state or by using the interactive map.

AUSTLANG also has information on and references to grammars and dictionaries written and on programs that teach or use each language, as well as names of individuals and organisations that have researched the language extensively. It also provides a documentation score based on word lists/dictionary, texts and stories, grammar and audio.

The research information gives a good indication of which languages have had research attention and the languages that have not. From a well-researched language, you could easily locate a related (or unrelated) unstudied language and contact some of the related researchers to find out more.

I also found some resources on the Our Languages site on how to start a language revival project. They refer to a NSW Board of Adult Education resource It’s a hard road to hoe but you gotta start somewhere, which was designed as a course to help in planning language revival projects.

One final resource, bringing this all home for me, is a current AIATSIS language revival research project: the Ngunawal language revival project. Having lived in Canberra for 8 years now, I had no idea that Ngunawal language was at risk of language loss.

This language revival project group is made up of members across many organisations and is working to not only revive the Ngunawal language but to also develop a primary school language program, with the ultimate goal of Ngunawal language being part of the ACT curriculum.

Looking at the disparity and scarcity of resources in Aboriginal language projects and the rapid rate of language loss, drastic action is needed to preserve these languages. Reviving and documenting Aboriginal languages at risk of language loss, and including those languages in school curriculum across the country is a fantastic way to ensure Aboriginal languages and culture are maintained into the future.

Anyone for a PhD?

Jennifer See

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