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More than 250 Indigenous Australian languages including 800 dialectal varieties were spoken on the continent in 1788.
Results of the National Indigenous Languages Survey published in 2014 indicated only 13 traditional Indigenous languages were still being acquired by children, with another 100 or so spoken to various degrees by older generations. Many of these languages are at risk as Elders pass away.
Languages play a crucial role in the daily lives of people, not only as a tool for communication, education, social integration and development, but also as a repository for each person’s unique identity, cultural history, traditions and memory. But despite their immense value, languages around the world continue to disappear at an alarming rate. With this in mind, the United Nations declared 2019 the Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL2019) in order to raise awareness of them, not only to benefit the people who speak these languages, but also for other to appreciate the important contribution they make to our world’s rich cultural diversity.
Language Vitality Assesment: Highly Endangered
AUSTLANG code: Meriam Mir [Y3]
Meriam Mir is a traditional language from the Torres Strait Islands, specifically throughout the Eastern Islands of Erub (Darnley Island), Ugar (Stephen Island) and Mer (Murray Island). It is one of three languages spoken in the Torres Strait. The 2006 Census results indicated there were just over 200 speakers.
Ki Meriam gesep dasmereda. wer, werpi, gotat. Nako wi kerbidoge barpomreda, Pako na tonartonar ki lu ikereda.
We see the Meriam world, the stars, constellation, the tide, how they affect us and the way we do things.Mr Alo Tapim, Meriam Elder
Meriam Mir pe au koreb irkedi keribim. Pako kari gemide dasmeli, keriba mir basmauli. Keriba no kepkep aule pa uridli agiakar Meriam Mir detauteda.
Meriam Mir is very important to us, and I feel that we’ve lost our language. We have very few elders who speak fluently.Ms Elsa Day, Teacher and educator, Meriam Language
Omaskir kikem Meriam tonarge obau, keubu e Meriam tonar odikair a umele Meriam tonartonar obau nerut tonar gesepge.
A child will enter in, in the Meriam environment, and then leave the Meriam environment and come to the complex world.Father Ron Day, Meriam Elder
Language Vitality Assesment: Strong
AUSTLANG code: Warlpiri [C15]
Warlpiri is a central Australian language spoken primarily in the communities of Yuendumu, Lajamanu, Nyirripi and Willowra. The 2006 Census results indicated there were just over 2500 speakers, making it one of the largest Aboriginal languages in Australia in terms of number of speakers.
Yuwayi the language is really important yeah ngurrju nyayirni with new technology yangka we can show yangka nganayi we still here you know wankaru-juku karnalu nyinami we survived for another two hundred years or more.
Language is important and with new technology we can show our culture and tell everyone that our language is still alive. We have already survived for more than two hundred years.Otto Jungarrayi Sims, Warlpiri Artist
Ngajurlulu karna-jana ngarrirni yapa ngaju-nyangu jarungku ngaju-nyangu rapi-ngka manu Engliji-rli, yangka kaji karnangku kanyi ngaju-kurlu ngaju-nyangu journey-rla.
Pina mani yungungku nyuntu nyuntu-nyangu nginyi-nginyi manu yungunpa jaru pirrjirdi mardani, pina jarriya junga. Ngaju karna-jana ngaju-nyangu yapaku yunparni.
I tell my people in my language what I’m saying in my rapping and in English, like I can take you along in my journey.Esau Japanangka Marshall, Warlpiri Hip Hop Artist
Educate your mind and keep our language strong, use it wisely. I’m singing it for my own people.
Warlpiri language is the key to learn your culture, to remember the ceremonies, to remember the songs.
If you had not Warlpiri in your head, you wouldn't know all those sort of things. You'd be lost.Theresa Napurrurla Ross, Warlpiri translator
Language Vitality Assesment: In Revival
AUSTLANG code: Ngunnawal [D3]
For almost a century Ngunnawal language had not been spoken fluently. Today the Ngunnawal, supported by AIATSIS, are revitalising their language, finding words thought lost, rediscovering language through journals, tapes and the few words held and shared by Elders.
Ngunnawal Country is my place of belonging. It is linking through my bloodline to all my ancestors that then flows through me to future generations.Caroline Hughes, Ngunnawal Elder
Ngunnawal is my safe place, my homeland - my connection to all living things – fauna and flora. It is my connection to all physical and spiritual around me and through me.
When I was a child we had to keep our language secret. Today we are relearning some of our language – ensuring that we the Ngunnawal are the knowledge keepers of our language.
Language is vital, it is core to our identity - knowing who you are and where you come from.Caroline Hughes, Ngunnawal Elder
Our Ngunnawal language links family and community to our homelands. Our language is the key to all our relationships and how we interact with each other.
Today, we breathe the breath of life back into our Ngunnnawal language.
|today||sit-now-we all||talk-now-we all||Ngunnawal-on||country-on|
Stress on first syllable
Language Vitality Assesment: 31 Endangered Languages
AUSTLANG codes: Banyjima [A53], Jiwarli [W28], Jurruru [W33], Kariyarra [W39], Kurrama [W36], Kartujarra [A51], Mangala [A65], Manyjilyjarra [A51.1], Martu Wangka [A86], Martuthunira [W35], Ngarla [W40], Ngarluma [W38], Nhuwala [W30], Nyamal [A58], Nyangumarta [A61], Nyiyaparli [A50], Palyku [A55], Payungu [W23], Pinikura [W34], Purduna [W24], Putijarra [A54], Thalanyji [W26], Tharrkari [W21], Thiin [W25], Walmajarri [A66], Warnman [A62], Yapurarra [W47], Yindjibarndi [W37], Yinhawangka [A79], Yulparija [A67]
There are 22 Indigenous language centres around Australia for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to maintain, preserve and promote the diversity of their languages.
The Wangka Maya Pilbara Aboriginal Language Centre was established in 1987 to preserve, promote and maintain around 31 Aboriginal languages across the Pilbara and today holds a unique and diverse cultural collection including 5000 recordings of Pilbara languages in its archives.
Karlkunaku tukulu palanga karlja mangungja pirlparranga jurlurr warrarn yinirrangu palarrangu muwarr rrangu.
A place of archive, you know. Archive culture, history and all that and it covers the whole Pilbara - songs, songlines, sites... it’s all in that story in the language.Bruce Thomas, traditional Mangala Man and Chair, Wangka Maya Pilbara Aboriginal Language Centre
Our languages will continue to disappear over time, leaving behind a diminished heritage and cultural trauma for Aboriginal people. As with all trauma, recovery is required and Wangka Maya provides a place of cultural healing to restore our natural inheritance.
Nyamal song connects people and places. If you can remember songs, you keep your language and you keep your stories.
Wangka Maya’s invaluable documentary heritage I believe gives us rights – rights to develop community driven Aboriginal education outside the realms of British history and mainstream teachings, to restore cultural rights and responsibilities and reaffirming our elders’ roles as spiritual and cultural leaders.Julie Walker, Yinhawangka and Manager, Wangka Maya Pilbara Aboriginal Language Centre
Ngaja ngaany wanpari.
It makes me feel good in my heart.Alice Mitchell, Nyamal Elder
Fifty years after being archived at AIATSIS in 1964, the Nyamal train song was heard again by Nyamal Elders and so began a journey of recovery and discovery.
Wangka Maya and AIATSIS worked with a few speakers translating parts of the song and created a story of celebration, shared by community in an exhibition and children’s play.
This is a song from my mother. My grandfather sang it and then my mother. This is about the old steam train from Port Hedland to Marble Bar.
Basil Snook, Nyamal Elder
Singing the Train extract:
Yurartilu nyurranga wijilpa jirtaarrangu Ready!
The train whistle is blowing for you all
...ngayinu kampukampu marnangurulu jarntarrman palu.
...calling the dressed-up mob to gather for picking up.
Marapikurrinyanguru wirinyjirrpa parnti mirtamirta.
From Port Hedland Harbour, a line of fire and white smoke.
Clint Taylor (Nyamal), The Port Hedland to Marble Bar steam train, 2016.
Our Language: Keeping us Strong
Kaji ngalipa-nyangu jaru wankaru karri, ngalipaju wankaru jarungku ka ngalpa pirrjirdi mardani.
If the language survives, we survive. Because the language keeps us strong.
Theresa Napurrurla Ross, Warlpiri Translator
On Friday 13 September, 2019, representatives from Ngunnawal, Warlpiri and Meriam communities, and Wangka Maya Pilbara Aboriginal Language Centre gathered at AIATSIS to help launch Ngalipa Nyangu Jaru: Pirrjirdi Ka Ngalpa Mardani (Our Language: Keeping Us Strong).
AIATSIS staff and members from each language group worked in partnership to develop the exhibition to highlight the different contexts of Indigenous languages throughout Australia. The exhibition, on display in the Rom Gallery at AIATSIS in Canberra, was an opportunity for communities to illustrate the importance of their languages in their own words.
Thank you for sharing your stories with us!
AIATSIS acknowledges the traditional owners of country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, culture and community.
We pay our respects to elders past and present.