School children benefit from language revival

Tuesday, 19 May 2015
Carolyn Stolfa and Rebecca King leading the Ngunawal language class at Fraser Primary School.
Fraser Primary School teacher Carolyn Stolfa and Rebecca King leading the Ngunawal language class.

An Indigenous language of the Australian Capital Territory and South East New South Wales region, Ngunawal, is now being taught in the classroom through a pilot program at Fraser Primary School.

The program is the result of a joint effort between Ngunawal community members and linguists from the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), who first met in early 2014 to discuss the possibility of working together on language revival.

The name taken by the collective, the Ngaiyuriija Ngunawal Language Group, incorporates the words for "father" and "mother" along with the name of the language.

Group member Rebecca King is leading the classes with the preschool children.

“I am excited to be able to teach our Ngunawal language on country in our schools and make my Elders and community proud,” said Mrs King.

“I hope the children are able to gain a greater understanding of local Aboriginal culture and customs and the importance of learning to speak the local Aboriginal language.

“It has always been a dream of mine to be able to share and educate children about our language and culture. I believe it is important to teach children of all ages not only the language but also about the people.”

The process of revitalisation has involved the development of a standardised writing system (orthography) for Ngunawal, along with sets of resources for teaching the language. The resources developed so far include animal names, family terms and body parts, presented in songs, stories and pictures.

AIATSIS Research Fellow Dr Doug Marmion said it is great to see the work embraced so enthusiastically by the school and more importantly the students.

“Throughout much of the twentieth century the use of Indigenous languages was discouraged, with English imposed to replace them rather than supporting Indigenous people in adding English to their linguistic repertoire,” said Dr Marmion.

“The work on Ngunawal has only just begun and there is a lot more to be done, but we are looking forward to progressing language revitalisation programs further now that this solid foundation for future work has been put in place.”

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