There is a view among linguists that Australia is the world leader in killing languages: it’s thought 93 per cent of Australia’s indigenous languages have died.
But a new plan is underway to try to save the endangered Barngarla language on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula.
An Israeli-born linguist is spearheading the scheme, which it’s hoped will revive words which otherwise would have died out within years.
Andy Park has the details.
Umewarra mission in outback South Australia is as run down now as the local language that was once forbidden to be spoken inside.
Many nearby Aboriginal children were brought here, like Barngarla man Harry Dare.
“There was three sisters and four other brothers. We were all in this hut.”
Steve Atkinson’s mother was brought here too, his only link to the Barngala language.
“There’s no doubt that this place contributed to the decline of Bangala for my mother.”
Last century’s forced adoption policies saw members of the Stolen Generation taken to missions like this mission, just outside Port Augusta, effectively putting distance between them and their language.
But while Bangarla fell silent at places like this, over in town, there’s a place where those dormant words are coming back to life.
Barngala’s reclamation is beginning at the old Port Augusta School of the Air.
Ghil’ad Zuckermann, an Israeli-born linguist, is professor of endangered languages at the University of Adelaide.
His bold plan is to help revive the language, using the memories of the elders and a 170 year-old dictionary, made by the first Lutheran missionaries.
“Out of 250 languages, 93 per cent of languages either fell asleep already, so they are hibernating, dormant like Barngarla, or they are about to fall asleep.”
The community here hopes they can revive Barngarla in everyday situations.
“You know people without a language often are people who lost their heritage, their intellectual sovereignty, their cultural autonomy. So there is this feeling of wellbeing which is related to language reclamation.”
Barngala man Steve Atkinson.
“It’s an overwhelming experience, because having my mother lose her language, and now me being part of rebuilding and reviving that language is an emotional thing, so I’m proud to be part of it and hopefully to do my mother and my ancestors proud.”
And an extended report on the Barngala language project will feature in this week’s Living Black program on NITV at 7.30 pm on Tuesday. with a repeat on Sunday at 1.30 pm on SBS ONE.
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