Celebrate progress to revive First Nations’ languages

NOTE: This was originally published on my personal blog on 20 October as “Progress to revive First Nations’ languages

The other day I was reading through my RSS feeds and stumbled across an excellent article about the revival of a nearly-dead Australian First Nation’s language. The article, Aboriginal language back from the dead, highlighted how a language that was nearly dead was revived through the dedication of a handful of people.

This is important news.

It’s important because it means that it is possible to revive languages that are on the brink of dying out. It’s also important because such revival of languages means that the cultures they speak to will be revived. The beautiful thing about languages is that through knowing them you learn about the cultures; you learn about the life and times of culture; and you learn about the intricate nuances of the cultures.

Sure not much fanfare will be paid to such news but we should be celebrating it. We should be celebrating the fact that in a country with such a terrible record of injustices towards its indigenous peoples’, a language nearly lost has been revived.

I think we should also be celebrating the fact that we can revive these ancient languages. It would be a great loss to the world to lose the culture, history and art of ancient languages but unfortunately Australia seems to ignore the alarming rate at which indigenous languages are being lost.

Yet this piece of news, while hardly celebrated, was celebrated hardly by at least me.

18 comments on “Celebrate progress to revive First Nations’ languages

  1. Yes, it is important. One only has to look to Ireland and Wales to see how language and culture go together.

  2. Agree completely. Language and culture are intricately connected, and by preserving one let’s hope we preserve the other. On a related issue: Mick Dodson had an interesting article in The Drum today on self-determination (the only serious hope for “closing the gap”).

  3. that is great news Alex. On reading your post, i recalled coming across the work of an aboriginal project in teaching language online, publishing new words regularly, and generally available (to subscribers). Searching uncovered Australian Aboriginal Languages, which has heaps of resources available, and reports the existence of many different approaches to language retention, cataloguing, and education currently underway in all states.

    Hopefully, these and oiher projects will be able to arrest the loss of more labguages.

  4. Hi Alex, thanks for taking us back to that recent ABC 7.30 feature on reviving an ancient Aboriginal language. Great then to follow up pterosaur1’s lead showing how much more work was being done all over Oz. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a simple lexicon or collection of some of the most frequently still used words from Aborginal languages which are still used and have become part of Aussie English or Strine. Perhaps there already is such a collation. I’d be glad to have access to it.

    I hope this comment registers. I’ve had difficulty registering my liking for your article since you posted it two days ago.

  5. It would be interesting to know what Alison Anderson has to say about languages…she says”said poor English skills were denying young indigenous people the choices available to other Australians.”

    “ONE of the nation’s most senior indigenous politicians yesterday rebuked those of her people who rely on welfare, saying they need to grow up and stop resorting to the “dangerous conversation of endless complaint”.

    Northern Territory Indigenous Advancement Minister Alison Anderson told the Territory’s Legislative Assembly that she “despaired at the reluctance” of some of her brethren to take available jobs.

    “I look at the men of Yirrkala and ask why they will not drive the 20km to Nhulunbuy to earn excellent money in the mine and the processing plant there,” she said in her first major speech since taking the cabinet role.

    “It is the kind of question the rest of Australia has been asking for years, as it tries to connect the dots, tries to understand why a long-running mining boom can exist literally next door to a culture of entitlement and welfare dependency.”
    “This is like the reverse of the old story of the Pied Piper, where the children were taken away.

    “Here it is the adults who have gone, in places like Lajamanu, where 29 per cent of people are younger than nine years old.”

    She said that her government would focus on improving education and on helping people create real jobs. “We are struggling with our history, and in some cases with the obstacles in our own hearts and minds.”

  6. Tree, I have worked among indigenous people for over thirty years. Nothing new in what this lady is saying.

  7. “Nothing new in what this lady is saying.”
    Only for those with blinkered eyes…did you bother to read it all? Perhaps you were one of those non-indigenous advisers to which she referred…

    “Ms Anderson also attacked the commonwealth’s reliance on “bright and shiny and run like clockwork” NGOs that “fill in all the paperwork perfectly”.

    “They’re good at lobbying and writing submissions. I don’t mock that but I do suggest they’re not so good at providing services, because they don’t understand the communities ,” she said. “Like so many non-indigenous advisers over the years . . . they’re cursed by the combination of noble intentions and utter ignorance.”

    She called for a greater role for indigenous organisations subject to the same standards as NGOs. Ms Anderson also said poor English skills were denying young indigenous people the choices available to other Australians.

    Ms Anderson also said poor English skills were denying young indigenous people the choices available to other Australians.

  8. no, tree, just worked along side of them. Have them in the family.

    I have had close contact since a small child.

    If you followed my views on the subject, that is that is the last thing you could have come to the conclusion about me.

    Did you read what I said.

    I said that many among their own people have been saying and promoting that point of view for decades.

  9. Now here’s part of the wider message…Sick at heart: why a disillusioned Warren Mundine quit the Labor Party


    “WHEN Warren Mundine’s Labor Party membership renewal forms arrived this August, the former national president ignored the email.
    had already made the momentous decision to leave the ALP after almost 20 years because it was “no longer the party I joined”.
    “I know there are people who are going to be shocked; I’m pretty shocked myself,” Mr Mundine told The Weekend Australian.
    “There was a time when I thought I’d go to the grave with my ALP membership in my pocket. I nearly did. But I’m over bullshit….
    He said a major source of frustration was the fact that the Liberal Party had managed to get two Aboriginal representatives elected at the federal level – one in the House, and one in the Senate – while the ALP, in a history spanning more than 100 years, had failed to put a single Aboriginal representative into the federal parliament, or indeed, into a winnable seat. “The way (the ALP) are going, they never will (elect an Aboriginal member),” he said.

    “Who ever thought Aborigines would be elected into the Northern Territory parliament under a conservative banner? But that’s what happened earlier this year: they got four Aborigines in the parliament, all of them conservative.”

    Mr Mundine put his hand up to become Labor’s first federal indigenous parliamentarian when Mark Arbib quit the Senate in March. The ALP put Bob Carr into the seat. Asked if he could now see himself voting for the Liberal Party, Mr Mundine said: “Of course I can. Absolutely.”

  10. Wendy Bacon is Professor of Journalism at the Australian Centre of Independent Journalism. Having learned we spend 100 times more on Aborigines each year than she told the world, will she now concede it sure is plenty and we deserve better results?

    ABC1’s Q&A, Monday:

    TONY Jones: Bob, the Kimberley Land Council negotiated a $1.5 billion compensation package over 30 years.

    Wendy Bacon tweets on Monday:

    #qanda If $500,000 a year to indigenous communities is all that’s going to be paid, it is easily found & in fact, is not nearly enough.

    Maths for beginners:
    $1,500,000,000 / 30 years = $50,000,000 not $500,000.

    H/T Andrew Bolt

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