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Thursday, 07 June 2007

Ngapartji Ngapartji has launched a policy paper regarding Indigenous languages.

Download the PDF here.  

 “The world loses a language every two weeks” - Wade Davis

When I speak language, it makes me feel home” - Roger Hart, elder and Cape York Guugu Yimithirr speaker (Good Weekend, John van Tiggelen, Sept 10, 2005, p. 25)
    
Languages transmit complex understandings of a person’s culture, identities and connections wit country. They are a source of pride and strength. In Australia languages carry with them an intimate understanding of the ecological systems and the land with which they are associated. Before European invasion Australia was home to over 250 distinct languages. Indigenous people were typically multilingual and were likely to speak as many as half a dozen languages in addition to their own. Tragically, in the last 218 years Australia has suffered the largest and most rapid loss of languages known.

Today, only 17 languages are spoken ‘right through’ and transmitted between older and younger generations; approximately 100 are still alive but are highly endangered, perhaps claiming only a handful of older speakers each; the remainder are either no longer used or remain active as strong markers of country and identity in local Aboriginal Englishes. All face uncertain futures and require ongoing action and support.

Indigenous activists argue that if our languages were like animals under threat of extinction there would be global outcry” - Lester Irabinna Rigney (FATSIL Newsletter, March 2002, p. 9).

A number of Australian languages which were critically endangered have been brought back to life and the rates of decline of other languages have been slowed. In Adelaide, the main language group is Kaurna (pronounced Garna). Kaurna was considered a dead, or ‘sleeping’, language, and is now used increasingly by more people in the Kaurna and school community in particular. Broader awareness of the language, particularly through policies of dual, Kaurna-English place-naming, has been significantly increased in the non-Indigenous community. With a mix of community involvement and strategic government and other support, Indigenous Australians can continue to reclaim their languages and with them, cultural and ecological knowledge of value to all Australians.  

In New Zealand, the Indigenous Maori language was recognised legally in 1986 and was followed by the establishment of a Maori Language Commission which inputs to government policy. The 1990 New Zealand Bill of Rights affirmed Indigenous rights to language. The USA has a legislated Native American Languages Act (1990), a federal policy statement recognising the language rights of American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders; it was enacted by the 101st Congress.

The situation in Australia differs from that of New Zealand due to a vastly larger number of distinct, regionally-based Indigenous languages; there is no legislated recognition of languages and questions about rights and national responsibilities remain. There is no peak national body to advise on Indigenous language policy and no declared national policy. Indigenous languages remain adrift in Australia in a sea of uncoordinated interactions with state and federal jurisdictions and a lack of overall strategic planning. Despite significant developments in the late 1980s and early 1990s at a national policy level, NSW and the Northern Territory alone currently have comprehensive Indigenous languages policies and Victoria is developing one.


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Last Updated ( Monday, 28 July 2008 )
 


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