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Media Release

May 16 2008

Preserving Indigenous culture through language

Town of RakkauAn Indigenous language guide developed by UniSA researchers and Indigenous Elders is helping to preserve traditional language and culture, and a rich element of the country’s history.

The Ngarrindjeri language guide has been compiled along with other language resources including an adult dictionary, picture dictionaries and an alphabet book to assist Ngarrindjeri community members learn their language.

David Unaipon College of Indigenous Education and Research lecturer, Syd Sparrow who has Ngarrindjeri ancestry, says that preservation of the Ngarrindjeri language is important in sustaining the rich culture of the Ngarrindjeri people of the Lower Murray River and Coorong areas of South Australia.

“For Australia’s Indigenous people, languages are inextricably linked to culture and spiritual identity. Indigenous language is rich in history,” Sparrow says.

“With over half of the 250 distinct Indigenous languages in Australia no longer used, there is a real need to preserve those that remain. Many of these are known to only a handful of Elders and face extinction without steps being taken to record them.

“Although Ngarrindjeri is no longer spoken as a first language by its speakers, as many as five hundred words are still known and used by Ngarrindjeri people within their English speech today,” Sparrow says.

“Efforts are now underway in the community to revive some of the old language, and to encourage the younger generation to use what is still known of the language.”

Sparrow says that the Ngarrindjeri language guide contains words from archival and missionary records, as well as others known and used by Ngarrindjeri Elders today.

“Unfortunately the historical grammars that were written by missionaries and linguists in the past are difficult to read and the more contemporary studies on the language are not understandable to the community.

“The language guide is a much needed straightforward and accessible step-by-step introduction to and explanation of the Ngarrindjeri language. By documenting these words and making them available to the community, they will hopefully be retained and learnt by younger generations,” Sparrow says.

“The language guide will be provided as a teaching and learning resource to the community and the schools which teach Ngarrindgeri as their Language Other Than English (LOTE).

“With the Ngarrindjeri community being one of the largest Indigenous communities in Southern Australia, these resources will have far reaching benefits.”

The development of the language guide is part of a larger project to create Ngarrindjeri language resources including an alphabet book, two picture dictionaries (one for younger children and another for older children), and an adult dictionary. It is anticipated that these will also be made available as an electronic resource.

Dean and Head of David Unaipon College of Indigenous Education and Research, Professor Peter Buckskin says that this project has great significance.

“Whilst there is increasing acknowledgement of the tragic loss of language and culture of the Indigenous peoples of Australia, this project is taking a positive step in keeping Indigenous language and culture alive.

“Recognition of the importance of Indigenous language helps to retain and restore pride in an ancient culture, preserving it for the benefit of Australia’s future generation. This project is significant in this year of the United Nations Year of Indigenous Languages and in our nation’s move towards reconciliation,” Prof Buckskin says.

This activity is supported by the Australian Government through the Maintenance of Indigenous Languages and Records Program of the former Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts.

What: Launch of the Ngarrindjeri Learners’ Guide

When: Friday May 16, 1pm

Where: Raukkan Community Hall, Seymour Street, Raukkan


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