2019 DHML lecture: Indigenous languages: their importance and revival

In Australia, of the estimated orginal 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, only around 120 are still spoken. Of these, approximately 90 per cent are endangered.

The United Nations’ International Year of Indigenous Languages in 2019 aimed to raise awareness of the consequences of the endangerment of Indigenous languages across the world and to acknoweldge the link between language, development, peace, and reconciliation.

It also recognised that language is essential to our multiple and variegated experiences of the world, to our shared memory and cultures. The languages we speak, sing and dream in are fundamental to our sense of who we are as peoples, communities and selves. So when we speak about losing or reviving Indigenous Australian languages, we do so appreciating the tremendous weight of what that signifies.

It was in this spirit that ANTaR ACT conceived the 2019 DHML lecture, to continue raising awareness and taking further actions for the maintenance and reawakening of Australian languages, including in our own community of the ACT.

Our keynote speaker for 2019 was Professor Jaklyn Troy, a Ngarigu woman from the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales and Director of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research at the University of Sydney. Professor Troy spoke about her interests in languages, particularly endangered Aboriginal and ‘contact languages’, language education, linguistics, anthropology and visual arts. She has extensive experience developing curriculum for Australian schools focusing on Australian language programs.

Ms Caroline Hughes, Ngunnawal Elder, member ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body (ATSIEB) and Director of the Yurauna Centre, CIT, spoke about the Awakening of Ngunnawal Language and community-led work in the ACT to research, preserve and share the Ngunnawal language. She also discussed the need for a dedicated language centre in the ACT to provide a focus for this important work.

Finally, Dr John Harris discussed the history of a number of bibles translated into Indigenous languages that were displayed from the Bible Society Archives held at St Mark’s.

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