Pride and identity: Reviving Indigenous languages

Around 93 percent of Australian Indigenous languages have become extinct, but one South Australian community is working to make sure they don't become a statistic.

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Members of the Barngarla community in South Australia's Eyre Peninsula are taking workshops to revive their endangered language.

Israeli-born linguist, Ghil'ad Zuckermann,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.

"When you reclaim a language, we have evidence that it actually empowers people," he told .

"People without a language often are people who lost their heritage, their intellectual sovereignty their cultural autonomy. So there is this feeling of well-being related to language reclamation."

Professor Zuckermann says Australia is one of the worst places for language hibernation and linguicide.

Barngarla Man, Steve Atkinson, is proof of this. His mother was Steve's only link to the Barngala language but she forgot almost all of it, after she was brought to a local mission.

"There's no doubt that this place contributed to the decline of Bangala for my mother," he said.

"Even though my mother came in speaking Barngarla language fluently at eight years-old, by the time she left she couldn't put a sentence together."

Steve is now taking the Barngarla language workshops where participants are not only learning traditional words, they are trying to develop new words like 'internet' and 'computer'.

"It's an overwhelming experience, having a mother lose her language, and now me being part of rebuilding and reviving that language is an emotional thing, so I'm proud of it and hopefully do my mother and my ancestors proud."

2 min read
Published 6 May 2013 at 12:40pm
By Andy Park
Source: SBS