When Kylie Farmer performed William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 127 in her traditional language, Noongar, on Monday night’s Q&A program the audience was appropriately moved.
The actress appeared at the Sydney Opera House as part of a panel discussing Shakespeare’s work in light of the recent Festival of Dangerous Ideas and the 400th anniversary of writer’s death.
The Sonnet which includes the lines “In the old age black was not counted fair… But now is black beauty’s successive heir” prompted Ms Farmer to declare of Shakespeare: “I'd like to think he's lobbying for the beauty in the blackness.”
She then went on to discuss the power in translating the sonnet from the “dominant English language” into Noongar. “If you look at it in a way where you can align it with another ancient language — that is, maybe a little bit older — and translates something like that, it can be a really beautiful collaboration.”
The comments on the original video post, which has been shared over 3000 times, however highlight the beautiful tragedy at the heart of revitalising Indigenous languages.
One viewer commented: ‘How sad that we only have a handful of Noongar's that can speak the Noongar (Aboriginal) language fluently.’ Another affirmed ‘Beautiful so lovely to hear [A]boriginal language spoken it’s a sign that Noongar mob have saved it… hope for the rest of the mobs can do the same.’
The Noongar language of south-west Western Australia is considered endangered. Of the 30,000 Noongar people living in WA, less than 240 are speakers.
With an aim to help revitalize the language and preserve the vast knowledge of Noongar elders, academics from the University of Western Australia and Curtin University have set up NoongarPedia.
The Wikipedia-style page acts an online portal to a wealth of information on Noongar language and culture all easily accessible from laptop or smartphone.
Visitors to the page are first greeted with a welcome in language.
Kaya wandjoo ngala NoongarPedia - Welcome to our Noongarpedia
Ngala waangkniy kwop kwop birdiyah wirn, maaman, yoka, koorlangka - We speak in good spirit of our ancestors, spirits, men, women and children.
Ngala waarngkiny noona yoowarl koorliny waangkiny nitja NoongarPedia - We hope you come and contribute to our Noongarpedia.
The website is Wikipedia’s first Indigenous language page, joining the 294 languages already available on the site including Cherokee and Fijian. Visitors can make an account to contribute to the 26 pages already available, which range from collections of words for the natural environment to an impressive dedication to the Noongar community passion for AFL.
Each entry in the NoongarPedia includes the Noongar word, the English translation and an image to assist understanding for people of varying ages and literacy in the two languages. Some entries even include sound bites helping the visitor to the page learn the correct pronunciation.
One of the challenges of creating a dictionary for a largely oral language is spelling Indigenous words in their Anglicized form however the Noongar Boodjar Language Centre in Bunbury has helped to develop a written Noongar language. With a language dictionary likely to be up to ten years away the site also allows easy access to Noongar in the meantime.
The development team organize monthly meeting to help grow the project by writing new entries and by teaching others to use the site.
The page complements many other efforts to save the Noongar language including publication efforts by the two Universities and Batchelor Institute as well as the work of the Noongar Boodjar Language Centre, who are currently creating a comprehensive language survey to determine the level of use and fluency across the Noongar community.