• The 50 Words project (The 50 words project)Source: The 50 words project
The 50 Words project is an interactive online map giving everyone the opportunity to hear Aboriginal languages spoken all across the continent.
Rae Johnston

9 Nov 2020 - 12:29 PM  UPDATED 13 Nov 2020 - 8:47 AM

Do you know how to say "hello" in the language of the First Nation you live on? Have you heard someone speak it?

Ngalia man Kado Muir is just one of 60 language speakers to contribute to the 50 Words project, an interactive digital map where you can search to hear language from across the continent - both those spoken every day and those being revitalised by their communities. 

"The 50 words project is a novel way of using technology to bring languages to people who otherwise would not have heard of, or have the opportunity to access these languages," Mr Muir told NITV News. 

Mr Muir said it is the ideal tool to give you an introduction to a language.

"Once you access that introduction, you can then take the necessary steps to identify language classes or books or other materials. It's all out there. It's just a question of taking action to use it."

You can search by language or by word - including "hello", "welcome", "hello", "goodbye", "yes" and "no" as well as phrases, words for family members, animals and the local environment. 

The University of Melbourne's Research Unit for Indigenous Language is working directly with communities and language speakers to build the tool, which has been in development for two years. Teachers are already using it to create resources for classroom activities.

The site recently received a revamp in time for both its 60th language to be added, and NAIDOC Week. 

Mr Muir said learning a First Nations language - even if it's not your own - is essential for many reasons. One of these is that Aboriginal languages are the Australian languages. 

"English is a foreign language, imported here through the colonial settler process. Australian languages are all the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages," Mr Muir told NITV News. 

"It's estimated that there were about 200 different Aboriginal languages spoken across Australia. Unfortunately, today, there's only about 20 of those languages that are still spoken."

Mr Muir said today, of the languages still spoken, some are on the edge of endangered, or on the edge of extinction.

"Myself, and my brothers, and a couple of other people can speak [Ngalia]. So that particular way of speaking, is severely endangered," said Mr Muir.  

"When you lose a language, you lose a worldview. You lose a way of understanding the land on which you are living. You lose an understanding of different philosophies. It makes our lives as human beings a lot poorer if we lose a language."

"If you learn a language, you then get access to that particular way of thinking that ties you back to country - back into the dreaming, the creation, and your ancestors," said Mr Muir. "And once you start rewiring your brain in that way, it opens up a whole world of imaginings and possibilities."

The project is calling for more submissions from communities across Australia to help get every Indigenous Australian language up on the map.

"It is language speakers who are contributing. So they have both the intellectual capacity, and the moral and cultural rights and authorities to be able to share that language with the people of the world," said Mr Muir.

"Languages sometimes get politicised within family groups. Some families wield language as a political tool. Unfortunately, that doesn't help anyone - we all lose out as a result. If we're not contributing - talking these languages and keeping them alive - then an important part of our cultural heritage is diminished and lost."

To contribute, you can email the research team at RUIL-contact@unimelb.edu.au

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