Hailing from the tiny remote community of Ngukurr in southeast Arnhem Land, Angelina Joshua, 28, is a woman on a mission: to teach, share and preserve the Indigenous language of her people.
Like many young Indigenous people these days, Angelina didn't grow up speaking the traditional language of her elders. Known as Marra, the language has only three fluent-speaking elders remaining in the community and therefore in all of Australia. It's one of the most critically endangered languages in the world.
“The language it’s our identity - culture, totems, countries, and skin names,” Angelina explains. “It’s dying, you know - it’s fading away really slowly.”
It was thanks to her grandmother that Angelina began to take an interest, “I first started to get involved when I was a teenager - my grandmother and uncle were working at the language centre - I was a volunteer.”
Marra could easily fade away altogether were it not for the contribution of the Ngukurr Language Centre, where Angelina, along with her colleagues, is now working full-time to preserve Marra and the seven remaining Indigenous languages of Ngukurr and the surrounding region – all of which are threatened.
While Angelina is now building her multilingual skills every day, there was a time when she could barely cope with one language. After suffering a sudden brain aneurysm at the age of 23, Angelina woke up to find herself in hospital in Adelaide – with no idea where she was.
“Where am I?” she recalls asking the doctors when she woke up.
Angelina basically had to learn speak again - to do everything again, from scratch.
“I was scared I would never walk again, or remember again,” she says. “The way I was talking, it was all over the place.”
After eleven long weeks at Flinders Hospital recuperating, followed by a further stint in rehab, Angelina finally got to head back home to be with her family in Ngukurr, on the Northern Territory’s Roper River.
“When I came home after the aneurysm, I was still sick, my memory was terrible,” Angelina says.
“I thought I wouldn’t be able to write properly or speak properly again.”
Then a second terrible event occurred.
“I lost my grandmother that day,” says Angelina.
With the tragic loss of a loved one, Angelina realised she’d lost something else significant too.
“She was a very fluent Marra speaker,” Angelina explains.
“It was hard losing her. Then I was like ‘where now am I gonna learn?’”
It drove home the fact that it was up to Angelina to carry on the Marra-speaking line.
“Then I was like ‘it’s my responsibility to learn Marra and teach Marra. That’s what I have to do now.’”
“Teaching!” declares Angelina, is the most important way to make the language live on. “Teaching more kids and getting them involved.”
Now that’s exactly what Angelina is doing as she forms the subject of My Grandmother’s Lingo- the new SBS interactive inspired by the committed Marra advocate’s drive to make her Grandmother’s language live on.
A unique form of interactive storytelling, My Grandmother’s Lingo takes the form of an animated online game that is powered by the voice of the user. Learn and repeat some words of Marra, by copying Angelina’s prompts, and you can make the story progress, while at the same time, helping this ancient Indigenous language live on.