Wednesday 21 February marks International Mother Language Day – a day set aside by the United Nations to raise awareness of the loss of Indigenous languages across the world. The United Nations website highlights some sobering statistics about the current state of traditional indigenous languages.
More than 50 per cent of the approximately 7,000 languages spoken in the world are likely to die out within a few generations, and 96 per cent of these languages are spoken by a mere 4 per cent of the world’s population. Only a few hundred languages have genuinely been given pride of place in education systems and the public domain, and less than a hundred are used in the digital world.
Since 2000, International Mother Language Day highlights key issues for traditional languages – the 2018 theme is “Linguistic diversity and multilingualism count for sustainable development”. The theme highlights the important role that language can play in sustainable development.
Specifically, the UN believes
To foster sustainable development, learners must have access to education in their mother tongue and in other languages. It is through the mastery of the first language or mother tongue that the basic skills of reading, writing and numeracy are acquired. Local languages, especially minority and indigenous, transmit cultures, values and traditional knowledge, thus play an important role in promoting sustainable futures.
To help schools and communities celebrate the day and support language revival, the UN website has a range of ideas and strategies, including:
- Encourage children to use their mother languages to introduce themselves and talk about their families and culture
- Celebrate culture by having them read poetry, tell a story or sing a song in their mother tongues. Paintings and drawings with captions in mother languages can also be displayed.
- See how many mother languages your fellow students speak. Make a survey of the languages by interviewing them and publish the results on internet.
- Help organize cultural activities such as films, plays and music that celebrate different languages.
Resources, including weblinks can be found on the UN website.
This is a great opportunity for schools, communities and other groups to raise awareness of Queensland’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages. Keep an eye out on social media as the language memes from last year proved very popular!
Indigenous Languages Coordinator
References and Further Reading
The following selection from the State Library collections represent a sample of the diverse range of language materials, many of which contain vocabularies and wordlists from Queensland’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages. Further items can be found using One Search.
Allan, J. and Lane, J. (2001) The language of the Wangerriburra and neighbouring groups in the Yugambeh region. Kombumerri Aboriginal
Corporation for Culture: Beenleigh. P 499.15 all
Breen, J. G. and Blake, B. (2007) The grammar of Yalarnnga: a language of western Queensland. Pacific Linguistics: Canberra. J 499.152 BRE
Curr, E. M. (1887) The Australian Race: its origins, languages, customs, place of landing in Australia and the routes by which it spread itself over that continent. John Ferres Government Printer: Melbourne. RBF 572.994 cur
Dixon, R. M. W. (1972) The Dyirbal language of North Queensland. London: Cambridge University Press. G 499.15 1972
Dixon, R. M. W. (1977) A grammar of Yidin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. G 499.155 1977
Dixon, R. M. W. (1991) Words of our country: stories, place names and vocabulary in Yidiny, the Aboriginal language of the Cairns-Yarrabah region. St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press. G 499.15 1991
Dixon, R. and Blake, B. (Eds) (1979) Handbook of Australian Languages. The Australian National University Press; Canberra. G 499.15 1979
Edwards, R. (Ed) (2001) Dictionary of Torres Strait languages. Rams Skull Press: Sydney. Q 499.1503 RAY
Eipper, C. (2007) German Mission to the Aborigines at Moreton Bay, 1841. Archive CD Books. QCFS 266.02343094 2007
Helon, G. (1994) The English-Goreng Goreng-English dictionary. Gurang Land Council: Bundaberg. G 499.15 1994
Hercus, L. and Sutton, P. (1986) This is what happened: historical narratives by Aborigines. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies: Canberra. J 994.0049915 thi
Hobson, J., Lowe, K., Poetsch, S. and Walsh, M (Eds) (2010) Re-awakening languages: theory and practice in the revitalisation of Australia’s indigenous languages. Sydney University Press: Sydney. 499.15 2010
Holmer, N. (1983) Linguistic Survey of South-Eastern Queensland. Australian National University: Canberra. J 499.15 HOL
Mathew, J. (1910) Two representative tribes of Queensland: with an inquiry concerning the origin of the Australian race. T Fisher Unwin: London. J 306.0899915 MAT
Meston, A. (undated) Archibald Meston Papers Undated. OM64-17
Minjerribah Moorgumpin Elders-in-Council Aboriginal Corporation (2011) Jandai language dictionary: a dictionary of language spoken on Stradbroke and Moreton Islands based on words remembered by all Elders and recorded by interested visitors to our shores. HKT 499.153 JAN
Patz, E. (2002) A grammar of the Kuku Yalanji language of north Queensland. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. J 499.15 PAT
Ridley, W. (1866) Kamilaroi, Dippil and Turrabul: languages spoken by Australian Aborigines. Government Printer: Sydney. RBJ 499.15 rid
Sutton, P. (ed) (1974) Languages of Cape York: papers presented to the Linguistic Symposium, Part B, held in conjunction with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies Biennial General Meeting, May,1974. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies: Canberra. G 499.15 1976
Sutton, P. (1995) Wik-Ngathan dictionary. Caitlin Press: Prospect, SA. Q 499.15 SUT
Tennant-Kelly, C. and University of Queensland (2011) The Caroline Tennant-Kelly ethnographic collection: fieldwork accounts of Aboriginal culture in the 1930s. University of Queensland: St Lucia. (CD-ROM) HCF 305.89915 CAR
Terrill, A. (1998) Biri. Munchen: Lincom. J 499.15 TER
Terrill, A. (2002) Dharumbal: the language of Rockhampton, Australia. Pacific Linguistics 525. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. J 499.15 TER
Thancoupie (2007) Thanakupi’s guide to language and culture: a Thaynakwith dictionary. Q 305.899 THA
Wafer, J. and Lissarrague, A. (2008) A handbook of Aboriginal languages of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. Muurrbay Aboriginal Language and Culture Cooperative: Nambucca Heads, NSW. J 499.15 WAF
Watson, F. J. (1944) “Vocabularies of four representative tribes of South Eastern Queensland”; supplement to the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (Queensland), No. 34, Vol XLVIII. REFJ 499.15 wat