International Mother Language Day, 21 February 2019.

International Mother Language Day Poster, UN website.

Thursday 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. Since 2000, International Mother Language Day highlights key issues for traditional languages – the 2019 theme is “Indigenous languages matter for development, peace building and reconciliation”. The theme is aligned to the United Nations theme for IYIL2019 and is reflected in the 2019 poster design shown above.

UNESCO believes in the importance of cultural and linguistic diversity for sustainable societies. It is within its mandate for peace that it works to preserve the differences in cultures and languages that foster tolerance and respect for others.

Wordle showing many of Queensland’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages.

In the International Year of Indigenous Languages, the United Nations website provides the following statistics about the current state of traditional Indigenous languages.

At least 43% of the estimated 6000 languages spoken in the world are endangered. Only a few hundred languages have genuinely been given a place in education systems and the public domain, and less than a hundred are used in the digital world. …  Every two weeks a language disappears taking with it an entire cultural and intellectual heritage.

2018 IMLD Meme.

As in previous years, there is a challenge for schools, community members and other groups. During 2017-18 International Mother Language Day celebrations, Memes in language proved very popular – the above Meme is one of my creations for the 2018 challenge. This IMLD the United Nations invites schools, communities and other groups to send in their favourite proverb in a mother language on the following topics: peace, harmony, conflict resolution/competence to deal with conflict, mindfulness, resilience, well-being. Further details on the proverb challenge can be found on the UN website.

Children’s Talking Book.

To help schools and communities celebrate the day and support language revival, the UN website has a range of ideas and strategies.


  • Encourage children to use their mother languages to introduce themselves and talk about their families and culture
  • Record these and share with the school-community
  • Celebrate language diversity through poetry, storytelling or songs in mother languages
  • Paintings and drawings with captions in mother languages can also be displayed – create a ‘word wall’
  • Create local language flashcards


  • See how many mother languages your fellow students speak.
  • Conduct a survey of the languages by interviewing them and publish the results.
  • Read stories in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages
  • Watch and listen to films, plays and music that celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages.


  • Establish a community Language Circle – informal gathering of Elders, language custodians and other community members to share language. Choose a theme each month, e.g. ‘favourite language word’; ‘animals’; ‘family’, etc.
  • Set up a Language Nest – similar to a language circle but aimed at little ones; informal gathering of mums, bubs and nans to play and talk together using language.
  • Encourage cultural rangers/Traditional Owners to share language on country – describe the landscape, animals, plants, etc. using language words.

Gamilaraay ‘Chatterbox’ template.

The above image is a quick and easy template for a chatterbox in language! It features 20 words in Gamilaraay language from South-West Queensland and is a fun way to learn everyday words in an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language. Use this as a template for your local language!

Gudaa Bula Dyugi-dyugi. State Library On Order.

The above image depicts a Guugu Yimithirr book Gudaa Bula Dyugi-dyugi (The Dog and the Chook) written by Lillian Bowen, teacher at Hope Vale State School – Pama Language Centre also has language activity sheets to accompany the text.

Banggurru  from Gudjal Book of Animals.

In terms of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander bilingual books for schools, State Library collections hold a diverse range of items from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors, writers, storytellers, etc.  These include texts dating back to the 1970’s when several bilingual programs were in place across Cape York and the Torres Strait as well as contemporary publications,  and virtual books.

Borobi and his friends, P499.15 bes

International Mother Language Day is a great opportunity for schools, communities and other groups to explore and learn about Queensland’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages. Don’t forget to keep an eye on social media as the IKCs have been collecting language words from their communities to share on IMLD – follow the discussion on State Library Twitter.


Desmond Crump

Indigenous Languages Coordinator


Note: Additional content for this Blog Post was drawn from the United Nations’ International Mother Language Day website.


UN Weblinks

UN International Mother Language Day Resources

UN International Year of Indigenous Languages webpages

UN International Year of Indigenous Languages Resources


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 regionP 499.15 all

Bowen, L. (2015) Gudaa bula dyugi-dyugi = The dog and the chookOn order – State Library.

Breen, J. G. and Blake, B. (2007) The grammar of Yalarnnga: a language of western QueenslandJ 499.152 BRE

Crombie, J. and Barr-Crombie, J. (2014) Children’s Talking Book [Arluwa-kari wangka thimparda] On order – State Library.

Crombie, J. and Barr-Crombie, J. (2018) Looking for Tucker [Murra manilhuku yukarnda].  On order – State Library.

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.  RBF 572.994 cur

Dixon, R. M. W. (1972) The Dyirbal language of North Queensland.  G 499.15 1972

Dixon, R. M. W. (1977) A grammar of YidinG 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 regionG 499.15 1991

Dixon, R. and Blake, B. (Eds) (1979) Handbook of Australian LanguagesG 499.15 1979

Edwards, R. (Ed) (2001) Dictionary of Torres Strait languages. Q 499.1503 RAY

Eipper, C. (2007) German Mission to the Aborigines at Moreton Bay, 1841. Archive CD Books. QCFS 266.02343094 2007

Haviland, J. (1979) ‘Guugu Yimidhirr’, in Handbook of Australian languages. Vol 1. J 499.15 HAN

Helon, G. (1994) The English-Goreng Goreng-English dictionaryG 499.15 1994

Hercus, L. and Sutton, P. (1986) This is what happened: historical narratives by AboriginesJ 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.  499.15 2010

Holmer, N. (1983) Linguistic Survey of South-Eastern QueenslandJ 499.15 HOL

Lawrie, M. The Margaret Lawrie Collection of Torres Straits Materials. TR2082 

Mathew, J. (1910) Two representative tribes of Queensland: with an inquiry concerning the origin of the Australian raceJ 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. J 499.15 PAT

Ray, S. Dictionary of Torres Strait LanguagesQ 499.1503 RAY

Santo, W. & Nancarrow, C. (2006) Gudjal book of animals. JUV 499.15 SAN

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.  G 499.15 1976

Sutton, P. (1995) Wik-Ngathan dictionaryQ 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. (CD-ROM) HCF 305.89915 CAR

Terrill, A. (1998) Biri.  J 499.15 TER

Terrill, A. (2002) Dharumbal: the language of Rockhampton, AustraliaJ 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 TerritoryJ 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