Lost In Time

Andre Cramblit andrekar at NCIDC.ORG
Mon Nov 17 19:16:38 UTC 2003

Languages that are lost in time


THE death of hundreds of traditional indigenous Australian languages is a
symptom of the decay of Aboriginal culture, a South Australian academic

"This is an important matter of identity for these people who have lost
much of their culture," Bill Edwards, adjunct lecturer in Aboriginal
Studies at the University of South Australia, said yesterday.

He claimed that traditional languages were an "identity marker" for
Aboriginal people.

His comments coincide with the announcement of a national survey of
indigenous languages undertaken by the Federal Government.

The last major survey was conducted by linguists Patrick McConvell and
Nicholas Thieberger two years ago.

They said that Aboriginal languages had declined from more than 250 ?
incorporating about 600 dialects ? when Australia was first settled by
Europeans, to the point where only about 17 are now regularly in use.

"Globalisation is a bit of a buzz word for it, but it's that whole
influence of young (Aboriginal) people watching TV, films and videos," Mr
Edwards said.

"A lot of older people are still speaking the languages quite well.

"A few old people use a few words on occasions such as greetings and
ceremonies, but younger people only hear a handful of words."

For Mr Edwards, the extinction of Aboriginal languages erases a wealth of
history from Australia's national consciousness.

"If we lose any language we are losing human understanding about the
world," he said. "This is more than just a loss of words, it is a loss of
intuition and a loss of understanding."

Mr Edwards said the survey would play an important role in trying to
preserve Aboriginal languages. There were about 6000 languages still being
spoken worldwide with around half of those now under threat of being lost
within the next 25 years, he said.

"Languages with less than 10,000 speakers are particularly under threat and
all the Aboriginal languages are well within that limit," Mr Edwards said.

Even "stronger" languages such as Pitjantjatjara were only spoken by about
2000 to 3000 people.

"Aboriginal languages are seen in the worldwide situation as being in
extreme danger," Mr Edwards said.

More information about the Endangered-languages-l mailing list