International Year of Indigenous Languages

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This week we have our intern from UWA Brianne Yarran guest blogging about the International Year of Indigenous Languages. Brianne Yarran, is  a proud Noongar woman with family connections to Whadjuk, Balladong and Wagyl Kaip. She is currently in her second year studying a Bachelor of Arts double majoring in Law and Society and Indigenous Knowledge, Heritage and History.

Globally Indigenous people make up less than 6% of the population yet there are more than 4,000 languages spoken. It is estimated by Conservative that by 2100 half the world’s Indigenous languages will be extinct, 95% will be extinct by the end of the century and that every two weeks one Indigenous language dies. Language to Indigenous Peoples are not limited to communications but instead is a part of a holistic system which preserves stories, country, knowledge, law, kinship and worldviews. When an Indigenous language dies so does the Indigenous people and their culture.

The United Nations has three articles which protects and promotes the development and growth of an Indigenous language and in 2016 the United Nations decided in response to a recommendation by the United Nations Permanent Forum that 2019 be proclaimed as the International Years of Indigenous Languages which will also attain objectives as per the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development within the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

Within Australia it is believed that there were between approximately 500 different language groups prior to the Colonial Endeavours of the British in 1788.Through massacres, discriminative policies and law, assimilation and dispossession of their land it is now estimated that there are 120 Indigenous languages in Australia 20 of which are highly endangered.

Indigenous Australians use language to identify themselves and thus knowing what language someone speaks you will know which clan group and country they belong to.
The United Nations has expressed the importance of keeping Indigenous languages alive and this is being supported through several community language centres, language specific dictionaries, class and formal and informal discussions run by The Indigenous people of that area.

International Years of Indigenous Languages has an official event in Perth as a part of the Fringe Festival, Djuki Mala. They are a dance group that “reflects the juxtapositions they see in contemporary Yolngu culture, and offers a rare and insightful view into Aboriginal Australia.” The performance shows how diverse the use of language can be. The show can be viewed from January 18 to February 17 at The West Australian Spiegeltent at The Woodside Pleasure Garden.
Such highly endangered Aboriginal languages include Bayungu, Jingulu and Ngandi but with the restoring of languages through languages centre, shows like Djuki Mala and programs mean languages Australia wide are now finding a new voice.