Languages are the breath of life for most indigenous cultures. It is not only communication that it serves, it also expresses knowledge, law, geography, history, caring for country, astronomy – the list goes on.
Language is a way for people to maintain a connection to the land and their ancestors. It is essential for the protection of cultural identity and the dignity of indigenous peoples, as well as safeguards their traditional heritage.
Not only does it have cultural importance, but it is also crucial for identifying and addressing biodiversity and climate change through the help of nations’ first people.
Right now, one language dies every two weeks (according to the UN).
This impacts the lives of Indigenous peoples, as well as the very Earth we all share.
People trying to combat this are workers at the Wangka Maya Language Centre in South Hedland, north of W.A. Their work is to manage programs aimed to record, analyse, preserve, maintain and promote the Pilbara region’s Aboriginal languages, culture and history.
The centre was given the go-ahead 24 years ago by the Commission of Elders as the Pilbara Aboriginal Language Centre, and is a leader in the collection and preservation of Pilbara languages.
“The linguistic work of Wangka Maya is guided by an inventory of languages conducted in 1988 and updated in 2004 and 2010. This Pilbara Language Inventory takes into account the estimated number of speakers of a language and a variety of social and cultural issues which influence the life span of the language. Those languages classified as ‘critically endangered’ were the initial focus of Wangka Maya’s work.”
Today, that focus extends to all Pilbara languages, as it aims to create and develop essential resources such as dictionaries, grammar documents, stories, maps, videos and recordings of all languages.
“There is [also] an increasing focus in Wangka Maya’s work to create resources that can be used in school languages programs, in the media and through the wider community.”
The work done at Wangka Maya also includes delivering cultural awareness training to help cross cultural communications and understandings of Aboriginal language, history and culture amongst the broader community.
Through this extremely important work, preservation of the world’s oldest civilisation’s languages can be monitored and maintained.
Word by Erin Riordan Peña