First Languages Australia has been commissioned by the Department of Communications and the Arts, Indigenous Languages and Arts program (ILA), to undertake the Priority Languages Support Project.
The aim of the project is to identify and document critically-endangered languages — those languages for which little or no documentation exists, where no recordings have previously been made, but where there are living speakers. Languages that fall within this category are in urgent need of preservation and documentation, as many of the living speakers are elderly.
First Languages Australia is working with language centres and other projects around Australia to identify and document priority languages. The Priority Languages Support Project is providing much needed financial resources to undertake this task, something that may not otherwise have been possible within current language centre constraints. First Languages Australia has conducted two sessions outlining the parameters of the project; the first session targeted existing language centres and the second targeted language centres, language communities and small language programs.
In all, 25 Expressions of Interest for the documentation project were received. These were collated, assessed and prioritised by the Project’s steering committee, whose focus was on the level of existing documentation and the preparedness of the community language team.
Twenty community language teams were offered the opportunity to develop a detailed project proposal and enter into a service agreement with First Languages Australia to undertake the documentation. The prioritised languages are as follows:
- Ngarla (Wangga)
- Yinggarda (Yingkarta)
- Lower (Southern) Arrernte
- Magati Ke
- Marri Amu
- Wunambal Gaambera
- Jabirr Jabirr
- Wilunyu (also known as Nhanhagardi)
- Nari Nari
- Kuku Ngungkal
The language centres, projects and communities involved are taking various steps to document the prioritised languages. Each language team has developed a work plan and a project plan detailing their proposed process and how the materials will be archived and made available for future use. While each plan is different, each group is preparing audio/video and written documentation, the production of high quality material for archiving at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) and at suitable local archives, and the production of quality user-friendly resources ready for immediate community access to assist with language revival.
First Languages Australia expects the funding body to continue its support of this project into the future, and welcomes Expressions of Interest from priority language groups at any time.
The emergency documentation gave Audrey a chance to record her language, work out what language there was, and how much was left and start promoting her language. As the last remaining speaker of Lower (Southern) Arrernte, Audrey wanted her knowledge documented while she is still able to.
Paul Monaghan, Manager, SA Mobile Language Team
Photo: Matthew Johnson, Grant Thompson, David Wilfred, Peter Wilfred, Norman Wilfred, Roy Natilma, Salome Harris documenting Ritharrŋu/Wägilak. Photographed by Nicole Bell, courtesy Ngukurr Language Centre.