There are many reasons to maintain Australia's first languages.
- Promotes resilience
- Improved health
- Improved cognitive functioning
- Increased employment options
- Costs and compensation
- Intrinsic value
Language and culture are interdependent. It has long been understood that language is the verbal expression of culture. It is the medium through which culture is carried and transferred. Stories, songs and the nuanced meaning of words contain the key to understanding one’s world and one’s part within it. Strong culture gives the individual a sense of belonging to people and places. For this reason, language and culture are deeply interconnected and core parts of one’s identity.
There is now a significant body of evidence which demonstrates a range of benefits for Indigenous peoples and minority groups when they maintain strong connections with their languages and culture. Having one’s mother tongue bestows various social, emotional, employment, cognitive and health advantages. Bilingualism provides yet another layer of advantage for minority language speakers. Keeping the mother tongue and then mastering English for example, provides minority language speakers with the advantage of being able to operate in different contexts. This in turn increases one’s life chances and employment options.
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The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples acknowledges Indigenous peoples’ rights over their languages and the need for States to work in conjunction with Indigenous peoples, to take effective measures to recognise and protect the execution of these rights. Articles 9-15, 16, 25 and 31 are of particular relevance to this discussion.
As outlined by the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues:
Language rights are inadequately recognized in many countries, and are often neglected by national legislation and policy. Certain languages are given official status and recognition while the majority of languages, particularly Indigenous languages, are denied legal recognition. Indigenous languages and their speakers are diminished and made to seem inferior, thus allowing for discriminatory policies and practices.
Aside from the basic right to maintain and use their own languages, Indigenous peoples’ language rights include:
- • The right to be educated in their mother tongue.
- • The right to have Indigenous languages recognized in constitutions and laws.
- • The right to live free from discrimination on the grounds of language.