Just over two hundred years ago aboriginal language was rife. Around one million people spoke over 250 different aboriginal languages (BBC News, 2011). Yet since the colonialization of Australia, aboriginal language has been suppressed by the ever overpowering English language. In 2009 the BBC reported that only 60 aboriginal languages – roughly, are still spoken from day-to-day amongst aboriginal communities. These languages can be lost within a generation and are the embodiment of the aboriginal lifestyle, way of being, thinking and seeing. To lose a language is to lose a precious source of history, not just Australian history but the history of language evolution, the history of land management and the history of colonial experience. It is essential that Aboriginal groups receive the justice deserved and their voices are heightened rather than squandered and killed.
Languages are declining at a record rate and not by choice (Mercer, 2008). It is believed that once a language dies, once the last speaker passes away, it is almost impossible to bring the language back to life. However, in Chifley College Dunheved Campus justice for aboriginals was acknowledged (Mercer, 2009). On point of principle rather than a source of indigenous knowledge, aboriginal lessons were organised and written records of the Dharug language were used to bring the language back to life. This attempt for justice was a complete success. Both Aboriginal school children and non-aboriginals partook in the lessons twice a week. Many of the aboriginal students spoke of how Dharug lessons had helped develop their aboriginal culture, identity and pride in a community where their aboriginal roots were frequently overlooked. For this school in New South Wales Dharug is now on their curriculum (Mercer, 2009).
Acknowledgement of the importance of aboriginal languages is vital, but its only one step. More than this has to be done to stop the death of anymore of these precious languages. As a geographer the knowledge contained within these capsules of language need to savoured and shared, but not just for reasons than some may believe. Undoubtedly it is massively important to maintain aboriginal culture, but aboriginal language also contains knowledge that may not have been shared. This knowledge needs to be respected. This knowledge needs to be understood. And under Aboriginal regulation this knowledge need to be utilised. This special community knows more about the environment, land management techniques and the evolution of their surrounding than any others. Why would anyone force this knowledge out of existence? We must use what aboriginals have already spent thousands of years developing to understand our environment, as well as maintain their fabulously rich culture.
However, there are 60 aboriginal languages spoken day to day, less than 300 years ago over four times this existed, any move from here on in, will it just be too little too late?
Anon, 2010. Borrowed terms. Australian geographic. 7th July 2010
Anon, 2011. Australian project hunts lost indigenous languages. BBC News. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-14503382
Barada, W. 2008. English will be the death of Aboriginal languages. Crikey.com.au http://www.crikey.com.au/Politics/20081120-The-fate-of-Aboriginal-languages.html
Crystal, D. 2000. What can be done? In Language death (pp.127-169). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Mercer, P. 2009. Lost Aboriginal language retrieved. BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/7992565.stm