Revitalising community languages
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 124 No 2, 15 March 2019, page no. 14
In 2016, the United Nations General Assembly declared 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages, noting that 40 per cent of the estimated 6,700 languages spoken around the world were in danger of disappearing.
Queensland has more than 100 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, many of which are now considered endangered, and the Queensland Government is working with representatives of the Queensland Indigenous Languages Committee to progress a dedicated Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander language policy. The policy is to be in place in the first half of this year.
Many of our schools work with language teachers and community members to energise and revitalise community languages. The Department of Education indicates that in 2018 approximately 22 Indigenous languages were being taught in more than 50 Queensland state schools. Schools from Cape York to Western Queensland and into Logan City are teaching languages that are endangered.
The Torres Strait has two traditional languages, Meriam Mir and Kala Lagaw Ya, and six dialects. Tagai State College is working with the Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA) and its communities to “facilitate the revitalisation and maintenance of traditional languages”. In March 2015, TSRA hosted the Torres Strait Language Symposium, at which a reference group was elected to oversee the development of the Torres Strait Traditional Languages Plan (2016-2019).
The plan recognises that “culture and language are inseparable and cannot be considered in isolation from each other. The vision of the Torres Strait Traditional Languages Plan incorporates this inter-dependence and recognises the decline in speakers of our traditional languages and the impact that language has on the wellbeing of all Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal peoples”.
With the support of the Yugambeh Museum at Beenleigh, which serves as a regional language centre covering over a dozen languages and dialects, Waterford West State School has been teaching the Yugambeh language and culture to students through the curriculum. Other schools are following Waterford West’s lead.
The work of our schools and communities is even more crucial when we recognise that, for too long Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island students were banned from speaking their languages in schools and punished for doing so.
There are so many stories about the work that Queensland state schools are doing, and the International Year of Indigenous Language provides a golden opportunity to share them. Why not email your story to firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can publish excerpts on our website or in the Journal?