Our languages matter

15 Jun, 2017

The importance, resilience and richness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages will be the focus of national celebrations marking NAIDOC Week 2017.

The 2017 theme - Our Languages Matter - aims to emphasise and celebrate the unique and essential role that Aboriginal languages play in cultural identity, linking people to their land and water and in the transmission of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, spirituality and rites, through story and song.

Some 250 distinct ‘Aboriginal’ language groups covered the continent at first (significant) European contact in the late eighteenth century. Most of these languages would have had several dialects, so that the total number of named varieties would have run to many hundreds.

Today only around 120 of those languages are still spoken and many are at risk of being lost as Elders pass on.

National NAIDOC Committee Co-Chair Anne Martin said languages are the breath of life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the theme will raise awareness of the status and importance of Aboriginal languages across the country.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait languages are not just a means of communication, they express knowledge about everything: law, geography, history, family and human relationships, philosophy, religion, anatomy, childcare, health, caring for country, astronomy, biology and food.

“Each language is associated with an area of land and has a deep spiritual significance and it is through their own languages, that Aboriginal nations maintain their connection with their ancestors, land and law,” Ms Martin said.

Committee Co-Chair Benjamin Mitchell hopes that the theme will shine a spotlight on the programs and community groups working to preserve, revitalise or record Aboriginal languages, and encourage all Australians to notice the use of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander languages in their community.

“There is currently a wave of activity, with people in many communities working to learn more about their language, and to ensure they are passed on to the next generation before it is too late,’ Mr Mitchell said.

“Nationally, many place names for our suburbs, rivers, mountains and parks are Aboriginal language words. Noticing and paying attention to these words will generate greater appreciation and respect for the significance of language among all Australians.

"The preservation and revitalisation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages - the original languages of this nation - is the preservation of priceless treasure, not just for our peoples, but for everyone."

The host city for the 2017 National NAIDOC Awards is Cairns, Queensland.

You can learn more about the Noongar Language in this Learners Guide document.
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