Imagine one of the oldest languages on the planet – the Yawuru language of the Aboriginal Yawuru people from the Broome region in Western Australia.
Over time it is being used less and less … to the point that there are only a handful of Aboriginal people who speak it fluently.
A worst case scenario for any Indigenous language … or is it?
Instead, the Yawuru people have reinvented their language via an app for use on your mobile phone.
The app has a dictionary, buttons for about and explore, common phrases, a learning section and a word of the day.
Manager, Social Enterprise Services at RMIT Connect, Mark Jones, said the app is a fantastic way to keep the Yawuru language alive.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is one that is deeply based on language and storytelling, and it’s very important to keep as many of Australia’s Indigenous languages alive and relevant.
“My family are from Broome and Yawuru is my Aboriginal language from my mother’s heritage,” Jones said.
The app allows you to hear the language being spoken for any words or phrases it includes – in both a female and a male Aboriginal voice.
“I enjoy using it, listening to it, finding out more about the language and teaching my daughter Chloe a word of the day, it’s fun!” he said.
This year’s theme for NAIDOC Week is Our Languages Matter, which celebrates the importance, resilience and richness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages.
The theme aims to emphasise and celebrate the unique and essential role that Indigenous 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.
Originally, some 250 distinct Indigenous language groups covered the continent at first (significant) European contact in the late 18th 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 about 120 of those languages are still spoken and many are at risk of being lost as Elders pass on.
“I’m very proud that the Yawuru language is reinventing itself via technology for the 21st Century.
“The app was developed in Broome and it’s really good to hear my language being spoken by Yawuru people via my phone,” he said.
Jones is the Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) representative for RMIT Connect and works with other reps in the Education portfolio on this project, including Tanya Bramley, Manager Swanston Library; Jeremy Cass, Manager Counselling Service; and Tristan Damen, Manager Course and Program Administration.
“I am enjoying representing RMIT Connect as a RAP rep and working with the other reps in our portfolio.
“It’s an important and rewarding project to work on for the University and it is great to see more people becoming involved since the RAP was launched last year.
“And, interestingly enough, being a RAP rep is also working as a team building exercise for different areas of our portfolio as well … which is a real bonus!” Jones said.
NAIDOC Week celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the first week of July each year, from 2 to 9 July.
Story: Deborah Sippitts