26 April 2012

Researchers, teachers and students passionate about preserving, promoting and understanding Aboriginal languages met at a UQ-hosted conference recently.

Held at the Moreton Bay Research Station on North Stradbroke Island last month, the 11th Australian Languages Workshop was attended by approximately 50 participants.

The first day focused on revitalising Indigenous languages from eastern Australia.

Stradbroke Island elder Aunty Margaret welcomed everyone and talked about her new publication Jandai Language Dictionary 2011, which was produced by the local Indigenous community on North Stradbroke Island to preserve their language.

Other presentations that day focused on reconstructing languages from historical documentation and compiling the available information before shaping it into educational resources.

UQ linguist and workshop co-organiser Dr Felicity Meakins said this work allowed young Indigenous people to reconnect with their Indigenous language and heritage.

“As well as a means of communication, a language is a collection of cultural and kinship knowledge, of ancestor stories and history,” Dr Meakins said.

Many young indigenous people who are introduced to their historic language view it as a positive experience.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people really want to learn and we’re ready to learn,” Bianca Bond, an Indigenous Gubbi Gubbi woman said at the workshop.

“Indigenous people then have a chance to learn how respect and protocols work in their communities and issues like the difference between ownership and custodianship.”

Many languages are being revitalised around Australia through the work of language teachers, community members and linguists. Workshops like these are an important forum for discussing this work.

On the first night guests were treated to a traditional performance by the people from North Stradbroke Island at local historical museum.

The event also included a launch of the Kaytetye to English Dictionary, by UQ linguist Dr Myfany Turpin, also a co-organiser of the workshop. The dictionary is the most extensive list of Kaytetye words and their meanings yet published, including more than 5,000 entries.

Research in Australian languages is a focus at UQ, with the University hosting researchers Dr Meakins, Dr Turpin, Dr Ilana Mushin, Dr Dr Rob Pensalfini and Dr Erich Round, all of whom work on Aboriginal languages.

UQ students Shani Berriman, Cicely Bonnin, Emily Harper and David Osgarby were awarded bursaries of $250 by the Faculty of Arts to attend the workshop.

Media: Dania Lawrence (07 3365 9163, d.lawrence@uq.edu.au)