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Linguist discusses preserving Indigenous lang -

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Linguist discusses preserving Indigenous language

The World Today - Monday, 20 October , 2008 12:54:00

Reporter: Sarah Dingle

ELEANOR HALL: Most non-Indigenous Australians would probably struggle to name more than one
Aboriginal language.

But while there were once scores of them, Australia's Indigenous languages are rapidly
disappearing.

Linguists though, are trying to preserve them by interviewing the remaining fluent speakers.

Sarah Dingle spoke to some of those trying to save the Batjamalh language.

(Indigenous music and singing)

SARAH DINGLE: This is Batjamalh - the Indigenous language of the Wadjiginy people from the Daly
River region, around one hundred kilometres south of Darwin.

Linguist Dr Lys Ford has been studying Batjamalh for the last two decades.

LYS FORD: The songman is singing about sitting on a beach, a perfect beach, a curving beach and
it's country he's not in. It's his own country but he's not in it which is why he's saying yagadarr
(phonetic) which is an all purpose exclamation of sorrow and regret. That they think the whole
world is alive, every entity, everything on the earth including the earth breathes and lives.

SARAH DINGLE: But the language is dying. The last fluent speaker is 78-year-old Esther Burrenjuck.

ESTHER BURRENJUCK: My eldest sister was, passed away so I'm talking language Batjamalh.

LYS FORD: It's a complicated language. It's morphologically very long words. It is like Latin and
Greek only more complicated than those morphologically and there's a lot of knowledge about
medicinal plants, about people's spirituality. There's a whole cosmology. So I will always be
learning this language

SARAH DINGLE: In 2005 a federal government survey found, of more than 250 known Australian
Indigenous languages, only 18 were still strongly in use.

It found more than 100 endangered languages weren't being passed on by elders to children who were
learning English or Kriol, which is a mixture of tongues.

At the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education, Esther Burrenjuck and Dr Lys Ford
teach Batjamalh to a small group of students in an attempt to save the language.

One student is Wadjiginy woman Agatha Morgan whose family was moved into a large camp along with
other tribes when she was young.

AGATHA MORGON: As a child, my family were moved from Belyuen, Elizabeth to the Daly River. That's
where we grew up and I lost my language and when I came back to Darwin and heard about this
Batjamalh course, I and my other sister enrolled in the course so we could be able to learn and
speak our language again.

SARAH DINGLE: On Friday Agatha Morgan and her two classmates presented their final assignments,
Batjamalh books which they'll use to teach others.

They still haven't completed two units of study but there's no more scheduled workshops.

Agatha Morgan says there should be more support for saving the language.

AGATHA MORGON: I think government has a lot of responsibility because of what they've done, you
know, by moving other groups to another country, you just lose your language. That's what happened
to me and my family.

SARAH DINGLE: The NT Government says it gives the Batchelor Institute $10-million a year but
decisions on individual courses will be made by the Institute.

Since the ABC visited, Dr Lys Ford says the co-ordinator of the course has decided the existing
students should finish their last two units of study.

But Dr Ford says she's been told there will be no new students enrolled in the current Batjamalh
course.

LYS FORD: The languages of Darwin Daly area are like the languages of the eastern seaboard 100
years ago and that was their swan song if you like. After that, you know, in the past 100 years,
forget it. It's just been English.

ELEANOR HALL: Linguist Lys Ford ending that report from Sarah Dingle.