Awaking the “Sleeping Beauties”: Australia’s Aboriginal Languages

In this Radio Australia interview from last April, three language experts discuss the importance of preserving aboriginal languages in Australia.  Featured in the program are community linguist Vaso Elefsiniotis, Dr Simon Musgrave from the School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics at Monash University and the Chair of Endangered Languages from the University of Adelaide, Professor Ghil’ad Zuckermann.

An excerpt from this interview features Professor Zuckermann referring to the plight of one’s native language as the loss of a natural right.  He stresses how language is comparable in importance to a community’s possession of land.  The necessity to keep languages alive is part of maintaining one’s identity, as well as his sense of relation to his community’s cultural legacy.  He states:

“I believe that languages, aboriginal languages should become official languages of Australia. These are language rights.  I mean, we had 250 languages at least, out of which only 15 to 20 are alive and kicking.”  The languages no longer spoken he describes as “sleeping beauties” who through renascent everyday use can be revitalized.

Professor Zuckermann continues with a quote from the late children’s writer Russell Hoban, who said that “‘language is an archeological vehicle, full of the remnants of dead and living pasts, lost and buried civilizations and technologies.”




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