The University of Melbourne is putting Indigenous languages on the map.
The 50 Words Project aims to provide basic words in every Indigenous language from across Australia.
In the space of a year, the team at the Research Unit for Indigenous Language at the University of Melbourne has added 57 languages to the interactive map.
Sourced from Indigenous Australians, all words, audio and video recordings have been provided with permission — including Ngalia spoken by Kado Muir and Ngaanyatjarra spoken by Lizzie Ellis.
University of Melbourne linguistics professor and director of the Research Unit for Indigenous Languages Rachel Nordlinger said it was time local languages were embraced.
Ngalia words to learn
- Wutayi: welcome
- Yuwa palunya: hello
- Ngula nyaku: goodbye
- Wiya: no
- Yuwa: yes
- Yini ngananya: what is your name
“One thing which is really important I think is for non-Indigenous Australians to gain some appreciation for Indigenous languages,” she said.
“Not only how interesting they are, how diverse they are and how different they are, but also the fact they are still real languages being used and spoken by people in communities in Australia now.
“For us, it was really important to have the audio on the map so you can hear a community member and I think that helps to remind us all that these are real living languages not languages from the past.”
Tjaa wangkaku palyara online-ngka ma tjungku wantiku (Speaking and placing our language online). Nintiku kulinma piniku (For everyone to listen and learn)
“Sometimes non-Indigenous Australians don’t always get the awareness that we think they should.”
The disconnect from first nations language is not just felt by non-Indigenous Australians, according to the professor.
She said feedback has flooded in as to how the resource had strengthened a connection to culture for those who grew up off-country.
“For some people they’ve never had an opportunity to have learned anything in their language and now they can,” she said.
“It’s only 50 words but it’s a start and for a lot of people that gives them a very special connection to their culture.”
Beyond the novelty of knowing a few words in a native dialect, the project hopes to help raise a generation in which local languages are normalised.
But shifting the burden of this responsibility away from Aboriginal Australians is a key focus of the project.
“I think there is a lot of willingness out there in the Australian community to try to learn more about their local Indigenous languages and cultures,” she said.
Ngaanyatjarra words to learn
- Pukurlpa pitjama: welcome
- Yuwa: hello
- Palunya: goodbye
- Yarrala: let’s go
- Kurli: hot weather
- Yilkari: sky
“But it can be really taxing on the local Indigenous communities sometimes.
“You think of a place like Melbourne where there are thousands of schools and only a small number of Indigenous community members who might be in a position to teach some language and it’s just not possible for that small number of people to make a difference across all those schools.
“This resource makes some of this information available to teachers and classrooms without them having to actually put the burden on the local community members all the time. We want them to be able to control what information gets out there but in a way which does not burden them.”
The project is sourced through First Languages Australia, the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, local language centres and community connections. Indigenous speakers can email RUILfirstname.lastname@example.org to have their language included.
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