108 Australian indigenous languages in danger

According to UNESCO, 2500 of the world’s 6700 languages are in danger:

A language is endangered when its speakers cease to use it, use it in fewer and fewer domains, use fewer of its registers and speaking styles, and/or stop passing it on to the next generation.
Safeguarding endangered languages

Thanks to Simon Maghakyan, an Armemian blogger at Global Voices for alerting us to this: Worldwide: 2,500 Languages Disappearing.

In Australia 108 indigenous languages are in danger. The UNESCO Google Map page can be activated by clicking below.

How many have you ever heard, Australia, Ten Canoes and Yolngu Boy included?

Global Voices does what it can to promote languages through its Lingua project that translates posts into as many as 20 languages. You can donate to keep their work alive by clicking here.


50 Responses

  1. Without going into the map in any great detail, I note that an arrow is pointed at the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Lands. For a language to be classified as endangered there needs to be less that 2000 speakers. Pitjantjatjara has more than this. I think there are only 20 Indigenous languages in Australia that have more than 1000 speakers, and only 6 that have 2000 or more.

    By speakers, I mean those that use that language as their first language.

    Some schools in Aboriginal communities have now introduced local Indigenous language programs. (I was disappointed that Mick Dodson didn’t encourage this in his recent speach).

    In SA there are programs that are trying to regenerate the use of local languages, such as Karna (pronounced Garna) in Adelaide, and Adnyamathana (pro Adnamatanna) near Port Augusta.

    The Karna program exciting yet ambitious, as nobody has used that language as their first language since the 1940s.

    I learned to speak Pitjantjatjara (pro Pitantjara or Bitantjara) some years ago and it has been valuable in gaining an insight into the Pitjantjatjara culture. It also taught me not what to say during communication, as cross cultural communication can be demanding if one is not accustomed to the cultural obligations that need to be exercised.


  2. Wouldn’t it help the world if we all spoke one language?

    Any, one, language?

  3. Just to add a little…

    Incorporation of Aboriginal history and culture as a compulsory part of the curriculum rather than the current ad hoc approach. For example, it’s seems to me a sad situation that most Australians can name a dozen native American tribes yet many Australians would be hard pushed to name even one single native Australian tribe.

    If we can teach Indonesian, Japanese, French, German why can’t all Australian children be taught at least some Aboriginal phrases just the same as primary school children are taught Indonesian phrases. This is giving due regard to the fact that Aboriginal languages on the Australian continent are as diverse as European languages on the European continent..and so regional differences need to be addressed from a teaching point of view. Note for Miglo: I believe that this is so, but I stand corrected if not.

  4. Very true TB about one language such as English..but then you’d have some Yorkshireman come in an’ muk the ‘ol thing oop. And as for the Kiwis..to eldest’s friend we are Jiff and Kiril.

  5. You’re spot on Min.

    Although there is diversity, many of the languages have picked up words from different language groups, much the same as English has done.

    This ‘interaction’ of languages was a result of trade between groups. Norman Tindale identified early last century that there was more intermingling of languages along trade routes, which makes sense.

    It was also of benefit to learn the language of neighbouring groups, as it is obligatory that you first ask permission to enter their lands. On poor fellow in the NT wanted to travel to Darwin, and to do so he had to know the basics of seven different languages in order to seek permission to pass through their land.

    No doubt, in this case, the bloke would like TB’s suggestion of one universal language. I say universal because it would be good if all aliens spoke English, as they do in Hollywood movies.

  6. Now, Min, let’s not confuse language with dialect…

    I do believe all the Aboriginal languages should be preserved as part of our heritage…but kids have so many other “bits” of things they are taught that they end up not knowing much at all. (ie Jack of all trades…)

    I too believe our history should reflect the influence Aboriginal society has had on our home.


    Slightly off topic, it occurred to me when listening to news coverage and “debates” about the difficulty of burn off in Victoria (and other parts of Australia) how suited to this role Aboriginals would be – eg engage Aboriginal people as “keepers of the land” – that’s obviously what they are good at…

    Set up a Fire Management Burn-off Department…

    Port Moresby used to be covered in dense smoke every year when the Nationals burnt off…

    BTW PNG has over 700 languages (not dialects)

  7. If we only had one language, it would be US English and we’d all be speaking like this:


    A legitmut and leegal as a beegle sorta like word riginate’n frum most enny parts wher NASCAReze is spake mostleh.
    Et’s a na-tur-rul pergression fallern the likes a too fallah, Bring-meh, Brang-meh un Brung-meh!!!

    Wey…. that Little Ole’ Heifer Sweat Brang-meh seow muuch Guud Feahlin whilst she wuzza melkn theam thar chick’n.
    Bouy Hawddy Bob!!!

  8. Min picking Miglo’s brain (but gently I hope). And so would you consider Australian native languages similar to England or to Europe?

    That Aboriginal languages are variations on a theme such as England (the exceptions of course being Welsh and Cornish). That is, the difference is accent with some regional idiocycracies.

    OR French, Italian – all from the same root language which evolved into different languages.

    OR French, Russian, Chinese – completely different languages with few similarities. That is, evolved separately.

  9. “Firestick farming” is a good idea TB and it has been proposed in Victoria the recent past. It was opposed because the area in question contained some rare bird species and it was thought that firestick farming would destroy them.

    The same area was destroyed by a bush fire not long after, claiming human lives, houses, untold numbers of wildlife and I suspect, those rare birds.

  10. Min,

    You may pick my brain as much as you want.

    Some Indigenous language are spoken with different adjective and noun relationships than we do in Ennglish. (More like French, where the noun will precede the adjective). For example, I’m 6 ft tall so in English we would say big man. In Pitjantjatjara we say “wati pulka” meaning man big.

    And here’s something interesting: An Aboriginal man was found guilty of the rape and murder of a young girl in Ceduna around 1960. Apparently he had admitted to the crime. The question put to him was “You didn’t kill the little girl did you?”, to which he responded “Yes”. The court’s interpretation was that this was an admission of guilt.

    He was released about ten years ago after a study of his native Maralinga language. His response of “Yes” was in agreement of the statement. “Yes, you are correct, I didn’t kill the girl.” In English we respond to the claim rather than the order of the words.

  11. “Firestick farming” like the term, Migs!

    I reckon it would help in integration too.


    Cath yer all later……

    ho ho hi ho to hospital we go

  12. I agree TB. However, I think that Australian children should be taught the basics of their heritage and this includes the culture of the original inhabitants.

    I am also a great believer in children being taught one other language. From my experience, learning another language helps with grammer, sentence structure etc of English.

    Just an aside: having been a family historian for a number of years, very many ‘mistakes’ on BDM certs are due to one person having a great deal of difficulty understanding what the other was saying. For example, the Registrar was from Cornwall and the applicant was from Sussex. Was thinking that had not the 20th Century occurred that English could indeed have evolved from dialect into separate languages.

  13. Kittylitter – A common, contemporary language for all Australians is a great idea.

    We can look forward to this as an example of a conversation between 2 young Australians–

    Youth A – “Didyez brung yer oipod?”
    Youth B – “Oida brang it, budeye dinnent but!”

  14. Surely you mean Yoof A and Yoof B

  15. Miglo, without being too much of a sticky beak, how many non Aboriginal speakers of Pitjantjatjara are there?

  16. Tom,

    I’ve watched some Crow’s games at AAMI stdium and I reckon that their supporters only know one word: Boooooooh. They even sing it in unisen. They are well trained. Goes to show that we can teach monkeys to speak after all.

  17. I reckon we need a weekly sports thread for all matters sporting… whadyareckon?

  18. Min, not many, but in northern SA (from Port Augusta upwards) many white people use some Pitjantjara words, such as “palya’ for good, “kungka” for woman, “uwa” for yes, and “wiya” for no.

    One word that will never make it into our language is “tjiturutjituru”, which means sad, and is a bit of a tongue twister.

  19. Tom…LOL!!

    Obviously that’s a conversation between two teenage boys, if it were girls, I imagine it would be more like:

    Youth A – “Didyez brung yer oipod?”

    Youth B – “Aw like, I wuz so gunna brang it, but y’know my mum, right. Well, like y’know, she’s so d’uh, and then makes me, and ah thut nap, why, like y’know that’s just like so gay, n stuff, as if! So I says, y’know like no way, an then she expects me, to, y’know, like whateva, an I says ‘outtahere,’ so then, am jist so over it, n stuff, y’know, so nup, I dinnent brang it.

  20. Good idea joni.

  21. I reckon we need a weekly sports thread for all matters sporting… whadyareckon?


  22. “which means sad”

    Bloody hell. What do they say when they’re severly f**ked off?

  23. Reb..what about a sport’s-free thread?

  24. Actually I was just kidding. A dedicated sports thread would be good for those that are interested..

  25. “A dedicated sports thread would be good for those that are interested..”

    I’m not into blood sports persay…tho I am a big fan of ice hockey. It’s a gentler sport…:)

    “In Australia 108 indigenous languages are in danger. The UNESCO Google Map page can be activated by clicking below.”

    My mate’s partner brought us up a brilliant Aboriginal language map. I think S’ took it to school.

    I’d like to see classes like we had in middle school in Canada during the 70s where the skilled indigenous come to manual arts/woodwork etc. & demonstrate how to make products w/ the designs of native animals, vegetation etc. They could do Dreamtime storytelling and use words from various languages to name the animals, vegetation and such.

    It would be a shame to lose these unique languages.


  26. Maybe for most Australians the topic might be considered an important one if Encino Man jumped out of an iceblock and started relating stories.

    N’ if Australia could aspire to the same standard as Canada in the ’70’s then we’ll be doing well.

  27. nasking – at the risk of starting a fight (as per hockey) – who do you support? I am a very sad Leafs supporter.

  28. Nasking, if that’s the map I’m thinking off it is the one that Normal Tindale made. However, there is a printing error that thouroughyly annoys me. They used Andymathana instead of Adnyamathana.

    PS – I’m enjoying this thread. It gives me a chance to contribute on one of the very few topics that I half know what I’m talking about.

  29. My God, just re-read my post where I was critical of a printing error. My own comments are riddled with spelling mistakes.

    I might have to take a course in English.

    We ducks speak pidgeon English.

  30. And Miglo – religion-wise, are you Quaker?

  31. Miglo..we forgive you because you are a cute little duckling.

  32. Reb, you reckon sad was bad. How about a small sad child: tjitji tjukutjuku tjiturutjituru (child – small – sad).

    Let us hope, that if TB gets his way and there is one universal language, that it is not Pitjantjatjara.

  33. Miglo – that is most excellent!

    (joni thinks to himself – these blogocrats have amazing skills)

  34. Joni, I’m a Calathumpian.

  35. “if Australia could aspire to the same standard as Canada in the ’70’s then we’ll be doing well.”

    I was impressed by their public school system back then. Not sure if it stands up now going by feedback from my brother. Be interesting to hear from some Aussie teachers who visited there.

    “at the risk of starting a fight (as per hockey) – who do you support? I am a very sad Leafs supporter.”

    He he…I can imagine. I think they’re tied at 0 after the first period against the Rangers. And their win to loss ratio sucks this year.

    I remember the great Maple Leaf defenceman Borje Salming, came from Sweden in the 70s. Saw some great games at Maple Leaf Gardens. But usually was rooting against Toronto to the annoyance of my buds.

    I’m a diehard Chicago Black Hawks fan…started rooting for them during the days of Bobby & Dennis Hull, Stan Mikita, Pat Stapleton & Tony Esposito. If it weren’t for those dratted Montreal Canadiens & that breakup of the hockey league into NHL & WHA we woulda taken a few more Stanley Cups I reckon. Doing pretty well this year…2nd place behind the Red Wings…but I haven’t watched as much as I’d like to.

    You get some good games on PayTV here lately.


  36. How in heaven’s name did you manage to learn this Miglo! I spent 6 years learning French.

    Me thinks that this is one language that you can’t read out of a book, but that you have to hear it spoken. A bit like Welsh..my Granny whose father was from Pontnewynnyd Monmouthshire spoke a little, not much as the language had been banned by the English.

  37. PS – The Pitjantjara word for duck is “duka duka”, obviously taken from the English word.

  38. “if that’s the map I’m thinking off it is the one that Normal Tindale made.”

    Miglo, I found it in the back room…S’ musta brought it home last hols…it is from 2000 & reads “Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies: Aboriginal Australia, compiled by David Horton”.

    Also found the poster I made from the various American Music Club CD covers. It’s so cool.

  39. Correct Min, this is one language that you have to learn from a speaker. You can learn the words, but you have to know how to string them together and the different ways of pronouncing a letter in a word.

  40. Nasking, I think it’s the same map. Horton based it on Tindale’s anthropolgical studies.

    If you’re looking for “Andymathana”, it is north of Adelaide in the Flinders Ranges.

  41. “A bit like Welsh..my Granny whose father was from Pontnewynnyd Monmouthshire spoke a little”

    Min…ever heard badminton players do Welsh hip hop?:

    (Genod Droog “Dal Ni Lawr”)


  42. “They used Andymathana instead of Adnyamathana.”

    You’ll laugh Miglo, they spell it,
    andyamathanha on this map. They’ve added an ‘h’ at the end.


  43. You’re probably wondering how a white fella can talk Pitjantjatjara. Well I’ll let you in on a little secret as the link will show. That’s me speaking to one of those pesty anthropologists.

  44. Nasking, some people use an “h” at the end, while some don’t.

    Some people also say Bitjantjatjara instead of Pitjantjatjara. Either is acceptable.

    But “Andy” is a no-no.

  45. That’s me speaking to one of those pesty anthropologists.

    Very cool, you can get away w/ that kind of attire in a hot country.

    “But “Andy” is a no-no.”

    Yes, I see what you mean…put my close reading glasses on. They used “Andy” instead of “Adny”. Not good.


  46. Love it N’. They’re English how come we can’t understand they’re-a-sayin’.

    About the only thing that I can remember was something that sounded like Shaw may. Which means How are you.

    My family are Jenkins and a cousin is Terry Cobner who I believe played in the rugby for Wales. I don’t know anything about rugby, however another cousin said that he was ‘a god’…or similar.

  47. nasking, on February 23rd, 2009 at 1:47 pm
    Min, on February 23rd, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    They must be practising for their Welsh Male Voice Choir audition…

    This a “nice” version (ie not sung with the usual “gusto”) of Yorkshire’s “county” song…On Ilkley Moor B’at ‘at (On Ilkley Moor Without a Hat)

    …and the words (written in dialect) are here…


    I suspect JMc will know it off by heart, just like me…and he’s probably also been – up ont’ Ilkley Moor – too…near where I lived.

  48. TB Queensland

    Your fire management idea has a precedent. The West Arnhem Land Fire Abatement Agreement. It involves offsets for greenhouse gas emissions by Darwin’s Liquefied Natural Gas plant. One of Australia’s foremost artists and aboriginal elders Lofty Bardayal Nadjamerrek was an instigator. I’m not sure how it’s progressing. Might do some investigating and post back.

  49. Thanks, ren, just reinfrces my thoughts.

    My understanding is that WA has the best fire control of all states and territories…

  50. Although International Mother Language Day is now over, you may be interested in the contribution, made by the World Esperanto Association, to UNESCO’s campaign for the protection of endangered languages.

    The following declaration was made in favour of Esperanto, by UNESCO at its Paris HQ in December 2008. http://portal.unesco.org/culture/en/ev.php-URL_ID=38420&URL_DO=DO_PRINTPAGE&URL_SECTION=201.html

    The commitment to the campaign to save endangered languages was made, by the World Esperanto Association at the United Nations’ Geneva HQ in September.
    http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=eR7vD9kChBA&feature=related or http://www.lernu.net

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