Australia suffers from the highest rate of language extinction in the world. Once home to more than 200 languages spoken by the indigenous inhabitants of the continent, now only about 20 are spoken on a daily basis.
The suppression of indigenous languages was an intrinsic part of the often violent methods employed by the British against the Aboriginals when conquering the continent. The resulting extreme marginalisation of the Aboriginal people can still be seen in modern Australia, where Aboriginals were neither allowed to vote in elections nor to settle freely until the 1960s. Even today, various government policies target Aboriginal communities but do not apply to other Australians.
Now the few remaining indigenous languages are in danger of dying out in the coming years. The struggle to preserve them often rests with a few dedicated individuals striving to not only re-learn the language of their ancestors, but to also teach it to others.
Michael Jarrett, who teaches the Gumbaynggirr language spoken on the coast of New South Wales, says: “When I was growing up, the Aboriginal people were forbidden to speak their language. So I didn’t get to hear fluent speakers talking together. But the land is starting to hear the native tongue again. The Gumbaynggirr language belongs in Gumbaynggirr territory. It hasn’t heard the language for many, many years.”
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