Group moves to preserve Barngarla language

On Saturday, July 20, University of Adelaide Professor Ghil’ad Zuckermann and Reverend Volker Dally, Director of the Leipzig Lutheran Mission, visited the School of the Air in Port Augusta to speak with members of the local Barngarla and Dieri communities. 

Professor Zuckermann, who is the Chair of Linguistics and Endangered Languages at the University of Adelaide, is leading a revival of the Barngarla language in the local community, supported by the federal Office for the Arts.

The Leipzig Lutheran Mission (formerly known as the Dresden Mission Society) sent missionaries to South Australia from Germany in 1838, with the instruction to learn the languages of the local people and “convert” them to Lutheranism. 

Whilst they failed to convert the local people, the missionaries were highly successful at learning the various Aboriginal languages of the area. 

One of the first missionaries to visit the Port Augusta region was Clamor Wilhelm Schürmann, who wrote the original Barngarla dictionary in 1844. 

Professor Zuckermann is currently preparing a modern version of the dictionary with the assistance of the Barngarla people. 

The visit to the School of the Air was the first time the director of the Leipzig Lutheran Mission had been to the Port Augusta area to meet the Barngarla people, and was labelled a “historic event” by Professor Zuckermann. 

“We celebrated the 175th anniversary of the missionaries coming to South Australia, and we asked the Barngarla people to speak and tell us about their culture and language,” he said.

Maureen Atkinson, a Barngarla woman from the stolen generation, also spoke with Rev Volker Dally about her experiences with missionaries as a child and how it had led her to become a pastor. 

Forty people attended the meeting, making it the biggest gathering so far since Professor Zuckermann started the project in 2011.

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