Arabana language revival mission

REVIVAL: Workshop attendees with the recently released bilingual Arabana book ‘Wamparla Apira’, written by speaker Syd Strangways and illustrated by Kathy Arbon.
REVIVAL: Workshop attendees with the recently released bilingual Arabana book ‘Wamparla Apira’, written by speaker Syd Strangways and illustrated by Kathy Arbon.

The Arabana language is one of approximately 43 Aboriginal languages in South Australia, many of which are critically endangered.

There are only a hand full of fluent Arabana speakers remaining and the language is at risk of being completely wiped out.

According to experts, majority of Australia’s Indigenous languages could be completely wiped out by 2050, with the number of traditional languages dropping from 250 to 120 over the last two hundred years.

The Arabana language is traditionally associated with Kati Thanda (Western Lake Eyre region) and many Arabana people today live in Port Augusta, Marree and other regions across Australia.

Revival workshops have been running in Port Augusta over the last couple of years, bringing together some of the last remaining fluent speakers of the language.

Organised by the Mobile Language Team from the University of Adelaide, Project Linguist Eleanor McCall said the sessions provided a valuable opportunity for speakers of Arabana to document their language.

“The workshops were attended by a number of Arabana community members of all ages and language skill levels,” Ms McCall said.

“The outcomes of this documentation work will be published in the form of online language learning lessons for Arabana community to access and learn language from.

“Many Arabana children and teens have reported using smart phones to listen to the recordings of elders speaking in language.”

ATTENDIES: Dennis, Sharlee and Malcome show their work after a language learning activity.

ATTENDIES: Dennis, Sharlee and Malcome show their work after a language learning activity.

According to the 2016 Census, English was the only language spoken at home by 83 per cent of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people in Australia.

During the invasion of European settlers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were not allowed to speak their traditional language. In turn, many dialects became lost.

It has now become a high priority for many communities to document their languages if there are speakers remaining.

Language learning amongst younger people of the community is also being prioritised.

“The revival workshops incorporated language learning activities for adults, teens and children which were guided by the speakers and elders present,” Ms McCall said.

“Activities included playing a game of ‘Simon Says’ using Arabana action words and a drawing task using body part terms.

“The attendees had a great time greeting each other in language over the two days and discussing their language.”

The Arabana online language lessons are published on the Mobile Language Team website.