Indigenous languages


While old Indigenous languages disappear, new ones evolve – By Felicity Meakins

Here’s a great little story about the importance of preserving Indigenous Languages published in The Spoke- Australia’s Early Childhood Blog



By now we know that traditional Indigenous languages are losing speakers rapidly and tragically. Of the 250 languages once spoken in Australia, only 40 remain and just 18 of these are still learnt by children. But if children in remote Indigenous communities aren’t still learning traditional languages, then what are they learning? It is generally assumed they are shifting to English, but this is not the case.

In many areas of northern and central Australia, language loss has been accompanied by language genesis. Indigenous youth are creating new languages which combine the sounds, words and grammar from traditional languages and Indigenous English varieties. The younger generations who create these languages claim them as in-group languages which express both their traditional heritage and modern lives.

The most widespread of these new languages is a creole language, also called Kriol (confusingly), now spoken by at least 20,000 Indigenous people across northern Australia, from Cape York to Broome. Astonishingly most non-Indigenous Australians have never even heard of it.

What is “Kriol”?

Kriol is the result of successive generations of Indigenous language speakers learning English as a second language. It combines words from English with the semantics and sounds from Indigenous languages. The grammar of Kriol is a compromise between English and Indigenous languages. Often words from local Indigenous languages are also used to give Kriol a regional flavour.

Misunderstandings between English and Kriol speakers abound. If a Kriol speaker asks you for a “kopi”, you might not know whether they mean a “coffee” or “copy of something” because Kriol doesn’t differentiate “f” and “p”. The consequences of misunderstandings can be severe. For example, the Kriol verb “kilim” is derived from “kill him”, but in Kriol, it means “hit”.

Most recently, linguists have begun to observe the emergence of new languages which have more content from traditional Indigenous languages. These are called “mixed languages”. The best understood are Gurindji Kriol and Light Warlpiri, both spoken in the Northern Territory. These languages contain words and grammar from Gurindji or Warlpiri, and Kriol.

At first glance, mixed languages like Gurindji Kriol seem like a cacaphony of competing elements from Gurindji and Kriol. But Gurindji Kriol is far from being a random mix. If you ask 20 Gurindji 30-year-olds to describe something, they will give you the same combination of Gurindji and Kriol words and grammar.

Gurindji Kriol is the product of splicing and re-fusing the lexicons and grammars of Gurindji and Kriol. The result is a unique linguistic system which bears some resemblance to Gurindji and Kriol but is quite unlike its parent languages.

Languages like Gurindji Kriol and Light Warlpiri are incredibly rare. Elsewhere in the world, this highly complex level of mixing has been been observed only in Canada with Michif, a French-Cree mixed language, and in Russia with Mednyj Aleut, a Russian-Aleut mixed language.  READ FULL ARTICLE…

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