Language and Culture

Turning language decline around is central to the vision of our people: every Indigenous child must be fully literate and educated in their ancestral language and culture.

 


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Cape York Peninsula is widely recognised as a linguistic treasury. Our many languages are keys to some of the oldest continuous living traditions on the planet. Our languages are now, however, fragile and immediately threatened. Language and culture need support to flourish within and outside of our schools.

We aspire for:

  • All Indigenous children to grow up speaking and writing an ancestral language, as well as English.
  • All Indigenous children to have strong connections with their ancestral lands.
  • All Aboriginal Australians to be successfully bicultural and fully bilingual, with the capabilities to walk with confidence in two worlds.
  • All Australians to take pride in the ancestral languages and cultures of Australia, and share responsibility for supporting, promoting and transmitting Aboriginal Australian languages as the irreplaceable core of a shared national heritage.

Language and Culture under Cape York Welfare Reform

Under Cape York Welfare Reform we have partnered with the Cape York Academy schools in Aurukun, Coen and Hope Vale. The most advanced project is the Guugu Yimidhirr Language Revitalisation Project at Hope Vale.

The Guugu Yimidhirr project developed as a school-based language revival initiative. It is the first attempt to teach an Indigenous language using the Direct Instruction pedagogy. It is the first fragile language to be taught using this rigorous approach, which is uniquely suitable to situations of linguistic uncertainty because lessons are scripted, thoroughly supported and immersive. Lessons are taught by a local Guugu Yimidhirr teacher. A short film about the Guugu Yimidhirr project can be seen below.

Children who arrive at the school in Hope Vale generally do not speak or write Guugu Yimidhirr. Guugu Yimidhirr is semi-recorded. There is an enormous amount of information and oral stories that have not been written down. Many of the best speakers are now elderly.

Hope Vale Elder, Lillian Bowen, conducts Guugu Yimidhirr classes at the local Hope Vale Cape York Academy school.

If Guugu Yimidhirr is not supported now, it may well become a dead, half-known language. On the other hand, if it is supported now and children start to speak, it could become a full living language of Australia, because there is still enough information remembered by the best speakers to salvage the living spoken language with all its semantic details.

Parents remark with pride that their children are now speaking much more fluent Guugu Yimidhirr than they themselves are capable of. Parents are now asking for evening classes for themselves so that they can support their children’s language studies at home, and a Guugu Yimidhirr community choir is being established.

The building enthusiasm and confidence sparked by the success of the school language program, gives strength to the Guugu Yimidhirr people to save their language.