Independent News For The Australian Public Service
Edition Number 400. Updated Tuesday, 11 March 2014

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Indigenous languages continue to fade

The findings from a survey of Indigenous languages in Australia has revealed a continuing trend towards language loss across the country.

Conducted by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), the survey found that there were about 120 Indigenous languages still spoken today - a drop from 145 in 2005, according to Chairman of AIATSIS, Professor Mick Dodson.

He said the survey painted a complex picture of the current state of health of Indigenous languages in Australia.

"Languages such as Wiradjuri from central western New South Wales are being revived and are now taught to children in local schools," he said.

"This positive outcome clearly indicates the need for Federal, State and Territory Governments to allocate funding for the development and delivery of programs to train language workers, interpreters and teachers."

Funded by the Ministry for the Arts, Attorney-General's Department through the Indigenous Languages Support program, it is the second AIATSIS study of languages.

Survey finds link to health, wellbeing

Respondents to the survey held an almost unanimous view that connecting with and learning about language had a powerfully beneficial effect on people's wellbeing, Professor Dodson said.

The Director of Research in Indigenous Social and Cultural Wellbeing at AIATSIS, Dr Jakelin Troy, said there was a growing recognition of the value of Indigenous languages not only for communication, but also to strengthen identity and self-esteem.

"Languages are central to our identity, and remaining connected with them is critical to our well-being.

"Our recommendation is that further research into the connection between language and well-being is absolutely necessary," Dr Troy said.

"The report strongly suggests our languages be recognised in the Australian Constitution as the first languages of Australia and promoted as a fundamental part of the unique heritage of our country."

Governments and language advocacy groups should promote the importance of using Indigenous languages at home - especially with children, she said.

"Survey respondents want their languages taught in schools because it is clear that this helps students succeed - they were united in saying they want their languages to be strong well into the future."

The National Indigenous Languages Survey 2 is available at this PS News link.

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