Reclaiming their language

RECLAIMING THEIR LANGUAGE: Emma Richards, Vera Richards, Lindsey McLean and Jenna Richards at the fresh water spring, Kallinyalla, that the Barngarla people showed the white settlers.
RECLAIMING THEIR LANGUAGE: Emma Richards, Vera Richards, Lindsey McLean and Jenna Richards at the fresh water spring, Kallinyalla, that the Barngarla people showed the white settlers.

A LANGUAGE revival project to reclaim the Barngarla Aboriginal language on Eyre Peninsula will continue after funding was secured for workshops for the next three years.

Descendants of the Port Lincoln Barngarla people were overwhelmed with excitement at the announcement of the funding from the Office for the Arts.

Barngarla women Emma, Jenna and Vera Richards said it was quite a significant event for the Port Lincoln Barngarla people as they had tried many times to apply for funding and support without success.

"These workshops will allow us to learn more about our language, heritage and culture, to develop educational tools and resources, as well as to empower the next generation to positively support social and emotional well being through the embracing of our identity and the ability to speak our native tongue," Emma Richards said.

Local Barngarla people celebrated the announcement at a dinner in Port Lincoln with linguistics professor Ghil'ad Zuckermann to discuss future workshops and other ideas that could be implemented with the funding.

Professor Zuckermann, who is helping guide the project to "awaken" the language, said the three-year funding commitment was "ground breaking" and he hoped it would lead to future funding direct to the Barngarla people without the university acting as a facilitator.

"After these three years I hope the Barngarla people will establish their own language centre.

"Indigenous people themselves should be the professors of linguistics, they should be the experts."

Professor Zuckermann has been working with Barngarla people in Port Lincoln, Whyalla and Port Augusta to help them reclaim their language, which has not been spoken in about 50 years.

So far there have been two language reclamation workshops in each of the Barngarla communities, and representatives from each community joined the first Barngarla language research forum delegation to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in Canberra earlier this year.

While in Canberra they met Dr Luise Hercus, who made some Barngarla recordings in the 1960s, and Australian National University professor Jane Simpson, who held the first Barngarla language workshops in Whyalla in the 1990s.

Delegation member Vera Richards said it was a rewarding and uplifting experience and highlighted that it had been a long 20 years since the first workshop due to a lack of funding in that time.

The local Barngarla people believe reviving their language will empower them.

"We are grateful that we have survived the impacts of colonisation and our people are still here today over 200 years later fighting for their birth right to be recognised and to speak their language with pride and honour."

The revival of the Barngarla language is only possible thanks to the work of German Luthern missionary Clamor Wilhelm Schurmann from the Dresden Mission Society who came to Port Lincoln in the 1840s to help and work with the Barngarla people in an attempt to end the wars between them and the first Eyre Peninsula settlers.

He established a native Barngarla school and in 1844 published a dictionary of the Barngarla language.

The role of missionaries like Mr Schurmann in recording aboriginal languages, culture and customs was celebrated at a language conference in Adelaide last week.

Australex Adelaide: Endangered Words and Signs of Revival celebrated, among other things, 175 years of Lutheran missionaries' Aboriginal lexicography.

"By and large I'm against religious missionaries, I don't think Aboriginal spirituality is inferior to Christian spirituality, but this is one of the happiest by-products of missionary activity," professor Zuckerman said.

Director of the Leipzig Mission (formerly the Dresden Mission Society) Reverend Volker Dally visited Barngarla people in Whyalla and Port Augusta ahead of last week's conference, to reconnect with the communities the missionaries failed to missionarise and redefine the missionaries' roles.

"They were considered by the Dresden Mission Society as failures because they did not manage to Lutheranise these people," professor Zuckermann said.

However it is because of them the Barngarla and other languages such as Kaurna can be reclaimed.