Where can I study an Australian Indigenous language?
Can I study an Indigenous Australian language?
Yes, you can! One of the most important aims of ULPA is to increase the visibility and availability of Indigenous Australian languages to all Australians. If you are keen to study an Indigenous language, talk to your university about how it can be incorporated into your degree. In addition to specific Indigenous languages or language groups on offer, some universities also offer general units to introduce students to a variety of Indigenous languages.
How many Indigenous languages are there in Australia?
There were around 300 distinct Indigenous languages spoken around Australia at the time of the first European contact. You can find them on the map here. The number of languages still actively spoken by children is fewer than 20, and these languages are mostly in remote parts of Australia. They are used for everyday talk in a number of small communities. In recent years many people have begun to re-learn their families’ languages. These languages are very important to their users as languages which connect them with their heritage.
What can I study?
There are currently only five* Indigenous languages taught at Australian universities (*an additional two, Arrernte and Bininj Kunwok, have also been offered up until recently) . Two of them are languages still in use by large numbers of speakers: Pitjantjatjara and Yolŋu Matha (Arrernte and Bininj Kunwok also fall into this category). Three of them are languages which are being revitalised: Gamilaraay, Kaurna and Wiradjuri.
Arrernte is a language spoken by several thousand people, including children, in a large area of Central Australia including Alice Springs. The name used to be spelled ‘Aranda’, but since speakers adopted a logical and unusual spelling system, it is now spelled ‘Arrernte’. Arrernte is closely related to neighbouring languages such as Alyawarr and Anmatyerr. Note: Arrernte is not currently available but was up until recently taught online via Batchelor Institute, with a compulsory one-week intensive on-campus requirement.
Bininj (‘people’) Kunwok (‘language’) is a name used for a chain of six mutually-intelligible dialects which stretch from Kakadu National Park across West Arnhem Land in the Top End of the Northern Territory. Kunwinjku is the most widely-used variety of Bininj Kunwok, and is mostly spoken around the town of Gunbalanya, while other varieties (Kuninjku, Kundjeyhmi, Kundedjnjenghmi, Kune and Mayali) are spoken across the region. Note: Bininj Kunwok (Kunwinjku) is not currently available, but has previously been taught through Charles Darwin University - it is hoped it may be offered again at some point in the future (see here for additional general information.)
Gamilaraay is the heritage language of many people living in northern NSW. There is a very active revitalisation effort, which has resulted in Gamilaraay being taught in schools and universities. Courses in Gamilaraay are offered at The University of Sydney. It is also offered at the Australian National University in semesters and in summer and winter school, and also cross-institutionally via video conferencing. View all available Gamilaraay subjects here.
Kaurna is the heritage language of the Adelaide Plains. For more than 20 years Kaurna people have been rebuilding the language, and bringing the language back into prominence through signs, public performances, welcomes and many types of language class. This very active revitalisation effort has resulted in Kaurna being taught in schools and universities. It can be studied at The University of Adelaide, and is currently offered as an intensive summer school. View all available Kaurna subjects here.
Pitjantjatjara is a language spoken by several thousand people, including children, in northern South Australia and Central Australia. Pitjantjatjara is closely related to neighbouring languages such as Pintupi, Wangkatja, Ngaanyatjarra and Yankunytjatjara. It was the first Indigenous language to be taught in a university in Australia, and continues to be taught at university, as well as primary and high schools. Pitjantjatjara is offered by the University of South Australia as an intensive summer school. View all available Pitjantjatjara subjects here.
Wiradjuri is the heritage language of many people living in western NSW. There is a very active revitalisation effort, which has resulted in Wiradjuri being taught in schools and community groups. Courses in Wiradjuri are offered at Charles Sturt University as a Graduate Certificate in Wiradjuri Language, Culture and Heritage. The introductory Wiradjuri language subject is taught online with a compulsory 10-day residential school. View all available Wiradjuri subjects here.
Yolŋu Matha means 'people language'. It is the name given to a group of communication languages spoken by several thousand Yolŋu people of northeast Arnhem Land in northern Australia. Some of the best known languages are Gupapuyŋu, Djapu and Djambarrpuyŋu. Yolŋu Matha can be studied at Charles Darwin University and is available online and as a major. View all available Yolŋu Matha subjects here.
How can I study these languages?
Some languages can be studied as electives, or as majors. If no Indigenous language is offered at your university, ask your program convenor if you can study it at another university and count it towards your degree (click here for more information on cross-institutional study.)
The Bachelor of Indigenous Languages and Linguistics is a degree devoted to Indigenous languages and study relevant to them. It is offered by between Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education through the Australian Centre for Indigenous Knowledges & Education, which is a partnership with Charles Darwin University.
Will I become fluent?
Fluency largely depends on whether you are learning a language which is still spoken today or a language which is being revitalised. The more speakers there are, the more you can listen to and interact with them, and the more fluent you will become in that language. With languages with fewer speakers you’ll be working with people who are rebuilding languages, and you’ll learn about how languages can be ‘revitalised’. The fluency you achieve will depend in part on the success of the revitalisation effort. This naturally means that the content and learning outcomes of Indigenous languages subjects varies.