Struggle of keeping a dying indigenous language alive

Struggle of keeping a dying indigenous language alive

European settlement on the Australian continent resulted in the eradication of major indigenous languages from the region. Spoken in the Western part of Australia, Miriwoong is one of the rapid diminishing languages. According to reports, only a handful of people are able to converse fluently. This has led to the urgency of saving more than 100 ancient languages of the continent.

One of such efforts, in order to save the dying language of Miriwoong, is to educate children in the ancient tongue. Hundreds of children in the town of Kununurra are learning Miriwoong. Moreover, Miriwoong radio shows are also helping to highlight the existence of the language.  This has been the main native language in the town since the past tens of thousands of years.

According to reports, the invasion of European colonists resulted in the eradication of several native languages like Miriwoong, leaving only a handful of the population fluent in the language. The shrinking community of Miriwoong speakers is holding strong ground to keep the language alive. “I’m speaking it properly. Properly like our ancestors.” “We’re holding on to our Miriwoong language,” Says some of the Miriwoong speakers.

It is difficult for any indigenous language to survive in modern Australia. “Wherever you have a language that is very dominant, smaller languages will struggle,” says Knut Olawsky from Mirimal Language Centre. Experts suggest, that although efforts are been made to keep the Miriwonng language from dying out, ultimately it will depend on the younger generations whose efforts and frequency will help the language survive.

Moreover, the native speakers reveal since the language is so old, it has no equivalent words for modern inventions. For instance, the Miriwonng speakers named a car ‘goorroorij’ when it first came to their village. The name was derived from the sound the car made.

It is also believed that indigenous people who learn their ancestral language are more likely to be successful, this means that they will do well in jobs and at school and are less likely to struggle with substance abuse and commit crimes. This comes from the fact, that language is equivalent to identity and learning the ancestral language will hence build a strong sense of belonging among the children.