The lost Kalkutungu language has been resurrected for Naidoc Week in a historic language revival project in Mount Isa.
This year’s Naidoc theme ‘Our language matters’ inspired Sheree Blackley of Kalkadoon Native Title Aboriginal Corporation and Sundowners Kalkutungu Dancers to re-introduce the ancient language to its people.
Children and adults gathered in the Civic Centre foyer on Thursday morning to learn some basic sounds and words.
Sheree taught a simple greeting and talked about different sounds such as the nasal ‘ng’ sound and the rolling ‘rrr’.
“A good way to practise it is to make the trilling sound like a car – rrrrrr”, Sheree said.
A dance from Sundowners members taught us names for emu ‘wakarri’, fish ‘utingat’, and ‘matjumpa’ for kangaroo.
Kalkutungu is one of more than 100 now extinct Aboriginal languages, but Sheree has hope for a resurgence.
“We have been slowly losing our language over the last 150 years, since Europeans, government policies, and mistreatment of our people.”
“Our language is almost extinct, however we are set to change this. When there’s less than 15 people who speak a language they class it as extinct, and ours is very close to that.
“With this language revival initiative, we hope to have Kalkutungu spoken fluently in our community once again,” Sheree said.
The goal of the project is to have everyone involved to be speaking fluent Kalkutungu in three years.
“A lot of our elders who spoke the language have sadly passed away, but we’re doing the best we can.”
There were estimated to have been more than 250 languages and dialects in native Australia, but linguist Be Keillor says it is more likely around 380 languages.
Be has been helping Sheree with the project, outlining lesson plans starting with basic sounds, words and phrases.
“In the 60s and 70s a couple of linguists, Barry Blake and Gavin Green, came out here and recorded a lot of the languages, and they’ve put that data into a grammar guide.”
Barry Blake’s grammar guide is fairly technical with a lot of linguistic jargon, so Be is putting the data into user-friendly resources.”I take that data and put it into a format that’s easy for everyone to learn the language; lesson plans, flash cards, games and music,” Be said.
The Kalkutungu Language Project is open to any Indigenous people in the North West, with lessons starting on August 1 at 6.30pm at the Kalkadoon office, 109 Barkly Highway.