Indigenous Languages of Queensland Preserved in Picture Dictionaries

Indigenous Languages of Queensland Preserved in Picture Dictionaries
Bernadine Racoma

With a considerable amount of effort and the willingness to accomplish a monumental task, the Desert Channels Queensland (DCQ) finally released the outcome of two years spent in recording and preserving the indigenous languages of Queensland. Dictionaries with pictures showing the staggering richness of the languages used by indigenous people in the Outback of Queensland, Australia were recently published.

These “pictionaries” are just the start. The organization has already launched an all out campaign to put these reference materials in local schools as well as public libraries.

The importance of language

Like many places in the world, Queensland is home to a number of indigenous languages that manifest the roots and history of the people that lived there. Australia has been home to numerous indigenous tribes that first settled in the continent 50,000 years ago. Given the continent’s vast landscapes and rich ecosystems, tribes and early inhabitants established their own territories and nurtured the growth of their separate communities. Queensland is known to be inhabited by a number of early tribes such as the Murri, Murrdi, and Kalkadoon.

These tribes have very few existing modern descendants and are almost nearly extinct. What remains of the indigenous languages is the only proof of their existence. It is with hope that preservation of these languages will ensure remembrance of their heritage and that the richness of their culture will be saved and never forgotten.

Limited success

According to Jeff Poole, DCQ’s spokesman, the whole project only succeeded in finding and compiling records of a few language groups such as the Kalkadoon and the Pitta Pitta. He added that the information they need exists but are not necessarily available. Kalkadoon is one of the languages featured the DCQ’s pictorial dictionary. The tribe was known to inhabit Mount Isa in Queensland. With the misfortune the tribe encountered in the famous “Battle Mountain,” their whole way of living was nearly lost forever.

On the brink of extinction

One of the most important achievements of the DCQ was the recovery of the Pitta Pitta language which was thought to be extinct. Barry J. Blake, author of a handbook concerning languages in Australia reported that the Pitta Pitta language was virtually extinct in 1979. At that time, there were only two living persons from that year who were capable of speaking the language. In 2003, Pitta Pitta was already considered extinct. However, thanks to the hard work of DCQ members, there is hope for a revival of the language.

Despite the fact that the picture dictionary only consists of virtual representations the organization is hoping that it will somehow attract other people’s interest in reviving these indigenous languages.

Language and culture

The DCQ’s main prerogative was to reach out and make it known to the public that these indigenous languages were once the lifeblood of the early inhabitants of the continent. In a statement given by Poole of DCQ, he said that the link between language and culture is definitely strong. Poole added that an understanding of languages makes it easier to understand the essence of a particular culture.

Photo Credit: Queensland Outback

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