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Treasure Talk: indigenous languages in the Northern Territory

2019 is the International Year of Indigenous Languages, and to mark the occasion the Northern Territory Library will explore their collection in a series of Treasure Talks.

By Tamara Howie

Historian Sam Wells had a chat with Off The Leash about what to expect at the Treasure Talk series.

What is the Treasure Talk series all about and what can audiences expect?
The Northern Territory Library has a large collection of materials about Indigenous languages and we wanted to acknowledge this important year by delving into these collections and retrieving items that shed light on the wealth of Indigenous languages in the Territory.

Tell us more about the diversity of Indigenous languages in the NT.
Around 250 distinct languages were spoken in Australia in 1788. Most of these languages had several dialects, so the total number of named varieties would have been in the hundreds.
 
It’s difficult to be precise about the number of languages and dialects because they can shade into each other but rough estimates of between 80-100 of these languages and dialects were in the Northern Territory.
 
Neighbouring Aboriginal groups spoke distinct dialects of the same language or had working knowledge of other neighbouring languages, which allowed for communication.

What are some of the items in the collection that will be looked at during these talks?
We will show the work of the coloni-al settlers/explorers/ethnographers who compiled extensive Aboriginal word lists in the late 1800s.

We will show rare maps that document Aboriginal place names in Central Australia and the Top End. 

We will look at the resources of the bilingual education programs of the 1970s and the prolific work of the Literacy Production Centres. 

And finally, we will look at more recent collaborative projects where Aboriginal Territorians have led the way in documenting and preserving Indigenous languages.

How are these languages being preserved? 
The Library preserves the documentary heritage of the Territory, including records of Aboriginal languages and collaborative projects.

Tue 19 Mar, 10.30am | Wed 3 Apr, 5.30pm | Tue 16 Apr, 10.30am | Wed 1 May, 5.30pm | Northern Territory Library | Free | ntl.nt.gov.au

See the event listing.

Thumbnail artwork by Sabrina Kelly, featured in Let's go hunting in Alekarenge

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