Culture and Heritage: Indigenous Languages

Australia: State of the Environment Technical Paper Series (Natural and Cultural Heritage), Series 1
John Henderson and David Nash
Department of the Environment, 1997
ISBN 0 642 25292 0

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About the Technical Paper

The knowledge that a culture has about the environment is best expressed by the language of that culture. Language allows the expression and transmission of this knowledge within and across generations. It also serves as a powerful expression of identity. This paper surveys the state of Australia's indigenous languages up to January 1995.

In general, the indigenous languages have been in a disastrous decline since first European contact. Many languages have only a handful of elderly speakers, and if preceding cases are any indication, almost all of the traditional languages currently spoken could be gone within a generation. As it is, there are only at most twenty traditional languages that are being passed on to children and being used by them as a primary form of communication. The loss of indigenous languages goes together with the loss of detail in traditional knowledge.