Revitalising Aboriginal languages

During an internship in the Northern Territory, BONNIE MCLEAN developed a digital solution to help locals learn their languages.

Australian languages are part of a very old and rich culture, which makes them fascinating to study.

For instance, society in Tennant Creek is organised through the rich and complex set of kin terms in languages like Warumungu and Warlmanpa. These kin terms tell a person how they relate to every other person in society and also whom they can marry.

These languages are layered and nuanced in other ways too. Both Warumungu and Warlmanpa have what are called auxiliary sign languages.

These developed out of a cultural practice where women whose husbands have recently passed away are not allowed to speak while they are in mourning. So the auxiliary sign language developed as a way for widows to communicate with other people.

Auxiliary sign languages are unlike American and Australian sign languages, which are complete languages designed to be spoken by deaf people. I’m very interested in the interaction between these two modes of communication, and what each can teach us about the other.

My passion for Aboriginal languages began relatively recently.