Dr Inge Kral and Elizabeth Ellis in Western Australia.

Dr Inge Kral (far right) and Elizabeth Marrkilyi Ellis with Ngaatjatjarra and Ngaanyatjarra speakers in Western Australia.

Saving culture through language

Deep in Australia's western desert, an ANU research project aims to preserve local languages before they become extinct. PARIS LORD reports.

Elizabeth Marrkilyi Ellis believes preserving languages is a matter of her people's survival.

"We have to grab back our control over our own lives and use our own words," she says.

As an ANU academic, translator and linguist, Ellis is leading a project involving saving the languages of her Ngaanyatjarra region in Western Australia.

"We've got a society that has 60,000 years of knowledge we've contributed to Australia and the world.

"Fire management: that was us. We taught you mob," she says.

"Through language, we can get our control back, give back the old people's roles and responsibilities and their dignity."

Ellis and her colleagues at the Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language are aiming to save endangered languages in Australia's western desert regions.

Those regions include some 2,000 speakers of the Ngaatjatjarra and Ngaanyatjarra languages who live between Warburton and Warakurna (Giles).