“Australia is situated in one of the world’s linguistic hot spots, however, many Australians are not aware of the incredible linguistic diversity of Indigenous Australia.
Aboriginal languages and Torres Strait Islander languages have struggled to survive since the time of colonisation.
According to First Languages Australia “in the late 18th century, there were between 350 and 750 distinct Australian social groupings, and a similar number of languages”.
These languages determine whose country we are on and who we must acknowledge and pay respect to when we are on their land.
But the good news is many language groups are working hard to preserve their native tongue. And languages are persistently being restored.
First Languages Australia has developed an interactive map that displays and promotes the diversity of Aboriginal languages and Torres Strait Islander languages. “
The map is called Gambay, which means “together” in the Butchulla language of the Hervey Bay region in Queensland.
It showcases more than 780 languages.
The map gives Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities control over the way their languages are publicly represented through spelling and videos clips of ‘language legends’ who share their knowledge.
Some videos have been provided by the ABC in collaboration with First Languages Australia.
First Languages Australia works closely with language centres and speakers around the country to develop the map to reflect the names and groups favoured by community.
First Languages Australia manages the map, community contributions and its ongoing development in consultation with language centres and speakers.
The ABC does not warrant and is not responsible for the accuracy, currency, completeness or reliability of the information contained in the map.
This map is also a permanent feature on the ABC Indigenous website.
How the map can teach you language:
- Find your location on the map and the language group of that area will appear
- After clicking on the language group you will find educational videos of ‘language legends’ talking about their culture
- You will also find audio segments which teach you how to pronounce the language
- There are also videos on the map where you can learn the original place names in your area through the ABC This Place series. This is another way of learning the local language and using it everyday.
How the map came to be
Warrgamay women, Melinda Holden and Bridget Priman are sisters and are the driving force behind the Gambay map.
After completing a course on Indigenous languages at TAFE in Cairns, both women fell in love with learning how to read and write in language.
Ms Priman went on to graduate with a Bachelor of the Arts in Language and Linguistics and Ms Holden obtained a Diploma in Linguistics and Planning.
Together they have been passionate activists for grassroots language communities.
Ms Holden said that as they were learning, they realised there wasn’t somewhere people could to readily access this type of information.
“There was always this nagging question of where do we go to get all of this stuff?” Ms Holden said.
So, about seven years ago, they began researching Aboriginal languages and Torres Strait Islander languages within Queensland.
“We wanted an overview of what languages were out there,” Ms Holden said.
“We just started putting together a spreadsheet.”
The pair found approximately 320 languages and dialects in Queensland alone.
“We thought maybe this is too big for us,” Ms Holden said.
As members of the Queensland Indigenous Languages Advisory Committee, Ms Holden and her sister presented to the group — and then to First Languages Australia — the idea of an interactive map.
The Gambay map was later launched in 2015.
The map has gone through various iterations and is updated with data and information that regional language centres and community groups want to share.
First Languages Australia includes information as people provide it — things such as spelling, and the areas language groups cover.
“We consult communities on who to speak to and who would have the final say,” Ms Holden said.
‘A great tool’
Now retired, Ms Holden says what the map is today is more than she could have ever imagined.
“We wanted to see elders talk about their language and their country,” she said.
“We wanted people to know the language of the land they live on, as the language of that region describes the land and animals of that area.”
Now covering the entire country, the Gambay map has become a resource all Australians can use to learn about their local Aboriginal languages and Torres Strait Islander languages.
“It also helps people find their country,” Ms Holden said.
She says the map can also be used in classrooms.
“It’s far easier for students to learn language now,” she said.
“It’s all there … it’s a great tool.”
Gambay also provides contacts for people who speak their traditional language and are willing to share their knowledge.
If you are a language custodian and would like to add a pronunciation file to your language listing on Gambay, you can email: firstname.lastname@example.org or get in contact via the Gambay website.