Indigenous languages link to health and well-being

Wednesday, 5 March 2014 (All day)
Balgabalgar sign

Results of the National Indigenous Languages Survey 2 (NILS 2) released today, paint a complex picture of the current state of health of Indigenous languages in Australia, but also show a growing recognition of their value as elements of identity and self-esteem.

The survey, funded by the Ministry for the Arts, Attorney-General’s Department through the Indigenous Languages Support program, is the second such undertaking by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), who engaged with language organisations and individuals to garner information on two key areas – language activities and language attitudes.

AIATSIS Chair Professor Mick Dodson said the complicated picture produced by the results showed the continuing trend of increased language loss across the country. “From the information collected we estimate there’s around 120 Indigenous languages still spoken today – a drop from 145 in 2005,” Professor Dodson said.

“But at the same time, languages such as Wiradjuri from central western New South Wales are being revived and are now taught to children in local schools. This positive outcome clearly indicates the need for federal, state and territory governments to allocate funding for the development and delivery of programs to train language workers, interpreters and teachers.” Respondents to the survey held an almost unanimous view that connecting with and learning about language has a powerfully beneficial effect on people’s well-being.

Dr Jakelin Troy, Director of Research in Indigenous Social and Cultural Wellbeing at AIATSIS, said there is a growing recognition of the value of Australia’s Indigenous languages not only for communication, but also to strengthen identity and self-esteem. “Languages are central to our identity, and remaining connected with them is critical to our well-being. Our recommendation is that further research into the connection between language and well-being is absolutely necessary,” Dr Troy said. “The report strongly suggests our languages be recognised in the Australian Constitution as the first languages of Australia and promoted as a fundamental part of the unique heritage of our country. Governments and language advocacy groups should promote the importance of using our languages at home – especially with children. “Survey respondents want their languages taught in schools because it is clear that this helps students succeed – they were united in saying they want their languages to be strong well into the future.”

AIATSIS is world-renowned as the premier research, collecting and publishing organisation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, traditions, languages and stories. It is internationally recognised as a leader in setting ethical standards and practices for Australian Indigenous research, publishing, language revival, cultural collection management and access protocols.

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Last reviewed: 29 Sep 2016