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The Sydney Language now available to a new generation

The Sydney Language, a long out of print dictionary first published by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) in 1994, is now available to a new generation of Australians thanks to the fundraising efforts of Australian band The Preatures.

AIATSIS CEO and Co-Chair of the UNESCO Steering Committee for 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages celebrations, Craig Ritchie, said language is intrinsic to life for Indigenous peoples around the world.

“The International Year of Indigenous Languages is about raising awareness of the crucial role language plays in people’s daily lives and emphasising the risk of loss that comes with every language that is endangered. That is why publications like The Sydney Language are critical tools to ensure language is preserved and knowledge shared,” Mr Ritchie said.

The Sydney Language dictionary was revived due to the interest by the Sydney community to learn the local language. It is ideal for anyone interested in learning more about the language and culture of the Aboriginal people of the Sydney area.

Author Professor Jakelin Troy refers to the language as the ‘Sydney Language’ because there was no name given for the language in historical records until late in the nineteenth century when it was referred to as Dharug.

“More than thirty years ago when I started this project, I didn’t know anyone speaking the language. Today it is being taught across Sydney through schools and other community driven classes,” Professor Troy said.

“Republishing The Sydney Language provides a much needed resource for this to continue and provides a springboard for further research and education. The community want to be speaking their language every day, in every way, and I am proud to have played a small part in the renewal process happening in Sydney today.”

After visiting AIATSIS in 2017, Australia rock band The Preatures, started a campaign to raise funds for The Sydney Language to be re-issued. An earlier version of the publication provided the main linguistic reference for the Dharug lyrics in the song Yanada, co-written with Darug songwoman Jacinta Tobin.

The Preatures vocalist, Isabella 'Izzi' Manfredi, said Writing Yanada was a challenge and a privilege unmatched by any other the band has had.

“But this process was really not about us. It's about the people we did it with - The Dharug and the greater Sydney Indigenous community. This is their story to tell, their language to revive. The point is they shouldn't have to do it alone. For languages to live, they need to be spoken and sung and tended to,” Ms Manfredi said.

“Honestly, I still have really mixed feelings about being a non-Indigenous girl singing in Indigenous language. I know I can only understand a fraction of the warring feelings it inspires in people. But I feel the more we're able to name these feelings and hold space for them as a community, to have conversations about the racism that destroyed lives and language in the first place, and to listen, that's the beginning of healing and of respect. I'm really proud we've been able to reprint this dictionary and give a little back, because we're forever grateful for the gift of this language. Digirigura.” 

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Last updated: 10 December 2020