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Library to Rediscover Aboriginal Languages

The State Library in Australia's New South Wales is putting forth a new project to preserve forgotten or endangered Aboriginal languages.
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Earlier this month, in writing about a new funding program from the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, Idea Lobby blogger Emily Badger highlighted the need to preserve endangered languages around the world. It isn't out of a sense of charity. Other languages are more than just different ways to communicate the same ideas; they're repositories of completely different ideas.

With that understanding, the State Library of Australia's New South Wales is starting a new project to rediscover and preserve forgotten or endangered antipodean languages. (Take a look here for an Internet guide to the southern continent's linguistic heritage, courtesy of David Nathan at the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project.)

The first step will be a review of the library's massive collection of manuscripts of journals and letters cataloging early recordings of the languages.

Crucially, the project will involve collaboration with the Aboriginal tribes themselves to ensure their satisfaction with the way the languages are presented online.

As Badger writes, a language's status as endangered "isn't necessarily a measurement of the small number of people still speaking a language. Rather ... languages become endangered when children no longer speak them."

That's why the last stage of the Australian project will involve developing programs to teach the languages to students.

Susan Poetsch, a lecturer in indigenous languages education at the University of Sydney, explained it to Australian Geographic: "Language revitalization is very important both to Aboriginal communities and to the wider Australian community — not only for community identity but for cross-cultural understanding."

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