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Aboriginal Language Today

Some Tasmanian Aborigines were still using their traditional languages early in the twentieth century, but as members moved off the Bass Strait islands after 1945, language use waned, though a handful of women retained some knowledge.

From 1999 descendants revived use of the language in a Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre programme named palawa kani, meaning 'Tassie blackfellas talk'. Language workers Theresa Sainty and Jenny Longey retrieved over a hundred words for things to related to the sea and islands, many still in use in 1910. They also retrieved numbers from one to ten, and built a numbers system which can count to a million, by using grammatical features from the original languages. They tried out simple, natural, enjoyable and effective ways for people to learn and use language, and language groups started up across the state. The main focus was on children, building palawa kani into the daily life of the Cape Barren Island school and the Aboriginal Children's Centre in Hobart, as well as the Alternative Prison scheme.

Further reading: www.fatsil.org.

Alison Alexander