UluruMy last post was about Aramaic, the language scholars believe was spoken by Jesus, making it approximately 2000 years old.

Perhaps even older are the languages of the Aboriginal people, the indigenous people of Australia. The Aboriginals, or Indigenous Australians, are thought to have inhabited Australia for around 40,000 years before the first European settlement. Pre-colonisation, Aboriginal people were part of different ‘nations’ spread all over the continent, each with its own language. There were an estimated 700 dialects and 250 distinct languages, which were as distinct as English, Swedish and Mandarin.

Today it is estimated there are 20 – 50 “healthy” Aboriginal dialects. These are spoken mostly in the Northern Territory. “Healthy” means the language is spoken to, and used by kids.

Aboriginal languages are strongly interlinked with their culture, with ancestral creative beings said to have left languages in the country.

In Aboriginal societies language is not only seen as a form of communication but as a method of right to land, forming boundaries for each family group, and language group. Language is used as social control as it has various forms depending on the ages and status of people within a language group. (Indigenous Australia)

Some elements of Aboriginal language have made it into Australian culture (for example, place names such as Canberra) and gone on to take a place in popular culture. Koala, kangaroo, and boomerang are all things we associate with Australia, generally without knowledge of their Aboriginal roots.

So, perhaps next time you think about Ayers Rock, you could spare a thought for this ancient culture and refer to it by its original name, Uluru*.

*Note: the correct spelling of Uluru has a retroflex under the ‘r’, which I cannot recreate here.