Language focus | 14.05.2010

Endangered indigenous language Noongar given boost by children’s TV show

Australian broadcaster NITV have launched the first indigenous language television show aimed at a younger audience. Children have been able to tune in for a daily lesson in the Aboriginal language Noongar thanks to a new show called Waabiny Time (or ‘playing time’ in English) and such is its popularity that a new series has been commissioned. Combined with the popularity of Aboriginal cinema in recent years, indigenous languages in Australia are experiencing a welcome surge in public awareness.

Broadcast daily in 30 minute programmes, Waabiny Time is aimed at children between the ages of 3 and 6 and encourages participation, language preservation and awareness of a language which is worryingly in decline. A team of Noongar linguists were employed throughout the whole project and helped to create the dynamic mixture of entertainment, cultural history and language education which has proved so popular with children throughout Australia. “Each episode, each segment, and each sentence has been crafted to hold our audiences’ attention, while at the same time familiarising them with Noongar language’ states the programme’s website and it is certainly helping to preserve the language, as children are key to a language’s survival.

Aboriginal films have also been attracting huge audiences at the box office recently. In February 2010, Reuters Life! reported on ‘Bran Nue Dae’ which took over $2 million in its opening week and has since become one of the top 50 Australian films in history. Sampson and Delilah – a film spoken in English and Walpiri – received international acclaim when it won the Camera d’Or at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival and was also shortlisted for a Foreign Language Film Award for the 2010 Oscars.

The Australian Government website states that in the 1700s there were an estimated 250 languages spoken across Australia, yet according to the National Indigenous Languages Survey in 2004, only 145 were still spoken and near to 110 of these are ‘severely or critically endangered’. The international exposure of Noongar and Walpiri has certainly helped in raising awareness of Aboriginal languages and promoting the intrinsic link between language and cultural heritage.

Sources: Perth Now, The Australian, AFP, Waabiny Time

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