Hold onto your language

11 May 2018
Anita Painter

Anita Painter is a teacher at Barunga School and loves her language of Dalabon.

She says she’s thrilled ‘A first Dictionary of Dalabon (Ngalkbon) dictionary has now become available for Dalabon people at Mimal Land Management’s Ranger base at Weemol.

“Hold onto your language,” Anita says.

Dalabon country, centred around Bulman and Weemol, is about 200km from Barunga, which is on the country of the Jawoyn people.

The communities of Barunga and Wugularr are home to many Dalabon and Rembarrnga people whose families moved west from Central Arnhem Land from early in the 20th century. Additional to English, the most commonly spoken language there today is Kriol.

In 2004, a comprehensive document of nearly 500 pages was produced through the work of esteemed elder and expert in the Dalabon language Ngaridjan Maggie Tukumba and linguists Nicholas Evans and Francesca Merlan.

However, the dictionary had been out of print and unavailable for some years when Mimal Land Management funded a reprint of 120 facsimile copies.

Copies are now available at the Mimal Ranger base.

Mimal Land Management is working with linguist Nic Evans and his team towards the publication of an online version and seeking a funding sponsor to repatriate many many hours of audio recordings from Maggie and other elders who are now deceased.

These will be uploaded into a cultural heritage management system accessible online to Dalabon people but this will require significant technical work, including sub-titling and formatting.

Making these stories in Dalabon available to younger people will help to reverse the rapid loss of language which followed the passing of older generations of full Dalabon speakers.

As linguist Francesca Merlan says in the introduction to the dictionary:

The loss of a language is an incomparable form of dispossession, since with it goes the means of expressing the accumulated knowledge of untold generations before. A glance at the words for fire management, for types of wind, for the many ways kangaroos can hop, not to mentiuon the whole realm of kinship and kinship and family relations, and the difficulties of rendering them into English or Kriol, will show how many fine nuances of expression which roll off the tongue in Dalabon will disappear if the language is no longer spoken.