Explainer: how Tasmania’s Aboriginal people reclaimed a language, palawa kani

Truganini’s death in Hobart in May 1876 attracted worldwide attention. She was widely, but wrongly, believed to have been the last Aboriginal person to have survived the Tasmanian genocide. Her demise symbolised the devastating impacts of British imperialism on Indigenous peoples.

Yet Tasmanian Aboriginal people continue to live on the Bass Strait Islands, in rural and urban Tasmania and elsewhere. Their culture, although severely disrupted by the British invasion, persists. Part of this survival is the resurrection of a language, palawa kani, that is used by some Tasmanian Aboriginal people. Recently there have been calls to use the Aboriginal name nipaluna for Hobart, and other places are already using dual names.

Across Australia, an estimated 250 Indigenous Australian languages and hundreds more dialects were spoken before the British arrived. The cultural disruption caused by invasion has resulted in more than half of these languages vanishing.

In parts of the country, Aboriginal people and linguists have been working to preserve and restore some of the country’s original languages. In this wider context of language preservation and renewal, a reconstructed Tasmanian Aboriginal language has recently emerged. Palawa kani (“Tasmanian Aboriginal people speak”), is based on surviving spoken and written remnants of the island’s original languages. The written form of palawa kani has only lower case letters following a decision by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre to discontinue capitals.

Read more: The Conversation

By | 2018-07-19T10:38:09+00:00 July 19th, 2018|Australia, Language, Tasmania|0 Comments

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