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Biripi’s Native Tongue

“THERE’S no way to describe how beautiful it is to be able to speak our own language.”

A course at the North Coast Institute of TAFE in Taree is revitalising the traditional Gathang language (of which Biripi is a dialect) and teacher Jaycent Davis could not be happier.

“Bringing back the native tongue is a breakthrough for the Biripi people,” he said.

“It will only strengthen our relationship with tradition, empower us with the knowledge of another language and give us pride to know that it has always been sitting at the back of our tongue ready to be awakened.”

He said revitalising the language would bring so much culture back into the lives of the indigenous community.

Using the Accelerated Second Language Acquisition (ASLA) teaching method, developed by Arapaho man, Dr Stephen Neyooxet Greymorning, the team of teachers (all Gathang people, including Jeremy Saunders and Mandy Davis) don’t use pen and paper, but pictures to help students identify words.

They start out with a limited vocabulary set, focusing on speaking and listening first, and then build on the structures and the language.

“It’s great people are talking and there are a lot of questions. They are constantly asking questions all the way through,” said Jaycent.

“It helps make it real and they retain it.”

Jaycent has translated some songs into Gathang for them to sing during class, saying that reclaiming the language will also bring back traditional song and dance to the local culture.

Anna Ash, coordinator and linguist from the Many Rivers Aboriginal Language Centre, said the course was first workshopped last year with interested people and has now become an accredited course at TAFE in Taree and the Great Lakes where students gain a Certificate I in Aboriginal Languages.

Students range in age from 16 to 65 plus and are encouraged to take what they have learnt into their community and pass on their knowledge (many participants are teachers already working in schools or community based groups).

The course is based on the recordings of Nils Holmer and works from other authors, which were researched and used to create the book Gathang ? A grammar and dictionary of the language of the Birrbay, Guringay and Warrimay language, by linguist and author Amanda Lissarrague. In the 1960s Nils Holmer recorded conversations with Biripi elder Uncle Eddie Lobban at Purfleet. It was the main source of information about the language and the only sound recordings.

The dictionary was published by Muurrbay and made available for all Biripi, Worimi and Guringai family groups.

“As a Biripi person I think it’s probably one of the major breakthroughs in revitalising the cultural aspect of our people by having the language again.

“It is not only exciting to learn but so natural to us,” Jaycent said.

He added that one of the benefits of learning a second language is it helps expand your brain and the way you look at things.

Jaycent also sees it as an opportunity to reconnect with the young people, who he said have been too influenced by hip hop and pop culture.

With the country trying to ‘close the gap’ between indigenous and non-indigenous people, he said paying respect back into the culture and giving it value is a way to do it.

The TAFE courses (there are three running at the moment, two in Taree and one in the Great Lakes) have been made possible through the partnership of the Gathang Language Group, North Coast TAFE, Many Rivers Aboriginal Centre and Muurrbay Language Centre.

The course coordinator is Julie Long, who is a linguist at the Muurrbay Language Centre.

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Manning River Times
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