Interview with

Louka Parry

Rare Language Specialist - Yankunytjatjara (Pama-Nyungan)

Name: Louka Parry
Nationality or Ethnicity: Australian

(primarily Greek and Welsh heritage)
Where do you live?: Melbourne/Adelaide
Rare language: Yankunytjatjara

Language Family: Pama-Nyungan

1. What’s your story? How did you get exposed to this rare language?

I  grew up in Adelaide as the first in my family born in Australia, from  Greek mother and a Welsh father. After high school I moved to Europe as a  monolingual and became fascinated by history, languages and identity  and after returning to Australia I elected to take my first teaching job  in a very remote community on the red desert country of the Aangu  Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjnatjara Lands. Alongside my teaching, I learnt  from the custodians of the language, both youth and elders, the  Australian languages of Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara. Staying over  5 years, I became the school principal and our team worked to bring  authenticity and meaning into school curricula with a renewed focus on  first language literacy.

2. Do you face difficulties in practising this rare language? How often would you get the chance to practice it?

There  are difficulties practicing Yankunytjatjara as it is an endangered  language, but I continue to speak it with Aboriginal friends and  colleagues I have worked with previously over the phone from time to  time.

3. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking such a unique language?

An  insight into the remarkable expressions and alternative perspectives  that this unique language offers, especially its deep links to Aangu  history and culture. I’m thrilled that the elders gave me the nickname  of Wati Yankunytjatjara (the Yankunytjara Man) through my efforts to  learn this endangered language.

4. Are measures being taken to help preserve this rare language?

We  have run a revitalisation and language maintenance approach previously  entitled Wapar: Yankunytjatjara Wangka, receiving funding from the  Indigenous Language Support Unit to run workshops and create an online  resource. Currently, the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation are  undertaking work to create curriculum materials to ensure that  Pitjantjatjara is maintained, and Yankunytjatjara strengthened.

5. Do you fear that this language may become moribund, perhaps extinct?

It  is entirely possible. Pitjantjatjara is the majority language along  with English and both have eaten into Yankunytjatjara language to such  an extent that there are few true Yankunytjatjara speakers remaining.

6. What is your message to young people who wish to learn this language?

It’s  a wonderful language and opportunity to learn a beautifully complex and  expressive Australian language from the Western Desert of the heart of  Australia. All peoples should have a right to continue to speak the  language of their ancestors. Thankfully, there have also been linguists  that have documented elements of the language and the beauty is that it  empowers you to also to connect with Australia’s history and gives a  deeper understanding of the longest continuous culture on the planet.

The International Association of Hyperpolyglots - HYPIA. (c) 2020

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