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.