Reviving our languages and keeping them strong

The new Pama Language Centre will assist the indigenous peoples of Cape York Peninsula to revive ancestral languages and safeguard those under threat.

Cape York Partnership has launched the Pama Language Centre which will support and encourage Cape communities to revive and maintain their ancestral languages.

Language Centre Coordinator Karin Calley said of the 42 or more languages and dialects once spoken in this region, even the strongest are now threatened.

“There is plenty that can be done to strengthen fragile languages, but after years of discrimination against the use of these languages, we need to strongly support and encourage local efforts to do this. ”

The Pama Language Centre will employ linguists to spend time in communities assisting people to record their languages, stories, songs and oral histories, working with speakers to develop learning materials and books, looking at ways to support individuals and groups with their own language maintenance projects and helping to arrange language planning and training opportunities.

Karin said there is evidence from all over the country that teaching Indigenous languages in schools can boost school attendance and academic performance.

The results are promising so far from a thriving language program at the Hope Vale School led by Cape York Partnership in collaboration with Cape York Academy.

Local Guugu Yimidhirr language teacher, Lillian Bowen, said parents are proud that their children are now speaking more fluent Guugu Yimidhirr than they can.

“Mothers are turning up at the school to sit in on my language classes. My students tell me they want to study Guugu Yimidhirr every day.”

School attendance at Hope Vale Primary School continues to improve and now averages around 89 per cent.

The Pama Language Centre will provide more opportunities for Guugu Yimidhirr speakers, both young and old, to improve their language skills.

At Hope Vale, there are plans to develop early childhood learning materials, adult learning resources and community projects, such as a choir and Guugu Yimidhirr writers’ group. Several children’s picture books, written and illustrated by Guugu Yimidhirr people, have already been published.

As Noel Pearson said in his book, Radical Hope,  “What we need more than anything else is to see that our tongues are not dying languages spoken only in a few homes, but languages with a future: growing, officially recognised languages of Australia.”

For more information about the Pama Language Centre, contact Karin Calley on 0450 961 956 or email:

Cape Magazine


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