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Aboriginal languages 'dying out'

4 February 08 05:28 GMT
By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

Campaigners in Australia have warned that indigenous languages are declining at record levels.

They believe that the country's cultural heritage is at risk unless more is done to ensure the survival of these ancient tongues.

Experts estimate that before European settlers arrived, hundreds of languages existed on the Australian continent.

But many of these languages have already been lost forever, and only a few dozen still remain.

As they die out, they take with them irreplaceable parts of Aboriginal culture and history.

'Keep it strong'

Colonisation and the forced removal of tribes from their land have had a withering effect on language.

There are, though, pockets of resistance.

In Australia's harsh Western Desert, indigenous groups have been determined to keep hold of their ancient ways.

Pitjinjara is flourishing. It is spoken by about 3,000 people and is a symbol of their cultural identity.

"I spoke Pitjinjara from a tiny child and I grew up always speaking Pitjinjara and now that's my first language, Pitjinjara," one woman said.

"Our language is very important to us, and at the moment it's strong and we wish to keep it this way for our grandchildren and all the people that come after us," another added.

Only one Australian state, New South Wales, has a comprehensive indigenous language policy.

Campaigners have said it would be "absolute madness" if politicians did not fight to preserve such an important part of the country's heritage.

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