Malak Malak TOs try tech to keep their ancient tongue alive

Date: Nov 2, 2020

Publication Type: Blog

Subject: Community Planning & Development

Traditional Owners have funded the development of a language app, which is available on the Google Play and App store.

For four years Malak Malak Traditional Owners have been working with the NLC’s Community Planning and Development Program, allocating a portion of their income from NT Government fishing value payments to community development.  

Early in this journey the Malak Malak group identified their priorities as preserving culture and language, and increasing recognition of their belonging in the region. Projects undertaken so far include culture camps and an interpretive sign project for the Daly River region. The group also set a goal of developing a language learning mobile app, in order to inspire the production of teaching and learning materials to help preserve and revitalise their language.  

Malak Malak Traditional Owner Joy Cardona, who is closely involved in the group’s community development work, said it’s so important to preserve the language and hand it on to the next generation.

“We needed to capture the language while the Aunties are still alive, to keep the language and Malak Malak clan strong, and to pass it on to our children,” said Joy Cardona.

Dr Hoffmann began working on a vocabulary builder app, using existing technology from The Language Conservancy. Her work involved visiting Woolianna to meet with the native speakers.

With project support from the NLC’s Community Planning and Development team, two trips were made to Woolianna between September and December 2019, to review words and images, ensuring accuracy in the app’s development.

The app is now available for access by the Malak Malak Traditional Owners.  

Matthew Shields, a Malak Malak Traditional Owner and Working Group member, was one of the first to download the app when it was released.  

“This is the first time we’ve seen our language on websites … I feel really happy, I can hear it over and over.”

The app is organized into 22 lesson categories, including my family, animals and useful words and so on.  It contains around 300 words and phrases, such as conversational phrases like ‘what’s your name?’ (Wari ni eyiny?) and region specific words, like Banyan tree (puenyu). 

Over 200 new illustrations were created for the app to reflect the people and culture, as well as the flora and fauna of the region. 

Dr Hoffmann said she’s delighted to see the app come to life. 

“I hope it will help this beautiful language to thrive and gain new interest,” she said.