Indigenous languages are quickly disappearing as dialects vanish in Australia at a world-leading rate.
University of Queensland’s Professor Felicity Meakins said the “dubious distinction” of having one of the world’s highest language loss rates comes amid growing consensus that First Nations languages are vital for health and well-being within communities.
Meakins was part of an Australian National University-led study that found half the world’s 7000 recognised languages are endangered, with about 1500 at risk of not being spoken by the end of the century.
Co-author Professor Lindell Bromham found issues such as road density were factors in language loss rates.
The more roads connecting country to city and villages to towns, the higher risk of a language being endangered, according to the study.
“It’s as if roads are helping dominant languages steamroll smaller languages,” Bromham said.
“Contact with other local languages is not the problem. In fact, languages in contact with many other Indigenous languages tend to be less endangered.”
Another finding was that language endangerment was increased by more years of schooling.
Meakins, who said Indigenous Australian languages were silenced due to brutal colonial policies, said schooling had a role to play in preserving them.
“This is an absolute plug for bilingual schooling … we need to foster both First Nations language proficiency as well as English proficiency,” she said.
Increased funding, Meakin said, could be used to document languages via dictionaries and to support projects embedding languages in school curriculums and other programs.