How to say g'day in your local Indigenous language

Many people can say "hello" in French or Japanese, but ask them how to say it in an Indigenous language and they would likely be stumped.

The State Library of Queensland hopes to change that through the creation of lists containing words from dozens of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, from how to say g'day, animals, body parts and numbers.

The project was designed to support communities in reviving, documenting and preserving endangered Indigenous languages.

If you were in Brisbane, or Meeanjin, and decided to meet a friend at Mount Coot-tha, you might say hello in the Turrbal dialect, "Galang nguruindhau", which is pronounced, "Ga-lung ngoo-rroo-win-dha-woo".

You could look at one (ganar) koala (dumbirrbi) and shake your friend's hand (marra).

Indigenous languages coordinator Des Crump said there were about 120 to 130 Indigenous dialects in Queensland and about 250 distinct languages across Australia or 750 including the dialects.

Of those, about 50 Queensland Indigenous languages were spoken on a daily basis.

"In terms of living, thriving languages, there's really only three and to be a living, thriving language they need 750 language speakers across the different generations," Mr Crump said.

Those languages are Wik-Mungkan in western Cape York, Kala Lagaw Ya in the western Torres Strait and Meriam Mir in the eastern Torres Strait.

But Mr Crump said he tended not use the word "extinct" when it came to languages not spoken today.

"Sometimes we refer to them as sleeping, and we're trying to awaken those languages when we revive them," he said.

"There are a lot of languages that have been lost and sleeping for quite a while."

Mr Crump said many Indigenous languages allowed words to be used in any order, depending on what the most important information was.

"In my language [Gamilaraay], you could could say 'the dog bit the man' in three different ways, depending on which words you want to emphasise," he said.

Mr Crump said he started learning Gamilaraay about 10 years ago through a TAFE course because his grandmother, who died before he was born, did not pass on the language to her children for fear her family would be split.

"That's a common story for families of that generation," he said.

Mr Crump said languages interconnected with the world around them.

"Out west, we don't have a word for mangroves or beach because that's not in our world view; we've got 27 words for emu because that's an important part of the landscape," he said.

"On the coast, somewhere like Mackay, they have all these different words for shells or different types of fish."

However, Mr Crump said languages evolved and some had adopted new words for computers, books and pens so they could be taught in schools.

Mr Crump said Indigenous languages were part of people's identity and connection back to where they were from.

"Particularly for young people ... We teach these young ones how to say hello and introduce themselves in language - all of a sudden they stand that little bit taller and have that real sense of pride and strength in their identity and who they are," he said.

Mr Crump said the work was run with community groups and language centres.

The "Say g'day" initiative was a joint project with the Yugambeh Museum, Language and Heritage Research Centre at Beenleigh.

"We thought, wouldn't it be good to get people to say 'hello' or 'g'day' in their local language," Mr Crump said.

"Another part of our project is supporting the communities and reviving their language, but also raising the awareness of the broader Queensland public and community about languages in Queensland and how important they are to the local community."

Indigenous languages are oral languages, so there can be variations in spelling and pronunciation.

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The Indigenous language words lists can be found here.

You can see a map of where the languages are from here.

This story How to say g'day in your local Indigenous language first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.