Once upon a time… 

Ramdlon / PixabayA

An expression that is almost universally known by both adults and children alike.  The mere mention of this phrase is enough to perk my offspring’s heads and ears like meerkats on high alert.   Like most children, my three girls love story time in all its forms. In their eyes (and ears) it is irrelevant how the story originates.  Depending on my mood and their persuasive power; the mode and delivery of the story will vary. Sometimes it is a retelling of an old favourite or a re-read of a treasured classic; other times it is the most recent offering from a library; and occasionally, it is a spuriously invented pudding-headed story to bring silly smiles to little faces.

Cornett (2014) theorised that stories and storytelling developed from a need of the ancient peoples to understand their world.  Stories are how cultural traditions and practices were passed down the generations and it is still the most common method in which communities celebrate and immortalise important events.  After all, most families have embarrassing stories that get retold at every family gathering and eventually they become familial folklore.  The Indigenous peoples of Australia have a rich history of oral traditions and as such, much of their cultural histories are embodied and immortalised in storytelling.  But even for societies that no longer possess such a strong emphasis on oral traditions, storytelling is still the most basic and simple way we learn about language, our identity and the society we live in (Ross Johnston, 2014; Cornett, 2014). 

So what makes a story so special?

Besides being a vector of traditions, stories and storytelling play key roles in language acquisition in children as stories expand their vocabulary repertoire (Cornett, 2014).  Infants and toddlers do absorb nuances of language from their daily life from conversation but reading stories increases the variety of words available. This means that when exposed to literature as adolescents there is already a familiarity with language, which improves comprehension and fluency. 

Besides language acquisition, stories also assist with identity formation (Ross Johnston, 2014).   To put it simply, stories often contain didactic language that belongs to a particular sub section of society and thus stories can connect individuals together in society and or inform others of another society.  A great example of this is Mem Fox’s ‘Possum magic’ with its inclusion of terms such as vegemite, pavlova and lamingtons. Australian children resonate with this story as the language used within is familiar to them and they can connect to the familiar animal characters.  Whereas children from other countries could find this language both exotic and a novelty. Similarly, Rod Clement’s ‘Olga the Brolga’ brings together Australian fauna with its fabulous illustrations and rhyming text. Children who are exposed to stories like this discover local vocabulary and in turn unearth aspects of their own country and culture. 

Stories are more than just words in a book.  Stories reflect societal norms and allows children to gain information about the world they live in.  They expand the mind, broaden values, teach empathy and show us what another viewpoint is. Most of all, stories teach us to reflect on who we are as individuals and what we can become.  For all these reasons, stories and storytelling are indispensable to adults and children alike. 

PublicDomainPictures / Pixabay

Cornet, C. E. (2014). Integrating the literary arts throughout the curriculum. In Creating meaning through literature and the arts: arts integration for Classroom teachers (5th ed,) (pp144-193) USA

Ross Johnston, R. (2014). Literary literacies: Digital, cultural, narrative, critical and deep literacies. In G. Winch, R. Ross Johnston, P. March, L. Ljungdahl & M. Holliday (Eds.), Literacy: Reading, writing and children’s literature (5th ed., pp. 556). Retrieved from Proquest Ebook Central.


Language matters.

Tumisu / Pixabay – Languages matter


What language/s do you speak?

For many people the language they use is indicative of their nationality, culture and geographical placement.  Language, especially a mother language, has the ability to motivate the individual to raise their strongest voice. 

My life is a linguistic soap opera.  Born in Mumbai, India, I completed the majority of my schooling in Brisbane before living sporadically along the eastern seaboard of Australia.  Currently based in Canberra, I am a Mumbaikar by birth to Goan parents that never lived in Goa. By this convuluted history, I should possess the linguistic arsenal of Konkani, Marati, Hindi and English from my childhood years; and be reasonably fluent in Yugara, from my time spent in Brisbane and be commencing to learn Ngunnawal, the language of Canberra.

But no.  Sadly I am only fluent in English, accented as it can be and possess a smattering of inappropriate words in a few other languages.   Think more like a sailor and less like a teacher, if you get my drift!

I am also sure that I am not the only emigrant with this linguistic dilemma with a dismal knowledge of my native tongue.  As new citizens, my parents so keen on assimilation that they discarded all linguistic connections to the motherland to ensure we settled in as quickly as possible. 

Unfortunately, this discarding of language has lead to feelings of inadequacy as an adult.  Besides feeling like a ‘fake’, the saddest aspect of my own inadequacies of language is that I cannot teach my children their heritage.  This death of language diversity can be attributed to numerous reasons, with emigration as mine. Other reasons include, political persecution, globalisation and civil war (Strochlic, 2018).  In Australia alone, over 100 Aboriginal languages have disappeared since Philipsy and his ruffian filled boats docked in Sydney (Strochlic, 2018).  You don’t have to try too hard to imagine why… do you? 

Strochlic (2018) reminds us all that over 200 languages have become extinct since the end of WW2, with every fortnight another language dying a silent death.  It is predicted that by the end of this century, another 90% will disappear.  This loss is tragedy for current and future generations. 

But all is not lost. Modern Hebrew, made a dramatic reappearance in the 18th century.  Conversational Hebrew had all but disappeared in the 4th Century and was revived in the late 18th.  As aspects of the language were preserved in copies of the Torah and Talmund across the world, the words and phrases within could then be extrapolated to frame conversational Hebrew (Bensadoun, 2015).

Another memorable reincarnation are the Egyptian hieroglyphs, which were decoded using the famous Rosetta stone.    This stone was paramount in aiding academics in understanding the amazing wonders of that ancient empire. The stone helped construe the pictorial script into ancient Greek, which could then be further translated into modern day English (British Museum, 2017).  

But what about languages with no written component?  What will happen to those mother tongues? The speed in which languages disappear is heightened when they are only exist in an oral form as there is no documentation to ensure preservation.  Communities with distinctive languages will become extinct and this death is a blot on society.  

What can we do about it?  

Well, there are several groups around the world that are seeking to preserve rare dialects and languages using wikis.  These groups use available technology to record, store and transfer these conversations for preservation purposes.   Noone (2015), additionally advocates the use of technology as a preservation tool to document and record languages for future generations.  Other ICT tools such as Skype or Facetime, can be used by people to converse with greater ease even if separated by large distances.  Language, like all other skills, becomes rusty with lack of use and regression is quite common when unused for extended periods.  By using these tools, people all over the world can converse and practice their skills. 

As teacher librarians, we can assist students and teachers access these audible resources.  Libraries are no longer just archives for the storing of information. Instead, they are centres of ‘resourcing’ information. The same technology that permits us to document and preserve these languages also enables us to access and share them.  

The State Library of Queensland has an impressive collation of Indigenous language resources on their webpage.  They are working towards preserving and documenting the various dialects of the region and are drawing these word lists from their range of historical texts within the collection (SLQ, 2019b).     I like the word lists.  It is a simple way for me to learn some common use terms for myself and then share them with my children.   SLQ also has another challenge on their portal called the ‘ Say G’day in an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Language’.  As 2019 is UNESCO’s Year of Indigenous Language, SLQ is challenging Queenslanders to use an Indigenous language to greet their mates in an effort to help raise awareness and promote Indigenous cultural awareness.  

SLQ (2019) Languages of Queensland – including the Torres Strait


This sentiment is shared by this years NAIDOC’s them of “Voice, Treaty, Truth” as it places great emphasis on the importance of giving voice to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia.  But as indigenous languages fade into the history pages, the voices that speak these languages are then also muted. There cannot be a treaty if voices are not heard. For voices to be heard and understood, we must understand that Australia is more than just English. 

NAIDOC 2019 – Voices need to be heard


Whilst I do regret my inadequacy of mother tongue, I also regret not learning the language of land in which I stand on.  It never crossed my mind to learn the local Indigenous dialect. That in itself is something I need to resolve as I forge my way through this M. Ed. 

So I leave you with these greetings as I acknowledge that the language heritage and knowledge reside with the traditional owners, elders and custodians of the various nations. So from me to you,

G’day (English)

Galang nguruindhau (Turrbal)

Jingerri (Yugambeh)

Wunya (Yugara) 

Deo boro dis dium (Konkani)

Namaskar (Marathi)

Nameste (Hindi)



Bensadoun, D. (2010) History: Revival of the Hebrew language. Jerusalem Post. Retrieved from https://www.jpost.com/Jewish-World/Jewish-News/This-week-in-history-Revival-of-the-Hebrew-language

Brtish Museum (2017). Everything you wanted to know about the Rosetta stone. British Museum Blog post. Retrieved from https://blog.britishmuseum.org/everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-the-rosetta-stone/

Crump, D. (2015) Aboriginal languages of the Greater Brisbane area. SLQ Blogs. Retrieved from http://blogs.slq.qld.gov.au/ilq/2015/03/16/aboriginal-languages-of-the-greater-brisbane-area/

Noone, Y. (2015) How technology is saving Indigenous languages. NITV. Retrieved from https://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/article/2015/11/11/how-technology-saving-indigenous-languages

Strochlic, N. (2018) The Race to Save the World’s Disappearing Languages. National Geographic. Retrieved from https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/04/saving-dying-disappearing-languages-wikitongues-culture/

State Library of Queensland (2019b), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander word lists.  Retrieved from https://www.slq.qld.gov.au/discover/aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-cultures-and-stories/languages/word-lists

State Library of Queensland (2019), “Say G’day in an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Language”.  Retrieved from https://www.slq.qld.gov.au/sites/default/files/SLQ%20Say%20G%27day%20Wordlists%202019.pdf