Bridging generations: Bininj Kunwok Centre blends tech and tradition for language

Note: the Puliima Indigenous Languages + Technology Conference is taking place August 21-25, 2023 in the city of Darwin, Australia. Rising Voices is pleased to be a Supporting Partner for this event that is bringing together more than 900 delegates from across the region. Over the course of the week, we will be featuring different participants that are incorporating technology and digital media into their language work.

Based in the towns and cities of Jabiru, Gunbalanya and Darwin in the Northern Territories of Australia, the Bininj Kunwok Regional Language Centre has been partnering with the Cultural Research Office and the Djómi Museum in Maningrida to support the Bininj Kunwok languages. These languages are a group of  six local varieties throughout Arnhem Land, including languages spoken in the renown Kakadu National Park area. In anthropological circles, Bininj Kunwok is most notably recognized by one of its dialects, specifically referred to as Kunwinjku (formerly spelled as ‘Gunwinggu’ prior to the establishment of a standardized practical orthography).

The connection to the land is fundamental for their work and has been expressed by their Language Centre’s Chairperson, Ngalwakadj Jill Nganjmirra who has said:

Kunred dja Kunwok. Manbu kunred kabeneraworren kunwok, bu kabenedjarrkyo kore kubolkwern rowk. Wanjh karrinahna kunred dja kunwok kadberre. Yuwn bu karriwarrewon kunred dja kunwok, makka wanjh ngad kadberre.

Country and language. Country and language both live together everywhere. And we should look after our country and our language. We shouldn’t mess up our country and language – these belong to us.

Some of the Centre's digital-related work involves the creation of online dictionaries such as Njamed, Bininj Kunwok online dictionary and Gijingarliya Wengga, Burarra and Gun-nartpa online dictionary. The Centre's presence on YouTube can be found on the channel called “Karriyolyolme,” which features local traditional stories and songs, especially those narrated by elders, stories by local artists explaining their techniques and the meaning behind their work, as well as culturally and linguistically-relevant information that helped residents protect themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this email interview with Rising Voices, linguist and Centre collaborator, Margaret Carew shares some insight about their Puliima conference session titled, “Bininj Kunwok – kunwok dja mankarre kadberre (Bininj Kunwok – our language, our culture)” presented by Jill Nganjmirra, Jeanette Burrunali, Seraine Namundja, with the team from the Bininj Kunwok Regional Language Centre, as well as the overall Puliima experience.

Rising Voices (RV): Could you briefly share the main focus of your Puliima conference presentation?

Margaret Carew (MC): Our main focus of the presentation is to show the work that is happening in our region, in language, on country. There are many groups right through Western and Central Arnhem Land that speak a lot of different languages and dialects. We will show that people are working hard recording elders, teaching children on country, teaching balanda (non-Indigenous people) about language and working to build cross-cultural understanding and respect. We are showing all the ways that we are using technology and making resources to inspire and involve our children. We want them to know that their languages and cultures are important for their future.

RV: What do you hope that the audience will take away/learn after attending your session?

MC: They will see us standing up strong and proud and know that our languages are strong into the future.

Seraine Namundja and Jill Nganjmirra are very proud of their story called Ngalkunbirryayme Yawkyawk (Mermaid Spirits). This has been published recently in the book NT Mob Sharing Stories. There will be a reading session for this book on the Friday of the conference. Derek Carter from the Cultural Research Office at Maningrida will show a film about his Balkarranga clan country, stories and songs from Ana-jola.

RV: What are you most looking forward to at the Puliima Conference?

MC: We are all looking forward to sharing our knowledge and culture with other First Nations people around Australia. We are still a young language centre and we want to build more connections and be part of the conversation that will build stronger support for languages in our country.

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