September 25, 2006

extinct?

a few weeks ago, an old lady passed away and she was probably the last full speaker of Ngandi, bless her soul. She was a deadly old lady who had done lots of language work in her life and contributed so much to all the work that has been done on Ngandi. She will be missed.

After her death, one munanga here said to me ‘Ngandi is extinct now’. But is it really?

We are still teaching Ngandi here at Ngukurr. My anggurl ET knows a bit of the language and is working hard to learn more. Twice a week, he teaches Ngandi at Ngukurr school and is doing his best to pass on what he knows. So for a few hours a week he is teaching the words and phrases he knows and the Ngandi kids are slowly learning. Can you still call Ngandi extinct when that is happening?

My mami CD can understand Ngandi really well, although she is not a ‘full’ speaker in that there are things she doesn’t know and she hasn’t really grown up speaking Ngandi. But she can easily produce plenty of fluent sentences and knows a lot of the language. Can you call Ngandi extinct when she’s still here with that knowledge?

Another mami of mine, RG, also knows Ngandi pretty well. The other day, me and ET were trying to work out some Ngandi words. I asked RG, ‘what does barru-bak-bolk-dhungi mean?’ and she said, ‘thei bin kamat na’ (they came out/arrived). Can you call Ngandi extinct when we are still talking like this?

Today RG said to me ‘Nga-rudhung gu-rerr-gitj’ and I understood her perfectly… she told me she was going home. Is Ngandi really extinct?

Of course, there is no one left who is sitting around speaking Ngandi all the time, but it hasn’t gone away. I don’t think calling a language extinct is quite as black and white as it would first seem.

5 comments:

Sophie said...

Bobala main gagu, det olgamen, May she rest in peace.
You know what , over here in New Mexico I can read what you write in Ngandi and understand it too. One boy here is using the Ngandi grammar as a project to try and understand morphology better. he asks me sometimes some things about it, he is learning to say words and understand about the pronoun systems and the verbs. He is learning a little bit about the noun classes.
He presents the things he learns to the class. Ngandi is still important to many people. Many people talk about it, many people know things about it, all different kinds of things, it sounds, its rhythm, its history, its songs, its Country.
Go Ngukurr Mob- you are doing important work.
Mami

bulanjdjan said...

I was having a great chat with main naja baba MP (yu naja mami) the other day about language death, and the proposition that language death is *just* radical language change. So radical in fact, that it results in complete language shift.

In the case of Dalabon, it seems unlikely that the language has undergone much language-change-approaching-death/moribundity/silence/shift. The community just shifted to Kriol (in the south) and Bininj Gun-wok (in the north) before passing through a stage of speaking simplified/much-changed Dalabon. The singular advantage of this is that people who are still able to speak Dalabon have full knowledge of the morphosyntactic paradigms. Their language knowledge can be influenced by many factors: interference from Kriol or another Aboriginal language, memory loss, old age and health issues etc. But at least 'on-the-way-out Dalabon' isn't one of those interfering factors, cos I reckon it'd be one of the most insidious.

Claire said...

Wรคwa, sorry to hear about that. I think I know who you're talking about, although I've never met her - Melanie was telling me about the people involved in language work there.

Could you send me an email (anggarrgoon at gmail)? I'm thinking about future languages of the week and Ngandi would be a nice choice when we get to "engma", but I'd like to check that everyone's ok with it and maybe check a few things with you and the Ngukurr mob.

Sophie said...

Happy Birthday Wamut!!!!!!!!!!!
You are wonderful and brilliant and wonderful.
Big huge hug
Mami

Perez said...

I'm assuming you've read Nick Evans' 'The last speaker is dead — long live the last speaker!'. It's a corker.