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Cape York language preserved for future generations in comprehensive dictionary

Rachael Knowles -

Seventeen years in the making, a dictionary of local Cape York language, Umpithamu, has been published.

Published by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), A Dictionary of Umpithamu, with notes on Middle Paman, is the first comprehensive dictionary of a Cape York language released in two decades.

The Umpithamu language comes from the Princess Charlotte Bay region of the Cape York Peninsula's east coast. The dictionary is a result of 17 years of intimate consultation and collaboration with the Umpithamu community.

Cultural Officer for the Lamalama people, Elaine Liddy, had a key role in the development of the dictionary. Liddy recognises the dictionary as an effective way to preserve and teach the Umpithamu language and spoke of how proud her community is to have the book finally finished.

"I am really excited, not just myself but my family and my clan group. It has been 17 years making that book with myself and Elders past and present, and in particular my Aunty who taught me the languages and showed me culture," said Liddy.

"It would have been nice if my Aunty was here to see it and hold the final product."

Whilst never being fluent in Umpithamu, Liddy knows pieces of her language.

"I never learnt the language, but when you're first born, as a baby, you pick it up," she said.

"It didn't stop my Aunty telling us the stories of the language and teaching us those every day and night."

Liddy noted how fortunate she is to have her language preserved in her community and in the dictionary.

"I'm very lucky because I haven't lost it. Whereas other clan groups I know around my area have lost it and haven't been taught that stuff. So, I'm very lucky, and now we're sharing it with the younger generation and whoever wants to learn too I suppose!"

"I hope people can learn something from it, if it's just a couple of words, that's fine with me. If it's all of it, that's great too."

The dictionary not only teaches language, but has information about grammar, meaning and use of Umpithamu words. More information can also be found through an English translation index.

AIATSIS CEO, Craig Ritchie said the dictionary is a powerful framework for the cultural strengthening of Umpithamu.

"The dictionary is a wonderful new resource for all Australians wanting to learn Umpithamu and connect with the rich and continuing Aboriginal heritage of the Charlotte Bay region of the Cape York Peninsula," Ritchie said.

"A Dictionary of Umpithamu strengthens not only the words and grammar, but the cultural knowledge embedded in the language now and for future generations."

A Dictionary of Umpithamu, with notes on Middle Paman was published through the Indigenous Languages Preservation: Dictionaries Project run by AIATSIS and funded by the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA).

A Dictionary of Umpithamu, with notes on Middle Paman can be viewed here: https://aiatsis.gov.au/publications/products/dictionary-umpithamu-notes-middle-paman/hardback-pdf.

By Rachael Knowles

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