In honour of the 13th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), Twitter Australia and the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation (ALNF) have released a series of voice tweets to celebrate and raise awareness of the preservation of Indigenous languages.

On Sunday, Twitter Australia released a series of new oral tweets from notable First Nations Australians and ALNF community members including band Electric Fields and artist Jeremy Donovan. These tweets featured words spoken in traditional languages such as Adnyamathanha, Erub Mer, Bunuba, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara.

According to the United Nations, 40 per cent of Indigenous languages are at risk of extinction. With this knowledge in mind, Twitter Australia and ALNF pushed for this initiative to educate the public on the need for language preservation.

“ALNF research has found that First Languages are disappearing at a faster rate than anywhere in the world despite a universal acknowledgment that language plays a vital role in the health, wellbeing, education, and future of Indigenous peoples,” said Kara Hinesley, Director of Public Policy at Twitter Australia and NZ.

“Globally, there are over 370 million Indigenous peoples, and they speak an overwhelming majority of the world’s estimated 7,000 languages. Within Australia alone, 81,100 people identify as the speaker of an Indigenous language and 276,300 people … identify language as part of heritage.

“Together with the ALNF, Twitter is proud to utilise our platform to raise awareness of Indigenous languages and make them more accessible in the public conversation.”

Iwaidja and Kungarakan man, Chair of Living Languages and Co-Chair of ALNF, Tom Calma, noted the power of social media in mainstream education.

“To get messages out in all these different languages in fantastic,” Calma said.

He said the ALNF is hoping the general population will begin to recognise the “diversity of languages that were, that are and that will be in the future”.

ALNF have worked extensively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, preserving language through their Living First Language platform. The platform provides community-led and interactive digital literacy apps.

The platform has received world recognition, including winning the Culture and Tourism award at the 2020 United Nations World Summit Awards and the GOLD Award in the Social Innovation category of the Edison Awards.

“In essence, it’s a way we can sustainably record Aboriginal languages,” said Calma.

“What is important with the app and the work we do is it is from the mother tongue. It’s about the language owners speaking in their own language.”

“Not only is it recorded but it’s translated into a standardised linguistic format so that all the languages will be oral, written and have an English translation which explains what the word means.”

The app is entirely community-controlled, with community deciding who can access language, which parts of language they can access and what is recorded.

Previous to COVID-19, ALNF were in conversation with both Navajo and Indigenous Latin America groups regarding international use of the platform.

To support ALNF and their Living First Languages platform, visit: https://alnf.org/program/firstlanguages/.

By Rachael Knowles