Lost Languages

It is a sad but true fact that out of the more than six thousand languages that existed in the world at one time, one disappears every fortnight! Take the example of Patrick Nudjulu of North Australia, one of the three remaining speakers of the dying language Mati Ke. As tradition forbids him to speak to his sister, he does not have anyone he can speak his own language with, and as a consequence, the language is dying out, and will disappear with the death of Patrick. Some of the other languages that will disappear soon and be lost forever are, according to Duncan Walker, Abenaki, Atures, Welsh, and Manx.  (Walker, Duncan 2005)

In any culture, land and its language are closely inter connected, and in Aboriginal Australia, this is especially true because the entire continent is divided by its hills and other geographical distinctions, and also because of its languages. The people of Wadeye, who spoke Mati Ke, were forced to move over and start using the Murrinh-Patta. This meant that Mati Ke was no longer being used, and nobody even realized in the beginning that the language of their ancestors was slipping away into oblivion.

Patrick Nudjulu, an old man, and one of the few people left in the world who can actually speak Mati Ke still, says, “I still dream in Mati Ke. See all in the past.” His own daughter and granddaughter do not know how to speak this language, and they use the Murrinh-Patta that they are more familiar with. It is interesting to note that for Patrick Nudjulu, English is his fourth of fifth strongest language.

The author of the book Mark Abley, in a quest to gain knowledge of a few words of Mati Ke, learnt that ‘mi warzu’ is the name for fruit in Mati Ke, ‘a dhan gi’ means salt water prawns, ‘a wayelh’ refers to goanna lizard, although it was sadly true that Patrick Nudjulu himself was forced to use the Murrinh-Patta to communicate with his family. Patrick’s story is indeed a tragic but an all too familiar one; he was forced to leave the town in which he had been living after his parents had given up their difficult life in the bush, but had to go back to life in the bush because he could no longer tolerate the destruction of his town.

He has in effect returned to the bark and bough shelters that were familiar to him, as he had lived in them through his childhood. However, despite his best efforts, it was obvious that his language would not be saved; although he spoke to his grandchildren in Mati Ke, they chose to reply to him in Murrinh-Patta, thereby leaving no doubt at all that yet another language, Mati Ke, is on its inexorable way to extinction.   (Abley, Mark 2005)

Works cited

Abley, Mark “Spoken here, travels among threatened languages” (2005) Google Book Search retrieved on March 11, 2008 from <http://books.google.co.in/books?id=skV2wp81JQIC&pg=PA2&lpg=PA2&dq=lost+language+mati+ke&source=web&ots=VgjTQUxV-c&sig=GKbK0bd-eTYNC-gHyIasUeaYmLw&hl=en>

Walker, Duncan “In defence of ‘lost’ languages” BBC News (2005) Retrieved on March 11, 2008 from <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/4172085.stm>