Why linguistics is important for cultural identity

08/07/2021 | 3 mins

Linguistics students at The University of Western Australia recently visited Indigenous communities in Geraldton, where they learnt about the importance of preserving ancestral languages, and understanding language barriers for Australia’s history and community connectedness.

Linguistics students left to right Daniella Esha Fernandes, Khatijah Inayat-Hussain and Erin McFarlane

Image: Linguistics students left to right Daniella Esha Fernandes, Khatijah Inayat-Hussain and Erin McFarlane.

The visit was part of UWA’s Work Integrated Learning Program and provided students with the opportunity to work in an Indigenous community and increase their understanding of linguistics (the study of language).

Students spent time with Indigenous groups and were involved in the region’s Language Expo at Gunnado Farm, an event that connects language communities from across the region. The students also helped collect language data and archiving a collection from the Berndt Museum.

UWA Lecturer in Linguistics Dr Luisa Miceli, who arranged the trip, said it was a timely reminder of why increasing cultural understanding through education was important.

“It was an excellent experience for our students who were able to apply their academic expertise to real-life situations and assist the community in reaching their language goals,” Dr Miceli said.

“A lot of people probably don’t realise there are several languages spoken in Aboriginal communities, and unfortunately as the years pass, some of these are less and less used. There is a danger that one day important parts of our history may be lost so this is why community outreach events are so important.”

20-year-old Booragoon student Daniella Fernandes said it had been an insightful experience that had given her greater understanding of the challenges Indigenous communities face in maintaining their cultural identity.

“Language is what allows us to communicate and form strong relationships. These languages mean everything to these communities – it’s part of their past and has shaped who they are today,” she said.

Linguistics students engage with Indigenous communities in Geraldton

Image: Linguistics students engage with Indigenous communities in Geraldton.

“It’s important to understand how far we still have to come to understand the different cultures and connect communities and connecting through language is key to this.”

UWA researcher and Senior Lecturer in Linguistics Dr Celeste Rodriguez Louro said linguistics was important because understanding one another built cross-cultural friendships.

“A failure to understand the linguistic diversity of Indigenous communities in Australia means that most communication is conducted in mainstream English,” Dr Rodriguez Louro said.

“When communities feel excluded, they are less likely to remain engaged and healthy. Our students learn that linguistics can close the gap by connecting with communities in their own languages.”

Media references

Jess Reid, UWA Media & PR Adviser, 08 6488 6876

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