Goldfields first Native-English language dictionary was published after 16 years of development.

The Cundeelee Wangka-English dictionary is the first time that any of the region’s 12 indigenous languages ​​has been recorded in written form.

A dialect of the Pitjantjatjarra language, the Cundeelee Wangka was formed between the 1950s and 1970s at the Cundeelee mission, where aborigines from several linguistic groups lived together.

Developed by the Goldfields Aboriginal Language Center, the dictionary is made up of approximately 3,500 words from the Pila Arnangu people, or Spinifex people, of southwestern Goldfields.

Senior linguist Sue Hanson said the creation of the dictionary would help solidify the identity of the indigenous peoples who lived in the area.

“Certainly it will help people in the area who speak this language,” she said.

“I can’t imagine what it must be like to speak a language, but it’s not recognized, it’s not written down anywhere.

“Having a dictionary is like showing the world ‘It’s our language, and that’s how it is’.”

Dictionary to thank contributors

The dictionary was compiled by husband-and-wife linguistics team Dawn and Brian Hadfield, who have been collecting written and audio samples of the language for 60 years.

A former teacher, Ms Hadfield began recording the language to better communicate with local natives while working at Cundeelee School in the 1950s.

The idea to take the job and develop a dictionary came about 16 years ago when the Hadfields and the language center got together.

She said that many Aboriginal people who had helped her understand the intricacies of the language had passed away and the dictionary was a way to honor their memory.

“I used their stories or their conversations with me that were recorded to give examples of how words are used, and that’s why I recognize them, because it’s their speech that I recorded” , Ms. Hadfield said.

Indigenous language dictionaries on the rise

Alan Dench, emeritus professor of linguistics at Curtin University, said the development of Aboriginal-to-English dictionaries in Western Australia was on the rise.

“Most of the language centers across the country, there are a number of them that have been producing dictionaries and certainly more comprehensive word lists and dictionaries for a long time,” he said.

“There are dictionaries of quite a few Australian languages, they are not always easily accessible, but they are certainly there, and most language centers will have them.”

Professor Dench said that with many indigenous languages ​​at risk of being lost, communities were eager to have their language recorded, but the process could be slow and require significant resources.

“Communities are very keen to have dictionaries and to have information about languages, especially where the language is at risk of getting lost – and that’s almost everywhere,” he said.

“Community members want these things and they are happy to receive them if people are able to put them together and have the resources to do so.”

Languages ​​threatened with “disappearance”

Professor Dench said the value of a dictionary was the security it provided for words that were not commonly used in everyday speech and could be lost over time.

“When it comes to things like words for plants or animals, traditional foods, all sorts of things like that, words that people don’t necessarily come across day to day, having those words in a dictionary that was collected means they remain in a community in a way that sometimes in general use would fade,” he said.

A second edition of the dictionary is planned by the language centre, which will see the number of recorded words increase to around 11,500.

Ms Hadfield said she hoped the second edition would be completed within the next five years.