Our First Nations Peoples’ languages matter

Written by Petrea Cahir, Karen Glover and Stephanie Brown | Healthy Mothers Healthy Families, Population Health, MCRI

Did you know that prior to the late 18th century, there were at least 250 distinct language groups across the land we now know as Australia?

Within these languages groups there were, and still are, many dialects spoken. Multilingualism was the norm.  Given the significant land mass, it’s unsurprising that some of these languages are as different from each other as English is from Russian. Currently, around 120 of these languages are actively used or being rivitalised. Other new languages are emerging too, such as different forms of Kriol.  

Language is inextricably linked to family, identity, culture, health and wellbeing. This is why the Aboriginal Families Study led by MCRI and the Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia is shining a spotlight on the language development of early primary school aged Aboriginal children.

The Healthy Mothers Healthy Families research group is commencing follow-up of mothers and children in the Aboriginal Families Study later this year. In the baseline study completed in 2013, a team of 12 Aboriginal researchers invited Aboriginal women living in urban, regional and remote areas of South Australia to talk about pregnancy and birthing care, and the support that they had from services before and after their baby was born.

The research findings have been used to strengthen services so that they can provide better care and support for Aboriginal families.

In the follow-up study starting later this year, Aboriginal researchers will interview mothers about the health and wellbeing of the study children, and about their own health and wellbeing. The children will be invited to participate in a series of fun activities to assess strengths and challenges in their speech and language development.

A key focus of the research is to learn more about what enables mothers and children to stay strong and resilient. We recognise that language is an important aspect of culture and identify integrally linked to children’s wellbeing.

The first week of July is NAIDOC week - a week to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander achievements, history and culture. This year the theme for NAIDOC week is ‘Our Languages Matter’.

You can find out more about NAIDOC week and local events to celebrate NAIDOC week here

Pictured: members of the Aboriginal Families Study team and Aboriginal Advisory Group, (L-R): Karen Glover, Cathy Leane, Deanna Stuart-Butler, Roxanne Miller, Theresa Francis, Tania Axleby-Blake.