Researchers map ancient language in West Australian outback

Amid widespread concern about the disappearance of Indigenous languages, the former Catholic mission of Balgo is located in a linguistic melting pot that is thriving after tens of thousands of years.

Now, scientists want to map the local “lingua franca” called Kukatja, which is spoken more fluently than English by residents of all ages and across at least seven tribal groups.

Ancient connection

Within a small study, 14-year-old Anton Whisputt chats to his grandmother Dulcie Nanala about his day at school.

This timeless exchange feels particularly ancient given the language they are speaking is many thousands of years old.

With nearly half of the world’s 6,700 languages at risk of disappearing, this casual chat also has global consequences.

Luis Miguel Rojas Berscia is recording the conversation for a research study by the University of Queensland, mapping the Kukatja language.

Dr Berscia has come to the township on the edge of the Great Sandy Desert after conducting similar studies with Amazonian tribes in Peru.

He believes Balgo could help explain how languages spread around the world.

“You have [many different] ethnic groups and they all communicate using Kukatja as a lingua franca, as a contact language, and that is very unique,” Dr Berscia said.

“You find some of them in the Amazon, in western Africa, and you find some of them also here in Australia so these can tell us a lot about the formation of languages.”

Read more: ABC

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