An Aboriginal language that was considered ‘virtually extinct’ in 2015 has been revived, including a translation of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
You know the book I’m talking about, where the caterpillar eats pretty much everything in sight before turning into a beautiful butterfly, proving that food is life and nothing you say will ever prove otherwise.
Well, it seems the children’s book has done a lot more than resonate with an entire generation of foodies, because it’s helped bring back the Yuwi indigenous language.
The Yuwi language in the Mackay region in Queensland, Australia, was considered extinct by the State Library of Queensland four years ago as it has no fluent living speakers, ABC News reports.
However, thanks to a massive revival effort, a group of volunteers has collated 1,000 words of Yuwi vocabulary – enough to translate The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which turns 50 today (June 3).
The book, which has been translated into at least 40 languages, can now be read to Yuibera and Yuwibara children in Mackay in their ancestors’ words.
Deb Netuschil, a Yuibera traditional descendent, was one of the volunteers who worked to revive the language and said there was a ‘grief’ surrounding its extinction.
She explained, as per ABC News:
Our language was near-extinct, and as a traditional woman here on country, there was a grief for that.
That’s our culture, and that’s what connects us to our land and to our people, so to have lost that culture through our language, it was like losing a part of you.
You see other communities that were very fortunate to still have their old people present to pass a lot of that language down and it’s something you quietly envied.
The group verified pronunciation and spelling of the words through working with a linguist, the state library, and traditional families – a process which Deb described as ‘like looking through a haystack with a fine-tooth comb’.
Having to start from scratch, the volunteers also consulted historical records, anthropological reports, and linguistic documents to collate the list of words.
The Queensland State Library’s Indigenous Languages project is currently working with local communities to revive more than 100 languages and dialects across the state.
Des Crump, the library’s Indigenous languages coordinator, said most of Queensland’s 100 Indigenous languages were considered endangered, with only ‘two or three really strong languages’.
This is possibly the first time a popular story such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar has been translated into a Queensland Aboriginal language.
The volunteers plan to continue translating children’s books as well as local Indigenous stories.
What an amazing achievement.
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A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).