About

At the time of Australian settlement in 1788, there were some 250 known Indigenous languages across the country, but now only about 20 are spoken comprehensively. Language is intrinsically linked to Indigenous peoples’ way of life, culture and identities. Language brings meaning to cultural heritage and articulates the intricate relationships between Indigenous peoples and their connection to their land and community.

The Rediscovering Indigenous Languages project aims to preserve and revitalise some of the oldest languages in the world by locating, digitising and providing access to Indigenous word lists, language records and other cultural documents, starting with the State Library of New South Wales’ collections. Some items in the Library’s collections are the only known surviving records of these particular Indigenous languages. 

Making these items available digitally means enabling widespread access to highly significant parts of Australia’s cultural heritage and providing the opportunity for all Australians, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to gain a better understanding of our nation's rich cultural landscape. As well as being able to connect previously dispersed information, we also have the opportunity as a community to enrich, critique, discuss and revive these important historical documents.

The project aims to:

  • Make available, in a culturally appropriate framework, surviving language lists to Indigenous communities
  • Develop protocols for the publication of language lists, to ensure that they meet community needs and allow communities to contribute their knowledge to Library records about their languages
  • Locate previously dispersed language lists in the Library’s collections
  • Increase public awareness of Indigenous language and cultural history
  • Be an effective educational resource contributing to school curriculum and further research

Use of terms 

The library uses tools developed by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) to make our language resources more discoverable.

The AIATSIS Pathways Tools include a thesaurus for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies subjects, language group, and peoples.

The map and tools have developed to make the lists more discoverable, and should be used as a guide only for identifying languages resources. The map indicates only a general location of language groups boundaries, and is not intended to be exact.

For more information about specific language boundaries, we recommend that you contact the relevant Local Aboriginal Land Council