For me, it is very important to communicate directly with the Aboriginal people. This is not possible without language. Meeting the desert-dwellers regularly, I have become fully aware of how essential and fundamental it is for their coexistence and survival to be in relationship and to remain in relationship through language.
Talking with each other enables us to share and participate in each other’s lives and beliefs. So, from the start, learning the Alyawarr language was a high priority for me and is an integral part of my ministry. Even though I am not the youngest anymore, learning the language sustains me.
The Alyawarr language is spoken in Central Australia daily by 1500 people. Most speakers live north-east of Alice Springs and are spread across the Queensland border.
I realised very soon that Alyawarr and other Aboriginal languages are so different compared with the Indo-European, Afro–Asian or Melanesian languages. My European tongue is having a hard time pronouncing many of the Alyawarr syllables and letters, as they are completely unfamiliar to me. But the effort is worthwhile when I see Aboriginal children make big eyes at me when I say something to them in their language. They also laugh heartily when I say a word that sounds weird to their ears.
Currently, I’m going through the Alyawarr Picture Dictionary repeatedly. I also meet regularly with local pastor Frank Turner and a linguist from the Australian Society of Indigenous Languages to practise reading in Alyawarr. Most of the time we read and translate a text from the Bible. Recently, for the first time, I presented a short Bible text in the service. When I told my language teacher about it, he said, ‘Just give it a go!’
Michael Jacobsen is the Ministry Support Worker for the Alyawarr Language Area.