There are many small indigenous communities around the world whose languages are slowly becoming extinct. As societies become propelled toward modern civilization, these groups are being left behind and with the dwindling number of speakers of indigenous languages, it won’t be long before they die out.
But in a small island off the coast of Australia, a certain linguistic phenomenon has been happening all this time.
On South Goulburn Island, a small, forested isle off Australia’s northern coast, a settlement called Warruwi Community consists of some 500 people who speak among themselves around nine different languages. This is one of the last places in Australia—and probably the world—where so many indigenous languages exist together. There’s the Mawng language, but also one called Bininj Kunwok and another called Yolngu-Matha, and Burarra, Ndjébbana and Na-kara, Kunbarlang, Iwaidja, Torres Strait Creole, and English.
One might think that the people living in this community must be capable of speaking several of these languages but in reality they don’t. However, they are able to understand each other regardless. Michael Erard tells us more about the Warruwi Community.
(Image credit: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters)