The race to save the Pertame language…

Pertame is an ancient language that has been used for thousands of years, but due to colonisation and pastoral development, the language deteriorated with most speakers now using english at home and work and for educational purposes.

With the language now facing possible extinction, one group of women are standing in the way of the language disappearing forever.

Pertame belongs to the country south of Mparntwe and is an important part of the ancestry and wisdom there, but now less than 30 Elders who are fluent speakers that are still with us. To address this problem, a community-driven plan of action called the Master and Apprentice Project (MAP) has been initiated. This project works with Pertame Elders to convey their cultural wisdom and language to the next generation, creating new fluent speakers of Pertame. The MAP model is a globally prominent methodology that was established by the First Nations grassroots language communities in California, United States. This method develops new fluent speakers through oral immersion sessions with Elder speakers (Master) and adult learners (Apprentices) spending 10-20 hours each week in total language use.

One of the ‘masters’ of the project, Pertame Elder Doreen Abbott, is a fluent speaker who teaches Pertame to apprentices in the project. The apprentices learn Pertame by using language for everyday situations in and around the home and on country. The project aims to create intergenerational language transmission, similar to how it was used before English. Ms Abbott spoke on the importance of their work, “It’s good to keep it strong… to teach our children what our parents have taught us, so that we don’t forget what was said. It’s a very strong language.”

Since the project started, many participants have been able to learn and teach Pertame. One of the apprentices, Leeanne Swan, spoke on how the ‘Master and Apprentice’ technique has worked for them. “What I wanted to get across today was how we adopted the Master Apprentice program, how it’s worked for us, how we want to share that knowledge with the rest of Indigenous people of Australia, you know the people that are struggling to keep their language alive.”

Story filmed and edited by Chris Murrkarany Fitzpatrick

With monetary assistance difficult to come by, the only active Master-Apprentice project in Australia relies on philanthropist donations to keep it operational as it becomes a source of inspiration for the younger generation.