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International Mother Language Day: 21 February 2020.

By Administrator | 20 February 2020

Poster image for International Mother Language Day
International Mother Language Day Poster, UN website.

Friday 21 February marks International Mother Language Day - a day set aside by the United Nations to raise awareness of the loss of Indigenous languages across the world. Since 2000, International Mother Language Day highlights key issues for traditional languages - the 2020 theme is “languages without borders”. The theme highlights that local, cross-border languages can promote peaceful dialogue and help to preserve indigenous heritage.

UNESCO believes that recognition of and respect for linguistic and cultural diversity contribute to strengthening the unity and cohesion of societies. These are foundations for more lasting peace both within and between societies, and led to UNESCO’s decision to celebrate International Mother Language Day.

UNESCO International Mother Language Day website.
Say G'day wordle.

UNESCO believes that linguistic diversity is increasingly threatened as more and more languages disappear. Globally 40 per cent of the population does not have access to an education in a language they speak or understand. Nevertheless, progress is being made in mother tongue-based multilingual education with growing understanding of its importance, particularly in early schooling, and more commitment to its development in public life.

Jingeri Jingeri.

School-communities are encouraged to explore ways to celebrate linguistic diversity - from using greetings in language to creating stories such as the above image. To help schools and communities celebrate the day and support language diversity, the UN website has a range of ideas and strategies.


  • Encourage children to use their mother languages to introduce themselves and talk about their families and culture
  • Record these and share with the school-community
  • Celebrate language diversity through poetry, storytelling or songs in mother languages
  • Paintings and drawings with captions in mother languages can also be displayed - create a 'word wall'
  • Create local language flashcards


  • Discover how many mother languages your fellow students speak.
  • Conduct a survey of the languages by interviewing them and publish the results.
  • Read stories in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages
  • Watch and listen to films, plays and music that celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages.


  • Establish a community Language Circle – informal gathering of Elders, language custodians and other community members to share language. Choose a theme each month, e.g. ‘favourite language word’; ‘animals’; ‘family’, etc.
  • Set up a Language Nest – similar to a language circle but aimed at little ones; informal gathering of mums, bubs and nans to play and talk together using language.
  • Encourage cultural rangers / Traditional Owners to share language on country – describe the landscape, animals, plants, etc. using language words.
Gunggari Chatterbox.

The above image is a quick and easy template for a chatterbox in language! It features 20 words in Gunggari language from South-West Queensland and is a fun way to learn everyday words in an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language. Use this as a template for your local language!

Book cover of Gudaa Bula Dyugi-dyugi
Gudaa Bula Dyugi-dyugi. JUV 499.15 BOW

The above image depicts a Guugu Yimithirr bilingual book Gudaa Bula Dyugi-dyugi (The Dog and the Chook) written by Lillian Bowen, teacher at Hope Vale State School - Pama Language Centre also has language activity sheets to accompany the text. Other ideas for schools to celebrate the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages can be found in the IYIL2019 Learning Notes. One of the most effective ways is exploring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander bilingual books. State Library collections hold a diverse range of items from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors, writers, storytellers, etc. 

I'd like to be, Evelyn Sandy. JUV 428.6 san.

These include texts dating back to the 1970’s when several bilingual programs were in place across Cape York and the Torres Strait as well as contemporary publications and virtual books. Priority Country Area Project (PCAP) books featuring languages were also popular during the 1970-80's - many of these including the above are held in State Library collections.

State Library in partnership with the Queensland Department of Education digitised a selection of these. Book titles include: Old Doomadgee; Pig Chasing; Round and about Cooktown; A Day at the Waterhole; Gardening on Saibai and one of my favourites Henry’s Toe!

Henry's Toe, Norah Nona. JUV A823.3 non

As part of the State Library's commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, there will be a language forum held on Mother Language Day to bring together community, GLAM sector and others to explore 'what now for Indigenous languages?'. Minya Birran will explore ways to harness the goodwill and energy of the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages and continue the momentum through 2020 and beyond.

International Mother Language Day is a great opportunity for schools, communities and other groups to explore and learn about Queensland's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages.

Follow the day on social media using the #MotherLanguageDay hashtag!

Additional content for this blog post has been drawn from the United Nations International Mother Language Day webpages.

Desmond Crump

Indigenous Languages Coordinator, State Library of Queensland

State Library of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages Webpages

State Library of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages Map

Jarjum stories: A kuril dhagun showcase focusing on children’s books and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages. 19 October 2019-10 May 2020.

Spoken: celebrating Queensland languages: A major exhibition exploring the survival and revival of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages throughout Queensland. Join in the many talks and events to celebrate the rich and diverse languages spoken today. 21 November 2019 -19 April 2020.

Minya Birran Languages Forum

State Library of Queensland Minya Birran webpage

State Library of Queensland Minya Birran Celebration event webpage

UN Weblinks

UN International Mother Language Day Resources

UN International Year of Indigenous Languages webpages

UN International Year of Indigenous Languages Resources

References and Further Reading

The following selection from the State Library collections represent a sample of the diversity of Queensland’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages. Further items can be found using One Search.

Allan, J. and Lane, J. (2001) The language of the Wangerriburra and neighbouring groups in the Yugambeh regionP 499.15 all

Bowen, L. (2015) Gudaa bula dyugi-dyugi = The dog and the chook. JUV 499.15 BOW

Breen, J.G. (1981) The Mayi Languages of the Queensland Gulf Country. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies Press. J 499.15 bre

Breen, J. G. and Blake, B. (2007) The grammar of Yalarnnga: a language of western QueenslandJ 499.152 BRE

Crombie, J. and Barr-Crombie, J. (2014) Children's Talking Book JUV 499.15 CRO  

Crombie, J. and Barr-Crombie, J. (2018) Looking for Tucker .  JUVQ 499.15 CRO 

Curr, E. M. (1887) The Australian Race: its origins, languages, customs, place of landing in Australia and the routes by which it spread itself over that continent.  RBF 572.994 cur

Dixon, R. M. W. (1972) The Dyirbal language of North Queensland.  G 499.15 1972

Dixon, R. M. W. (1977) A grammar of YidinG 499.155 1977

Dixon, R. M. W. (1991) Words of our country: stories, place names and vocabulary in Yidiny, the Aboriginal language of the Cairns-Yarrabah regionG 499.15 1991

Dixon, R. and Blake, B. (Eds) (1979) Handbook of Australian LanguagesG 499.15 1979

Edwards, R. (Ed) (2001) Dictionary of Torres Strait languages. Q 499.1503 RAY

Eipper, C. (2007) German Mission to the Aborigines at Moreton Bay, 1841. Archive CD Books. QCFS 266.02343094 2007

Gordon, T. and Haviland, J. (1980) Milbi: Aboriginal tales from Queensland’s Endeavour RiverJUVQ 398.20994 GOR

Haviland, J. (1979) ‘Guugu Yimidhirr’, in Handbook of Australian languages. Vol 1. J 499.15 HAN

Helon, G. (1994) The English-Goreng Goreng-English dictionaryG 499.15 1994

Hercus, L. and Sutton, P. (1986) This is what happened: historical narratives by AboriginesJ 994.0049915 thi

Hill, C. and Thompson, D. (2012) Lockhart River language readers Umpila and Kuuku Ya'u languages. HKT 418 HIL

Hobson, J., Lowe, K., Poetsch, S. and Walsh, M (Eds) (2010) Re-awakening languages: theory and practice in the revitalisation of Australia’s indigenous languages.  499.15 2010

Holmer, N. (1983) Linguistic Survey of South-Eastern QueenslandJ 499.15 HOL

Jarl, M. (2014) The legends of Moonie Jarl. Retold by Moonie Jarl (Wilf Reeves) ; illustrated by Wandi (Olga Miller). J 398.2 MOO  

Korkaktain, V. (2008) Minh Nga’an Wichan = Catching fish told & illustrated by Venita Korkaktain. JUV A823.4 KOR

Lawrie, M. (1970) Myths and legends of Torres Strait. Q 398.2099438 MYT

Lawrie, M. The Margaret Lawrie Collection of Torres Straits Materials. TR2082 

Mathew, J. (1910) Two representative tribes of Queensland: with an inquiry concerning the origin of the Australian raceJ 306.0899915 MAT

Meston, A. (undated) Archibald Meston Papers Undated. OM64-17

Minjerribah Moorgumpin Elders-in-Council Aboriginal Corporation (2011) Jandai language dictionary: a dictionary of language spoken on Stradbroke and Moreton Islands based on words remembered by all Elders and recorded by interested visitors to our shores. HKT 499.153 JAN

Mirndiyan Gununa Aboriginal Corporation (2014) Two boys and two devils : a traditional Yangkaal story from Forsyth Island. Illustrated by Year 3 students at Mornington Island State School.  JUV 299.9215 TWO

Patz, E. (2002) A grammar of the Kuku Yalanji language of north Queensland. J 499.15 PAT

Ray, S. Dictionary of Torres Strait LanguagesQ 499.1503 RAY

Santo, W. & Nancarrow, C. (2006) Gudjal book of animals. JUV 499.15 SAN

Sutton, P. (ed) (1974) Languages of Cape York: papers presented to the Linguistic Symposium, Part B, held in conjunction with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies Biennial General Meeting, May,1974.  G 499.15 1976

Sutton, P. (1995) Wik-Ngathan dictionaryQ 499.15 SUT

Tennant-Kelly, C. and University of Queensland (2011) The Caroline Tennant-Kelly ethnographic collection: fieldwork accounts of Aboriginal culture in the 1930s. (CD-ROM) HCF 305.89915 CAR

Terrill, A. (1998) Biri.  J 499.15 TER

Terrill, A. (2002) Dharumbal: the language of Rockhampton, AustraliaJ 499.15 TER

Thancoupie (2007) Thanakupi’s guide to language and culture: a Thaynakwith dictionary. Q 305.899 THA

Wafer, J. and Lissarrague, A. (2008) A handbook of Aboriginal languages of New South Wales and the Australian Capital TerritoryJ 499.15 WAF

Walker, D. and Griffiths, L. (2011) Island treasures : Torres Strait children share stories. Collected by Dot Walker and Lynnette Griffiths for the State Library of Queensland. JUV A828.4 ISL

Watson, F. J. (1944) “Vocabularies of four representative tribes of South Eastern Queensland”; supplement to the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (Queensland), No. 34, Vol XLVIII. REFJ 499.15 wat


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