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Public lecture: Re-Awakening Kaurna, the Language of the Adelaide Plains - Strategies and Methods, 5 December

Indigenous Languages, IYIL, Summer School

Date: 23 October 2019


  • Jack Kanya Buckskin, Chair, Kaurna Warra Karrpanthi Aboriginal Corporation
  • Associate Professor Rob Amery, Head of Linguistics, School of Humanities, The University of Adelaide

When: 6-7pm, Thursday 5 December 2019

Where: Elizabeth Murdoch Theatre, Elizabeth Murdoch Building, The University of Melbourne

Registraton: Please register here.

Kaurna, the language of the Adelaide Plains, has been reclaimed from written records, in the absence of any sound recordings, which were compiled in the mid-19th century. Without these records, principally the work of Dresden missionaries Christian Teichelmann and Clamor Schürmann, the re-introduction of Kaurna would not be possible. The interpretation of historical records relies on comparisons made between different observers and with neighbouring related languages, though there is still a large element of guesswork involved.

Historical records provide a reasonably solid foundation for the formation of new words to fill gaps and expand the vocabulary, and to formulate expressions enabling the language to be spoken once again. We will discuss strategies for re-introducing Kaurna, including songs, games and the formulaic method.

Kaurna now functions as an auxiliary language alongside English, where its emblematic role is paramount. It is frequently used in ‘Welcome to Country’ and ‘Acknowledgement of Kaurna’ speeches, within dance performances, in signage and in public works of art. There is recognition of extant Kaurna placenames, some in accordance with dual naming legislation, and strong demand for Kaurna names and translations for a wide range of entities.

Kaurna is now beginning to gain a foothold within the Kaurna community and within the homes of some families. Kaurna people are adopting Kaurna names for themselves, their children and their pets. Some young Kaurna people have developed considerable fluency, whilst Buckskin is raising his three children as at least semi-native speakers of Kaurna.


Jack Kanya Buckskin is a Kaurna, Narrunga and Wirangu man, born in the Adelaide Plains region who has for well over ten years dedicated himself to learning and sharing the Kaurna language and culture. He is the most fluent Kaurna speaker since efforts were initiated to reclaim and reintroduce the language. Jack became a fluent Kaurna speaker in adulthood through working directly with the historical materials, teaching the language, sending messages in Kaurna to his students, speaking the language to his dogs and later to his own children. Jack began his engagement with the Kaurna language through dance performance. Together with Steve Gadlabarti Goldsmith he was part of the Taikurtinna Kaurna dance group, but has since formed his own dance group called Kuma Kaaru ‘one blood’. Jack and Kuma Kaaru have also been given the opportunity to showcase dance, language and culture internationally, having been invited to perform and speak in a number of countries, including Malaysia, India, Nauru, Canada, United States and Austria.’ Jack has taught Kaurna at Warriparinga through the School of Languages, Salisbury High School, Kaurna Plains School, Le Fevre HS and at Adelaide HS. He also worked at the University of Adelaide recording sound files for the Southern Kaurna Placenames project, Kaurna Warra Ngayirda Wingkurila and other KWP projects. Jack is raising his three young children Mahleah Kudlyu Kartanya, Vincent Nguku Warritya and Jackson Puntuntu Kudnuitya speaking Kaurna, who appear to be emerging as at least seminative speakers of the language.. In 2011 Jack was recognised as South Australia’s Young Australian of the Year, and by PortAdelaideEnfield Council with an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander award in 2018 for his contribution to the arts. In 2013 Dylon McDonald released a documentary portraying Kanya’s engagement with his Kaurna language and culture simply titled 'Buckskin'.

Rob Amery, Head of Linguistics, University of Adelaide, completed a PhD in 1998 (published 2000; 2016) on Kaurna language reclamation. For 30 years he has worked closely with Kaurna people and their language, developing teaching programs and resources, providing advice and implementing strategies to reintroduce the sleeping Kaurna language. In 2002, together with Kaurna Elders Dr Alitya Wallara Rigney and Dr Lewis Yerloburka O’Brien, he formed Kaurna Warra Pintyanthi (KWP). Prior knowledge of Western Desert and Yolŋu Matha provided valuable insights for the interpretation of Kaurna historical records. In 199394 he developed an innovative national curriculum framework for introducing accredited Indigenous language programs, including Kaurna, at senior secondary level.


(Image: Staff of Kaurna Warra Pintyanthi)

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