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Gurindji sign language films win ICTV award

Date: 21 May 2019

The Gurindji Takataka sign language project has taken out the 2019 ICTV (Indigenous Community Television) Video Award for Best Language Film.

The award was announced on 16 May in Mparntwe (Alice Springs) at an event that was live-streamed across the country on ICTV. A panel of judges chose the Takataka sign language films from a competitive field of 200 entries from across Australia.

In an interview with Fran Kelly for ABC RN Breakfast, Leah Leaman, a Gurindji woman from Kalkaringi, said Takataka is used community-wide.

“Back in the early days, in hunter-gatherer times, you had to have sign language when hunting animals – you couldn’t make noises or else you’d scare the animal away,” Ms Leaman said.

“And there were always special children who were born into the tribes who were unable to hear properly and they were accepted into the community, so it wasn’t just one family who learned the sign language – everybody uses it. It’s been passed down, so we still try to maintain it, so that the young kids know it’s a really big part of community life.”

Co-producer and University of Melbourne linguist Dr Jennifer Green said that for Indigenous peoples, sign is an important part of their rich and diverse ways of communicating.

“These sign languages are very old, and they all have their own signed vocabularies, for example for plants and animals and for the various kinship relations,” Dr Green said.

“One of the fantastic things that’s happening is that people bring in resources from other languages and written orthographies, and bring them together to make communication systems that are really useful in a particular context.”

For example, Takataka builds on traditional Gurindji sign language, but has developed more recently to express new concepts such as ‘money’ and ‘keycard’. In recent times, air spelling of names and places have been incorporated as well. Auslan finger spelling was also included in the early 1990s, when a mother of a deaf child found these signs illustrated in a telephone book and taught them to school children.

The Gurindji Takataka sign language project has been recording the sign language over the past three years. The 15 short award-winning films were made by Cassandra Algy, Centre Affiliate Jennifer Green and Chief Investigator Felicity Meakins with Gurindji people, supported by Karungkarni Arts, ICTV, CoEDL, The University of Queensland and The University of Melbourne. They are part of a suite of resources that the team has been making to support Gurindji sign language, including a set of four posters published by Batchelor Press.


For more about Australian Indigenous sign languages see (Main image: Antoinette Bernhard, Jennifer Green, Cassandra Algy, Felicity Meakins and Serena Donald at the award ceremony.)

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University