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Pertame Language Revitalization Project

I grew up in a multi language speaking household, but unfortunately for myself, I was a passive listener of Pertame and not an active speaker. Even now as an adult I shake my head in disbelief at the ignorance of my younger self for not speaking Pertame to my grandmother who spoke Pertame fluently as well as other languages. But learning from my mistakes as an adult now, I have made my realisation of learning and teaching Pertame a reality by being an apprentice with the Master and Apprentice Project (MAP).

Pertame (Southern Arrernte) belongs to the country south of Mparntwe, it is a rich and old language that conveys over 60 thousand years of antiquity; ancestry and wisdom of the country. Our Pertame grandparents’ generations were lucky to grow up on the traditional lands of our Tnengkerra (Ancestors), speaking Pertame as their first language while connected in culture and kinship. As a result of colonisation and the pastoral development, our Altya (family) drifted apart into regional towns with their children attending English-only schools. It is through this migration that Pertame use in the households deteriorated, with most choosing English for work and education purposes. Pertame is a severely endangered language with less than 30 Elders who are fluent speakers that are still with us, without support it will be lost within the next generation with their first language being English. 

Having lived interstate for almost 10 years, English was the only language being used to communicate between adults and children. I had tried to incorporate my languages Pertame and Pitjantjatjara into my children’s upbringing as much as I possibly could. One morning the biggest realisation for me was how I could learn and teach my children Pertame: some people call it an epiphany. I thought about the tools I needed and what resources I could access and the qualifications I needed to start doing what I needed to do. I did not want my children growing up without Pertame being their first or second language, it was one of the main reasons why we moved back to Mparntwe. I wanted my kids to grow up knowing and speaking their language, also to know their extended families and the Pertame kinship system and their traditional country.

I grew up in a multi language speaking household, but unfortunately for myself I was a passive listener of Pertame and not an active speaker. Even now as an adult I shake my head in disbelief at the ignorance of my younger self for not speaking Pertame to my grandmother who spoke Pertame fluently as well as other languages. But learning from my mistakes as an adult now, I have made my realisation of learning and teaching Pertame a reality by being an apprentice with the Master and Apprentice Project (MAP). My Pertame learning journey began with a simple invitation to attend the adult classes with other extended family members; and in that first class a seed was planted. I attended every class knowing my language knowledge was growing and my self-confidence was developing also. That first class had planted a seed which would flourish and branch out to my children and grandchildren, learning and maintaining Pertame. 

The Master and Apprentice Project is a community-driven plan of action that 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. 

Our Elder master fluent speaker Lyurra (Nana) Christobel Swan teaches us apprentices in Pertame, creating an intergenerational language transmission that was used before English. We learn Pertame in Pertame, using language for everyday situations in and around the home and on country. 

I started as an apprentice in June 2021, and love every minute of learning and teaching Pertame. As apprentices we are only learning from the best teacher who can really teach us the right way to talk Pertame. I think my Lyurra Perla (Grandmother) Lorna and old people had a role in my dreams of speaking Pertame and taking Pertame forward for my kids and grandkids. Old people telling me to learn Pertame: to keep it going and not let it die. 

I want my kids and grandkids to only speak Pertame. It’s only with this project I can utilise it to make that a reality. I would like to be able to make everyone aware of the importance of Pertame and why we only need to speak Pertame to our kids and each other. We as Pertame people must revert to our old ways of speaking Pertame, just like our old people did before colonisation.  

Both my younger children Abby-lee and Khealin attend school lessons at Bradshaw Primary and school holiday programs – they even tag along with me to adult classes. It’s only from doing lessons where the language seed has been planted in them. My daughter’s dream is to be a Pertame language educator and she wants kids to learn her language when she teaches them at school. She wants to travel and tell people how important Pertame is to her and why she teaches her language. My own learning and teaching of Pertame has influenced my children greatly: they are both learning and speaking Pertame, which I can now see as my own dreams becoming a reality.

As we are the only active Master-Apprentice project in Australia, we rely on philanthropist donations to keep our program operational. Monetary assistance is difficult as most organisations have funds for dictionaries and not for language immersion projects. Currently, two of our apprentices have travelled to Sydney and Melbourne to seek philanthropic aid so we can continue our thriving Master and Apprentice project for the next generation of Pertame learner speakers. Kela Marra!

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