Western Desert Verbal Arts Collection

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The Western Desert Verbal Arts Collection comprises high quality audio and video archival material, along with transcriptions and translations of the endangered multi-modal speech arts of Ngaanyatjarra, Ngaatjatjarra and Pitjantjarra-speaking Indigenous Australians, unique to the remote Western Desert area of Australia.

The collection is a comprehensive and well-documented study of living, yet endangered, languages. Compared to other languages, archival collection materials relating to the oral traditions of Ngaanyatjarra, Ngaatjatjarra and Pitjantjarra-speaking Indigenous Australians are scarce and often inaccessible. This collection not only documents these endangered languages, but more broadly the contemporary culture and way of life for these Indigenous communities. Culture is expressed through language and this collection is a window to a world of a language domain that is slowly shrinking, due to the external pressures of other languages.

The collection documents a wide range of oral practices including narratives, sand stories, iPad stories, children’s songs and games, alternate sign language and special speech styles with narrators spanning three generations.  It includes audiovisual documentary records and transcribed and translated audiovisual recordings. Extensive indexing and metadata attribution describes the collection and enhances discoverability.

The collection was recorded and documented between 2010 and 2019 by Indigenous linguist Elizabeth Marrkilyi Ellis, a senior Ngaatjatjarra woman, Jennifer Green, Inge Kral and Indigenous members of the Ngaanyatjarra Lands communities.

The collection has strong cultural and research significance and is contributing to the maintenance and revitalisation of endangered languages for Western Desert communities. These multi-modal speech arts are spoken by very few people, are endangered and extremely vulnerable.