The island of Tasman was site of one of the greatest conflicts between the British colonialists and the Australian Aborigines. In the case of the Tasmanian Island, the Black War commenced for seven years beginning in 1824. This resulted in the reduction in Tasmanian language speakers.
The last remaining speaker, Fanny Cochrane Smith, was able to provide as much as she knew about the Tasmanian language she remembered. She was well-respected by white Tasmanians and provided a linguist with an audio recording on a wax cylinder of a song in her language.
Although there is enough information to suggest that there were more than one languages as part of the Tasmanian language family tree, there is not enough information to elaborate on them. There was an attempt by linguist R. M. W. Dixon to visit the granddaughters of Fanny Cochrane Smith to see if they knew anything more in-depth about their grandmother’s language. They could provide only a few words and a song, and unfortunately they were not interested in bringing back the language.
Because there is scant information about the Tasmanian languages, it had been agreed upon to compile what remains into a constructed language called Palawa kani. It was developed in the 1990’s by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre.
The centre which is responsible for the dissemination of this language decides not to spread the language until the Tasmanian community has fluent knowledge of it. So far, the language has been slowly reaching the Tasmanian people with the release of the first feature-length film The Nightingale to contain Palawa kani in 2018. The Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre has also published a children’s book in the language.
Normally, when people think of a constructed language, they think of Quenya or Dothraki. However, a constructed language does not necessarily need to be based on fiction, rather the case of Palawa kani has proven that it is based on the commonalities of all of the Tasmanian languages that would have been spoken there. If anything, it would be more of an auxlang, since it is constructed for the purpose of bringing people within the same geographical area into common footing.
And by bringing together the entire island of indigenous people, this newly formed language would help the Tasmanian Aborigines develop a distinct identity. It would right the wrongs of the Black Wars and of British colonization.
- Clements, Nicholas (2013), Frontier Conflict in Van Diemen’s Land (PhD thesis) (PDF), University of Tasmania.
- Dixon, R.M.W. (1 September 1976). “Letters to the Editor: Tasmanian language”. The Canberra Times.
- “Fanny Cochrane Smith.” Tasmanian Government.
- Harman, Kristyn. “Explainer: how Tasmania’s Aboriginal people reclaimed a language, palawa kani”. The Conversation.
- Martyman. “Tasmanian tribes.” Wikipedia. January 19, 2009. CC BY-SA 3.0. Change includes placing it in another image.
- Robertson, Adi. “Can you own a language?”. The Verge. 13 August 2014.
- Singleton, Julian (8 August 2019). “Interview: Baykali Ganambarr on The Nightingale”. Cinapse.
- “Tasmanian Languages“. Tasmanians. Andaman. 6 June 2013.