The new coin features 14 different translations for the word “money” from Australian indigenous languages.
The Royal Australian Mint released the coins on Monday to celebrate the International Year of indigenous Languages.
Released today, Australia’s Newest Circulating celebrates the International Year of Indigenous Languages. Featuring 14 language groups, this special 50 cent piece recognises Australia’s Indigenous languages and their importance to our national heritage @AIATSIS @iyoil #IYIL2019 pic.twitter.com/AwmReJROX2
— RoyalAustralianMint (@RoyalAustMint) April 9, 2019
Mint chief executive Ross MacDiarmid said the group worked with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) to include various indigenous language groups to create the newest circulating coin.
“These coins are a celebration of Australia’s unique and diverse indigenous languages,” Mr MacDiarmid said.
“We hope the coins will serve as a tangible reminder of the important efforts being undertaken to preserve, protect and revitalise indigenous languages in Australia.”
The words are relatively recent additions to indigenous languages.
Before the indigenous lands were colonised by European settlers, there was no word for “money” because items such as pearl shells, quartz or food was used for trade.
In a piece published in The Conversation, University of Queensland linguist Felicity Meakins explains that indigenous languages needed to be expanded to include references to money.
The words used on the coin are a combination of phrases from different indigenous groups.
For instance, the word “ngkweltye” from the language Kaytetye, which is spoken in Central Australia translates to the word “piece” — as does the word “pirrki” from the language of the Kaurna people in parts of South Australia.
In Gathang, spoken on NSW’s Central Coast, the word “dhinggarr” is used, which translates to the word “grey” and is believed to be used as a description for the colour of a coin.
A new 50 cent coin marks the International Year of Indigenous Languages – if features 14 different words for “money” from Australian Indigenous languages.
Before one lands in your wallet, brush up on the history of these words: https://t.co/9JerCv4H4J pic.twitter.com/JvCDhVsy4j
— The Conversation (@ConversationEDU) April 8, 2019
The AIATSIS conducted a survey in 2014 that found indigenous Australians viewed language as central to identity and recognised that staying connected to language strengthens wellbeing and self-esteem in indigenous communities.
“Indigenous languages carry more meaning than the words themselves, so too does currency carry meaning beyond its monetary value,” the institute’s chief executive Craig Ritchie said.
“The release of these coins is another milestone in recognising the diverse cultures that shape our national story of over 60,000 years.”
The 2014 survey also found only 120 Australian indigenous languages are spoken today compared to the more than 250 languages that were in known use in 1788.
The coin entered circulation on Monday and the Mint is also selling a frosted uncirculated version for $10, while a fine silver proof version is available for $80.
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