When I was a child,” Amy Cruickshanks recalls, “I realised that when I learnt even a little bit of a language, and spoke it to a first language speaker, there was a different connection that was made. Faces lit up when they saw the effort being made. I realised quite young that, ‘Oh, this is important.’ Speaking someone’s language with them means you value them in a special way. I somehow equated that ‘speaking someone’s language with them’ was more than just ‘we understand each other’ — there was something more there.”
Amy’s love of language endures, and as a Bible Society Translation Consultant, she is using her love and passion for language to Open The Bible with Indigenous Bible translators, with an eternal impact. Amy has a particular interest in language revitalisation work, an interest that began during her years as an undergraduate student of linguistics. One thing about the work that stands out to her is the healing that comes to people through the process of revitalising languages. “When a person’s language has been taken away from them, there’s this shame that can become associated with language — when the language is forbidden, when you’re beaten for speaking your language, when you’re told that you’re worthless for speaking your language, there’s a shame — which is completely horrific.”
“Language is tied with identity and culture, so feeling shame about one’s language can progress to ‘Our people are worthless and awful and of no value’.” Thankfully, Amy says, more and more people are starting to realise that that is not the case. “Today more people understand that despite what they have been told historically, there is nothing wrong with their languages, that they are beautiful languages, worthy of restoring and having. That their languages are gifts which were given to them so that they could express themselves in a unique and special way.”
Amy is part of a team working on translating the Scriptures into the Noongar language, a task which began in 1999 when a group of Noongar people approached Rev Dr John Harris from Bible Society Australia to ask for his assistance in translating the Bible into Noongar. At that point, the language was considered ‘at risk’, due to decades of government policy which forbade the use of the Noongar language. Parents were forbidden to speak Noongar to their children, so a generation of Noongar children grew up unable to understand their traditional language. After 15 years of dedicated work by the Noongar volunteers, assisted by Rev Dr Harris, the Gospel of Luke was completed in Noongar in 2014, followed by the Book of Ruth in 2020.
Reviving their damaged language continues to be an emotional but healing journey for the Noongar people, who live in southwest Western Australia. Perth-based Aboriginal elder Keith Truscott, who is now working on translating the book of Matthew into Noongar, observed, “Bible translation has been helpful in restoring our people’s esteem because we were told we weren’t a language, we weren’t a people.”
“We’re really seeing a change in the way people view their culture, and the people, and themselves,” says Amy. “People are realising, ‘This is not a shameful thing, it is a beautiful thing.’” Amy is working with Noongar translators continuing the work of language revitalisation; they have completed a Christmas story book, ‘Jesus is born’ which was launched last year. Amy is working with, among others, Bunbury-based translators, Charmaine Councillor and Roslyn Khan. In one of their conversations, Roslyn made the comment, “God gave us our language. It connects us and our identity. Without him we would not have language. As he restores our language, he restores our soul.” Charmaine added, “It actually is healing. For that person that wants to revive their language and do Bible translation, you can never overestimate how much joy and healing it can bring to you as an individual people, in the nation and healing on country.”
Amy reiterates this, saying, “There’s a healing that comes when you truly understand that your language is and always was beautiful and of value, and then you go on to learn it and speak it with confidence.” She goes on, asking rhetorically, “Why would you not want to help someone on that journey? For me, being able to work alongside people as they reclaim their languages, word by word, sentence by sentence, and seeing up close the impact that translating, reading and hearing the word of God in their very own, hard fought-for, precious languages has — being involved in that is an honour. Words can’t quite describe how it feels to see people get a greater revelation of ‘God loves me!’ through the whole process.”
There is a growing impetus in the task of revitalising languages with Bible translation, which began with the work in Noongar back in the 1990s. Work has begun with the Gubbi Gubbi language (a language of south-east Queensland). “Now we are gaining a better awareness of the growing desire for Bible translation work in languages which are undergoing or needing revitalisation,” says Amy, “and there is an increasing awareness of the importance of this work. It really comes down to loving one another, at the end of the day.” Amy returns to the truth of unity among the body of Christ, and the importance of working together in Opening The Bible. “We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We are all Australian. This [loss of language] is causing pain to some of the ‘body’; so now is the time to help!”
There are new opportunities arising right now for language revitalisation through Scripture translation. Will you join with Bible Society in this work alongside our Indigenous Christian brothers and sisters?