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Published: 12 May 2018

By Andy Ross

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Tiger sharks and language

Over in Australia, on the romantically named Gulf of Carpentaria in the North, the Yanyuwa people have an extraordinary relationship with tiger sharks. 

For centuries the tiger shark has been part of the Dreamings of Yanyuwa, and is credited with creating the landscape of the region. Now the sharks are endangered and so is the language which has strong links with the fish. The language is one of the few in the world where women speak a different dialect to men, perhaps out of respect for each other's work and worlds, but what is common to both is the intertwining with the oceans and the sharks in particular. In the past not only the spoken word had this relationship. Sign language too was used when silence was necessary, and string language, tying twines together to represent creatures or food was also practised. 

Scientists are now working with the local communities to help save and support the seas around Australia and doing so partly by saving this spoken language. The belief is that by preserving the words and dialects and encouraging people to speak in the language, pride, confidence and identity will become stronger and with it the desire to protect the land, the seas and the creators of it all, the tiger shark. 

You can read more about this here on the BBC news website, and find out more about the language and people of this extraordinary region in this pdf