Communication begins soon after conception...
Yolŋu believe that the child is capable of meaningful communication from the time of conception - it begins when the unborn child sends a message through an element of the natural world that they have come into being - the wuŋili yothu.
Communication between the baby and the mother - and others in the family - continues throughout pregnancy:
The baby tells us to have a rest, if the baby moves it tells us to do something – I had that feeling (with all of my children). I think they count their month! Maybe they know – maybe they come early because they don’t feel like staying inside. They know that their time is coming and they start moving and make their mother act on that – communication is already there. If we are the mother we can understand – it’s the invisible communication but the cord that’s inside the body tells the story. Communication is through the cord, through the blood system to our body, to our mind, all over - the message – that’s the Yolŋu way of understanding (Murimuri's grandmother).
You know that cord between the mother and the baby, that’s how they communicate. All that nine months they have to communicate until the baby comes out. When they cut the cord when it comes out, the baby already knows, it’s been getting information from the mother before the birth. They've already got lot of information from the mother... The baby already knows a lot of information when it comes out unless they’re sick, mother or baby (Yolŋu researcher).
I told (Murimuri aged 4) ‘talk to your sister, tell your little sister she should come out quickly to see the outside because I’m getting tired, your mummy. I’m feeling weak walking up and down'... and Murimuri started to talk - she was holding my stomach saying ’little sister, come out - two grandmothers are going to funeral to Galiwin’ku, come out’ that’s what she was saying. Next minute, midnight twelve o’clock I started to get pain… (Murimuri's mother)
This communication intensifies when the baby is born:
Talking to the kids is like the work of a teacher – Balanda always talk too much to adults but not the kids, Yolŋu are different - we talk to kids when they are newborn, we still talk to them – right up to when they are growing. Because Balanda get toys, get a cot, lie kids down to just stare at the toys but Yolŋu - it’s common when the little baby arrives in our community we carry it and always talk… (Yalŋarra Guyula, Yolŋu researcher)
Talking all the time...intensive communication with all the family
Helping language grow stronger is a high priority for Yolŋu families - it is a crucial element of identity.
...you have to talk to them over and over about that story, whatever all the seeds are hiding in your mind, you need watering. That’s like talking over and over then it will be strong, strong and then that person would have a strong identity for himself and for other people too. Especially that child. (Yolŋu researcher)
It’s like everyone will talk to the child, his mother, his father, his aunty, his uncle, grandmother, grandfather and everyone tells him the same thing… Talking with strong voice to your child, day and night, and your child will listen, keep repeating the strong words and they will hear it over and over and finally it is their idea. (Yolŋu researcher)
Click here for more information about the ways in which Yolŋu support children's development of language: constant modelling and repetition, assessment and reinforcement; accommodating different communication needs of individual children; language modification and visual support including use of Yolŋu sign language, encouraging attention to facial expressions and lip reading.