The Australian Aboriginal Language
Family
Part 2
By Peter Drew
College of Australian Aboriginal Languages
www.coaal.com.au
The Western Desert
Group is the largest language group.
It is in the Pama-Nyungan division or sub-family
and part of the South West Wati Branch.
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The Western Desert Group
covers desert areas of WA, SA and NT.
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The languages of the Western Desert Group with
approx 1000 or more speakers are:
Pitjantjatjara/Yankunytjatjara which are considered
together as are
Ngaanyatjarra/Ngaatjatjara, Pintupi/Luritja.
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Names Of Languages
Many of the Western Desert Languages are named
using “-tjara” meaning “having”
Pitjantjatjara is the language having pitjantja and
Yankunytjatjara the langauage having yankunytja.
Likewise with Ngaanyatjara and
Ngaatjatjara.
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The following languages are close enough so
as to share one dictionary:
Pitjantjatjara/Yankunytjatjara,
Ngaanyatjara/Ngaatjatjara, Pintupi/Luritja.
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In the Western Desert Group neighbouring language
peoples usually understand each other. But once we
move across two or three languages in this chain
they do not.
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Language
Change
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There Are Three Types of Languages in the
World: Isolating, Inflectional and
Agglutinative.
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Isolating; word order
determines meaning.
Inflectional; use endings to determine meaning.
Agglutinative; stick pieces with meaning
(morphemes) together in a set order.
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Isolating; word order determines meaning.
English has become a language which uses word
order to achieve meaning. For example in the
sentence “The man ate the fish.” we know it was
the man who did the eating. “The fish ate the
man.” has a completely different meaning.
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Inflectional; like many Aboriginal languages
which use endings.
The sentences below from Pitjantjatjara both
mean, “the man ate the kangaroo”. Order does not
effect who does the eating.
Watingku malu ngalkunu.
Malu watingku ngalkunu.
It is the ending -ngku that tells who did the
eating.
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Agglutinative; like some Aboriginal languages
stick pieces with meaning (morphemes) together
in a set order. Sentences below are from
Traditional Tiwi.
Ju-u’ri. He went.
Ji-i-mar-u’ri. (He-link-with-went) He took it.
Ji-i-mar-ngiliwangtun-u’ri. (He-linkwith-wallaby-went) He took the wallaby.
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Languages Change
Languages simply change over time.
Related languages isolated from each
other changes in different ways.
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Languages Change
No written system will affect the speed a language
changes at.
In Aboriginal languages the death of person can
cause change.
Contact with other languages also causes changes.
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Languages Change
“In gear-dagum
theod-cyninga
thrum gefrunon”
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English 1,000 Years Ago (Beowulf)
“In gear dagum
“in long ago days
theod-cyninga
of people-kings
thrum gefrunon”
glory did learn about by asking”
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Languages Simply Change
Eg vowel loss and vowel change. Consider varieties
of English today.
Aust, NZ, US, Eng.
Arandic languages have the root rraty meaning
straight, true or honest.
Arrernte has arratye.
Western Arrernte has rratye.
Alyawarr has arraty.
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Isolation changes direction.
The Papuan language family has 820 distinct
languages. New Guinea is an extremely
mountainous country which caused isolation and
change.
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The Australian Aboriginal people had no writing
system for the sounds of their languages. No
writing system sped up language change.
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When a kins-person dies their name became
taboo. If their name was also a word, a new word
is then used for a period of time and may not
have come back into use. This worked for
language change on many common words.
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Ngayunya means “me” in Pitjantjatjara. When a
man with the name Ngayunya died that word for
me was no longer used for quite a while. However
the pattern Ngayulu I, Ngayunya me, Ngayuku
my, Ngayula with me, served to make sure
Ngayunya came back into use.
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Contact With Other Languages causes changes. The
expression “My name is Peter” is changing from;
Ngayulu ini Peternya (I Name Peter) to Ngayuku ini
Peternya (My name Peter) reflecting English.
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Contact With Other Languages
Traditional Tiwi is an agglutinative language
however Modern Tiwi has changed to an inflectional
language.
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The main languages in order of greater number
spoken by Aboriginal people today are : Aboriginal
English and English, Creoles, then Indigenous
Languages.
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Aboriginal English (AE)
There are common features of AE all over Australia.
Every variety of AE has been affected by the
Indigenous language spoken in that area.
So there is Koori AE, Murri AE, Noongar AE etc.
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Aboriginal English (AE)
The effect of the different Aboriginal languages has
been consistent. The pronunciation of the varieties
of AE is basically the same all over Australia.
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Common words of Aboriginal English
Aboriginal English
Australian English
camp
home
mob
group
big mob
a lot of
gammon
pretending, joking, lie
cheeky
mischievous, aggressive
solid
fantastic
deadly
really good
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A creole can develop when a means of
communication is needed between two language
groups. A mixture of the two languages is used which
is initially called a pidgin.
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Once children are born who speak a pidgin as their
first language it is called a creole. What is called
English was once a pidgin, however now it is a creole.
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English↔Aboriginal languages
Pidgin
Creole
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How would you feel if your language was not
recognised as a real language?
This has been the situation for many speakers of
creoles even in Australia.
Imagine someone claiming English is not a real
language because it is a creole.
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Aboriginal creoles are the first languages of
approximately 12,000 people.
Torres Strait Creole and Kriol are the two main
creoles spoken in Australia.
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The language called Kriol has approximately 7,000
speakers. It is spoken in Northern parts of:
Western Australia, Northern Territory and
Queensland.
This is an area that stretches for about 2,000 kms
across the top of Australia.
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There are regional varieties of Kriol, but Kriol is
mutually understandable.
What is interesting is that the English word these
speakers have chosen to use in their dialect of Kriol
language is fairly consistent.
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In Kriol areas of meaning are similar to Aboriginal
languages. As an example many aboriginal languages
use the word meaning moon to mean month and
snail. Kriol reflects this.
Mun means; 1) moon. 2) month. 3) snail.
Another example is Jidan (from sitting) meaning; be,
live, sit, stay.
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Features of Kriol
bin past tense
-im/um ending transitive verb
mi kuk I cook.
mi bin kuk I did cook.
mi kukum mit I am cooking meat.
mi bin kukum mit I cooked meat.
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Features of Kriol
Yu gin jidan gudbinji langa kantri.
Yu You
gin can
jidan= be, live, sit, stay. fr.sitting
gudbinji= happy fr. gud belly
langa=on, in, at, with (along)
kantri=land
You can be happy on the land.
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There is no such thing as a primitive language.
There are no such things as languages without
grammatical structure.
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Every language is capable of expressing any
concept even if no such concept is known to the
speakers at present.
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The number of words in an Aboriginal Language
would be approximately the same as that known
by the average European language speaker.
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There are approximately 500,000 words
(excluding non-technical words) in English.
The difference is
Aboriginal people would know nearly all the
words in their language.
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Larger Range of Meaning of many words.
(P) Kulini; hear, listen to, heed, think about,
consider, decide, know about, understand,
remember, feel.
(P) Pulka Adjective/adverb; big, large, a lot of,
much, so much, heavy, many, important, very,
really.
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One Common feature of word formation is
reduplication or doubling the word. Reduplicating a
noun can form an adjective or give emphasis to an
adverb:
tjaltu salt/ tjaltu-tjaltu salty.
wala quickly/ wala-wala quicker
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When Europeans came to Australia they usually
borrowed words to describe the many new
concepts they encountered.
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Jukurrpa meaning Dreaming/law from Western
Desert/Warlpiri. The names of trees Jarrah and
Karri are from Nyungar in WA. Koala is from
Dharuk in NSW, Kangaroo from Guugu Yimidhirr
Queensland.
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Corroboree a ceremony is from Dharuk.
Boomerang also from Dharuk. Kylie (karli) also
meaning boomerang a girls name from Nyungar.
Humpy a temporary Aboriginal dwelling from
Yagara Queensland.
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Although individual languages may in writing represent
the same sound differently, Aboriginal languages have
been transcribed phonetically and are consistent in their
pronunciation.
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Copyright @ 2012 "College of Australian Aboriginal Languages" By Peter Drew
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When Aboriginal speakers borrowed words from
English they made them conform to the rules of
their language.
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To describe new concepts Aboriginal language
speakers:
extended meanings of words,
borrowed words,
made new words.
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English z, s, sh, ch
becomes tj.
English v,f becomes p/b.
P&B are considered the same sound, as are T&D and
K&G.
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Copyright @ 2012 "College of Australian Aboriginal Languages" By Peter Drew
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Say the following;
Spot, sbot,
Star, sdar.
Scar, sgar.
You make the same sound as you say each pair of
words.
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Copyright @ 2012 "College of Australian Aboriginal Languages" By Peter Drew
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English-Pitjantjatjara
Using the rules from slide 58 and also the fact that
Pitjantjatjara words usually end in a vowel, work
out the meaning of these words: Kapamanta,
tanki, tjiipi, tjaltu, raipula.
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Copyright @ 2012 "College of Australian Aboriginal Languages" By Peter Drew
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English-Pitjantjatjara
Kapamanta-government
tanki-donkey
tjiipi-sheep
tjaltu-salt
raipula-rifle
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How many languages can you say hello in? How
many Aboriginal languages can you say hello in?
Greetings in four languages follow.
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Pitjantjatjara
Nyuntu palya?
Good You?
Are you good?
Warlpiri
Ngurrju mayinpa?
Good you?
Are you good?
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Gupapuyngu
Nhamirri nhe?
Lit. How
you?
How are you?
Tiwi
Awana nginja?
How you?
How are you?
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If you would like to know more about Australian
Aboriginal languages, see the books:
Australian Aboriginal Languages by Barry Blake
Language and Culture in Aboriginal Australia by M.
Walsh & C. Yallop.
These are regularly kept in Australian libraries or
can be bought on the internet for those not in
Australia.
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IAD Warlpiri Course Peter Drew