Friday, June 5, 2009

Australian English: The influence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders




In the early days of the settlers there was no common language in which to share with the indigenous people and subsequently a pidgin language was developed. This had limited vocabulary and simplified grammar but some elements of Aboriginal languages were adopted either as loan words, or corrupted (usually by mispronunciation) into Australian English. Most referred to places, flora and fauna. Many of these came from the language of the Dharuk (Darug) and Eora people who were the original owners of the area which is now Sydney. Examples include place names: Mulgoa (suburb of Sydney – blackswan), Toongabbie (a place near water) and Winmalee: and flaura and fauna: burrawang and waratah. Also the tree kurrajong (the bark was used to make fishing lines).



Darug words used to describe animals include dingo (1830 and a corruption of "tingo", a word used by the Aboriginals of Port Jackson aka Sydney Harbour, to describe camp dogs), koala (from the Dharuk gula). Although the vowel /u/ was originally written in the Latin alphabet as "oo" and spelt as coola or koolah), it later became "oa" possibly due to a spelling error and wallaby. A word used by the Darug people which has common use in Australian English was cooee (1790). Cooee, cooee was a high-pitched call used to attract attention over long distances. It was used in the bush and meant “is there anyone there?”.



The word cooee appears in place names like Cooee, a suburb in the Tasmanian city of Burnie. There is also the Cooee March which was staged by 35 men from Gilgandra, New South Wales as a recruiting drive after enthusiasm for the World War I waned in 1915. The men marched to Sydney calling "Cooee!" to encourage others to come and enlist and by the time they reached the group had grown to 277 men. The Cooee March is commemorated each October in Gilgandra which hosts the Cooee Festival. From 1880 onwards ‘Cooee’ was used in a figure of speech like “if he's within cooee, we'll spot him.” Cooee has come to mean within hearing distance.



The word Boomerang was also adapted from the Dargun language.



A word taken from the Yagara/Jagara language once spoken in the Brisbane region is yakka as in hard yakka or hard work. The word yakka first appeared in Australian English in 1847. In some Aborigineese the common root 'ya' means motion.



Yallum which describes a natural well, denotes a slow deliberate motion of water soaking through the sand up the well. Yallock describes the motion of water passing over yonnie or small pebbles (a rippling stream) and Yarra is often used to describe rapid movement of water. It can also be used to describe anything coming down, or hanging down as in 'yarraynee' a river red gum with long pendulous branches.



Yabber (1874) means to talk quickly or unintelligibly, yarraman (1875) was a horseman. and yabbie are freshwater crayfish.



Another word from the Yagara/Jagara language is bung (1841), meaning broken or pretending to be hurt. A failed piece of equipment may be described as having bunged up or as "on the bung" or "gone bung". A person pretending to be hurt is said to be "bunging it on". A hurt person could say, "I've got a bung knee".



Words which are often thought mistakenly to be Aborigineese include digeridoo which is an onomatopoeic word invented by English speakers.



Kangaroo meaning a bouncing marsupial is thought to mean “What’s that over there?” This was likely to have been a rhetorical statement used in response by indigenous trackers when asked to identify the strange creature unknown to Europeans



Further Reading
Aboriginal and Torres Straits Island English or Australian English?

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