Australian Aboriginal English

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Aboriginal English
Native speakers
(no estimate available)
English
  • Aboriginal English
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog abor1240  (code abandoned, but bibliography retained)[1]
AIATSIS[2] P4*

Australian Aboriginal English (AAE) refers to a dialect of Australian English used by a large section of the Indigenous Australian population. It is made up of a number of varieties which developed differently in different parts of Australia. These varieties are generally said to fit along a continuum ranging from light forms, close to Standard Australian English, to heavy forms, closer to Kriol.[3][4] There are generally distinctive features of accent, grammar, words and meanings, as well as language use.[5] AAE is not to be confused with Kriol, which is a separate language from English spoken by over 30 000 people in Australia.[6] Speakers have been noted to tend to change between different forms of AAE depending on who they are speaking to, e.g. striving to speak more like Australian English when speaking to a non-Indigenous English speaking person.[7]

Several features of AAE are shared with creole languages spoken in nearby countries, such as Tok Pisin in Papua New Guinea, Pijin in the Solomon Islands, and Bislama in Vanuatu.

AAE terms, or derivative terms, are sometimes used by the broader Australian community. Australian Aboriginal English is spoken amongst Indigenous people generally but is especially evident in what are called 'discrete communities' i.e. ex-government or mission reserves such as the DOGIT communities in Queensland. Because most Indigenous Australians live in urban and rural areas with strong social interaction across assumed rural and urban and remote divides, many so-called 'urban' people also use Aboriginal English. See the extensive research of Diana Eades for information on the impacts of these linguistic communities on the relationship between Indigenous people and Australian institutions such as the legal system.

Phonology[edit]

Grammar[edit]

Pronouns[edit]

Although he and him are masculine pronouns in standard English, in Aboriginal English, particularly in northern Australia, it may also be used for females and inanimate objects. The distinction between he as the nominative form and him as the oblique form is not always observed, and him may be found as the subject of a verb.

"Fellow"[edit]

In some forms of Aboriginal English, fellow (also spelt fella, feller, fullah, fulla, balla etc.) is used in combination with adjectives or numerals, e.g. big fella business = "important business", one-feller girl = "one girl". This can give it an adverbial meaning, e.g. sing out big fella = "call out loudly". It is also used with pronouns to indicate the plural, e.g. me fella = "we" or "us", you fella = "you".

Lexicon[edit]

Kin terms[edit]

Words referring to one's relatives are used in different senses to Standard English, reflecting traditional kinship systems.

  • Aunty and uncle are terms of address for older people, to whom the speaker may not be related.
  • Brother and sister—as well as siblings, this term is used to refer to children of ones mother's sister and of father's brother (Cousin), just as in many indigenous languages.
  • Cousin-brother and cousin-sister are often used to refer to children of ones mother's sister and father's brother.
  • Cousin refers to children of ones father's sister and mother's brother, but may be extended to any relative of one's own generation, such as one who might share the same great-grandparent as their own great-grandparent, which is a second-cousin in Aboriginal terms.
  • In south-east Queensland, daughter is used to refer to any woman of one's great-grandparents' generation. This is due to the cyclical nature of traditional kinship systems and mirrors usage in many Australian languages.
  • Father and mother include any relative of one's parents' generation, such as uncles, aunts, their own cousins and in-laws.
  • Grandfather and grandmother can refer to anyone of one's grandparents' generation. Grandfather can also refer to any respected elderly man, to whom the speaker may not be related.
  • Poison refers to a relation one is obligated to avoid. See Mother-in-law language.
  • The term second, or little bit in northern Australia, is used with a distant relative who is described using a close kinship term. For example, one's second father or little bit father is a man of one's father's generation not closely related to the speaker. Usually having a "second mother", is having a woman of your own mother's generation who seems to act like a mother and would most likely care for you if anything were to happen to your own parents. It is contrasted with close, near or true.
  • A skin or skin group are sections which are determined by the skin of a person's parents, and determine who a person is eligible to marry.
  • Son can refer to any male of the next generation, such as nephews, just as "daughter" can refer to any female of the next generation, including nieces.

Bru / Brahh / Brus / Buddah[edit]

Shortened version of "brother".

Business[edit]

Many Aboriginal people use the word business in a distinct way, to mean matters. Funeral and mourning practices are commonly known as Sorry Business. Financial matters are referred to as Money Business, and the secret-sacred rituals distinct to each sex are referred to as Women's Business and Men's Business.

Camp[edit]

Many Aboriginal people refer to their house as their camp, particularly in Central Australia and the Top End of the Northern Territory.

Deadly[edit]

Deadly is used by many Aboriginal people to mean excellent, very good, in the same way that wicked is by many young English speakers. The Deadlys are awarded for outstanding achievement by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people. This usage is not exclusive to Aboriginal people. It is commonly heard in Ireland.

Gammon[edit]

Victorian era English word for pretend. Still used by some Australian Aboriginal people to mean joking generally. Gammoning – usually pronounced Gam'in'. This word is widely used across the Northern Territory of Australia by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and is now gaining usage elsewhere in Australia.

Australian language expert, Sidney J. Baker, lists "gammon" used by "whitefellas" as "falsehood".

Gubbah[edit]

Gubbah is a term used by some Aboriginal people to refer to white people. The Macquarie Dictionary has it as ' n. Colloq. (derog.) an Aboriginal term for a white man.' Also,' gubba, n. Colloq. (derog.) 1. a white man. 2. a peeping tom. [Aboriginal: white demon].' It is also said to be a shortening of the word 'government man', which is itself 19th-century slang for 'convict.' Another theory is that it is a contraction of 'Governor'. It has also been suggested the word is the 'diminutive of garbage'.[8] It is often used pejoratively and even considered unreasonably rude within urban Aboriginal circles.

Humbug[edit]

Whereas humbug in broader English (see Charles Dickens's Scrooge character) means nonsensical, or unimportant information, humbug in Aboriginal English means to pester with inane or repetitive requests. The Warumpi Band's most recent album is entitled Too Much Humbug. In the Northern Territory, humbug is used by both black and white in this latter, Aboriginal way. The most commonly recognised definition of humbug, as related to Aboriginal communities, is in the form of pestering relatives, most often the women relatives by drunken or drugged males, for money. This humbugging is often accompanied by violence. Humbugging in this form is a sizeable problem in these communities, where the tribal culture was originally based on communal ownership of everything, and where money originally did not exist within the culture.

Mob[edit]

Regularly used to mean a group of people. Unlike broader English, it does not usually mean an indiscriminate crowd, but a cohesive group. My mob – my people, or extended family. Mob is also often used to refer to a language group – that Warlpiri mob. This term is also found in the name of outback New South Wales hip-hop group, The Wilcannia Mob.

Rubbish[edit]

While rubbish as an adjective in many dialects of English means wrong, stupid, or useless, in the north of Australia, rubbish is usually used to describe someone who is too old or too young to be active in the local culture. Another use is meaning something is not dangerous, for example, non-venomous snakes are all considered to be rubbish while in contrast, venomous snakes are all cheeky.

Yarn[edit]

English word for a long story, often with incredible or unbelievable events. Originally a sailors' expression, 'to spin a yarn', in reference to stories told while performing mundane tasks such as spinning yarn.[9] In Australian English, and particularly among Aboriginal people, has become a verb, to talk. Often, Yarnin.

Unna[edit]

Often conjoined with the word Deadly, Unna means 'aint it?' This word is used frequently in the 1998 novel Deadly, Unna? by Phillip Gwynne.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Aboriginal English". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  2. ^ Aboriginal English at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  3. ^ Butcher, Andrew. 2008. "Linguistic aspects of Australian Aboriginal English," Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics, 22(8):625-642. doi:10.1080/02699200802223535.
  4. ^ Eades, Diana. "Aboriginal English," Atlas of languages of intercultural communication in the Pacific, Asia, and the Americas. Mouton de Gruyter, 1996, p. 133-141.
  5. ^ Eades, Diana. "Aboriginal English". Retrieved 4 June 2011. 
  6. ^ Harris, John. "Linguistic responses to contact: Pidgins and creoles," The Habitat of Australia's Aboriginal Languages: Past, Present and Future. Mouton de Gruyter, 2007, p. 131-151.
  7. ^ Eades, Diana. "Aboriginal English," Atlas of languages of intercultural communication in the Pacific, Asia, and the Americas. Mouton de Gruyter, 1996, p. 133-141.
  8. ^ Wilkes, G.A. A Dictionary of Australian Colloquialisms (Sydney: Fontana/Collins, 1978, p. 167
  9. ^ "Online etymology dictionary". 

External links[edit]