Dharug language

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RegionNew South Wales
EthnicityDarug, Eora (Yura) (Gadigal, Wangal, Cammeraygal, Wallumettagal, Bidjigal)
ExtinctLate 19th / early 20th century
RevivalSmall number of L2 speakers
  • Dharuk
  • Gamaraygal
  • Iora
Language codes
ISO 639-3xdk
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.
The word "koala" is derived from "gula" in the Dharuk and Gundungurra languages.

The Dharug language, also known as Darug, Dharuk, the Sydney language, or the Eora language, is an Australian Aboriginal language of the Yuin–Kuric group that was traditionally spoken in the region of Sydney, New South Wales. It is the traditional language of the Darug people. The Darug population has greatly diminished since the onset of colonisation.[2]

During the 1990s and the new millennium, some descendants of the Darug clans in Western Sydney have been making considerable efforts to revive Dharug as a spoken language. Today some modern Dharug speakers have given speeches in a reconstructed form of the Dharug language, and younger members of the community visit schools and give demonstrations of spoken Dharug.[3]


The speakers did not use a specific name for their language prior to settlement by the First Fleet. The coastal dialect has been referred to as Iyora (also spelt as Iora or Eora), which simply means "people", while the inland dialect has been referred to as Dharug, a term of unknown origin or meaning. Both names are also used to refer to all dialects of the language collectively.[4] However, Bowern (2011) lists Dharuk and Iyora as separate languages.[citation needed]


Portrait of Bennelong, a senior Wangal man of the Eora peoples

Historical area[edit]

The traditional territory of the Iyora dialect spreads from the Georges River and Botany Bay in the south, to Port Jackson, north to Pittwater at the mouth of the Hawkesbury River, and west along the river to Parramatta.

Eora people[edit]

The word “Eora” has been used as an ethnonym by non-Aboriginal people since the late 19th century, and by Aboriginal people since the late 20th century, to describe Aboriginal peoples of the Sydney region, despite there being “no evidence that Aboriginal people had used it in 1788 as the name of a language or group of people inhabiting the Sydney peninsula”.[5]

With a traditional heritage spanning thousands of years, approximately 70 per cent of the Eora people died out during the nineteenth century as a result of the genocidal policies of colonial Australia, smallpox and viruses, and the destruction of their natural food sources.

Earliest habitation[edit]

Radiocarbon dating suggests human activity occurred in and around Sydney for at least 30,000 years, in the Upper Paleolithic period.[6][7] However, numerous Aboriginal stone tools found in Sydney's far western suburbs gravel sediments were dated to be from 45,000 to 50,000 years BP, which would mean that humans could have been in the region earlier than thought.[8][9]

First European records[edit]

Darug people recognise Sir William Dawes of the First Fleet and flagship, the Sirius, as the first to record the original traditional tongue of the elder people of Sydney Darugule-wayaun.[10][11] Dawes was returned to England in December 1791, after disagreements with Governor Phillip on, among other things, the punitive expedition launched following the wounding of the Government gamekeeper,[12] allegedly by Pemulwuy, an Yora man.

Loss of language[edit]

The Indigenous population of Sydney gradually started using English more in everyday usage, as well as New South Wales Pidgin. This, combined with social upheaval, meant that the local Dharug language started to fade from use in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century.[13] A wordlist of the local Sydney language was published by William Ridley in 1875, and he noted that, at that time, very few fluent speakers were left.[14]

Current state[edit]

The language has largely been lost, mainly due to the historical effects of colonisation on the Darug people. Some vocabulary is retained by some Darug people, but only very little grammar. A recreated version of the language is spoken at welcome ceremonies conducted by the Darug people.[15]



Peripheral Laminal Apical
Bilabial Velar Palatal Dental Alveolar Retroflex
Stop b k c t
Nasal m ŋ ɲ n
Lateral ʎ l
Rhotic r ɻ
Semivowel w j


Front Back
High i u
Low a

The language may have had a distinction of vowel length, but this is difficult to determine from the extant data.[16]

Words borrowed into English[edit]

Examples of Dharug words that have been borrowed into English are:


The Dharug language highlights the strong link between people and place through its clan naming convention. This can be seen through the suffix identifier -gal and -galyan which refer to -man of and -woman of.[22]

Clan names such as Burramuttagal (identifying the people) therefore translate to man of Burramutta - also known as Parramatta (identifying the place those specific people are from); Gadigal (identifying the people), man of Gadi - Sydney within Gadigal Country (identifying the place those specific people are from); and, Kamaygalyan (identifying the people), woman of Kamay - Botany Bay (identifying the place those specific people are from). This people-and-place naming convention within the Dharug language can be seen throughout all of the clans of the Eora Nation.

Another example of the strong link between people and place, but without the suffix, can be seen with the nation name 'Eora' itself, which translates to people and from here or this place. The name Eora refers collectively to the people of the Sydney region and also translates to the name of the (Greater Sydney) region inhabited by those people.[23]


Professor Jakelin Troy explaining in CinC2017 congress (Alcanena, Portugal) how they recovered the Dharug language.
A Yuin man, c. 1904.

Although Dharug is classified as extinct, there are a small number of people who speak it and efforts have been made to revive the language. As of 2005, some children at Chifley College's Dunheved campus in Sydney had started learning the reconstructed Dharug language,[24][25] and parts of the language have been taught at the Sydney Festival.[26]

In December 2020 Olivia Fox sang a version of Australia's national anthem in Dharug at Tri Nations Test match between Australia and Argentina.[27]


  1. ^ S64 Darug at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  2. ^ Troy (1994): p. 5.
  3. ^ "Dharug Dalang". CITIES. Retrieved 21 September 2010.
  4. ^ Troy (1994): p. 9.
  5. ^ Attenbrow, Val (2010). Sydney's Aboriginal Past: Investigating the archaeological and historical records. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press Ltd. p. 36. ISBN 978-1-74223-116-7.
  6. ^ Macey 2007.
  7. ^ Barani 2013.
  8. ^ Attenbrow 2010a, pp. 152–153.
  9. ^ Stockton & Nanson 2004, pp. 59–60.
  10. ^ "The notebooks of William Dawes". School of Oriental and African Studies and NSW Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Retrieved 21 September 2010.
  11. ^ Troy, Jakelin (1992). "The Sydney Language Notebooks and responses to language contact in early colonial NSW" (PDF). Australian Journal of Linguistics. 12: 145–170. doi:10.1080/07268609208599474.
  12. ^ Dawes, William (1762 - 1836). Australian Dictionary of Biography Online. Retrieved 16 September 2010.
  13. ^ Troy, Jakelin (1994). The Sydney Language (PDF). Canberra. p. 5.
  14. ^ Troy, Jakelin (1994). The Sydney Language (PDF). Canberra. p. 15.
  15. ^ Everett, Kristina. "Welcome to country ... not." Oceania, vol. 79, no. 1, 2009, p. 59. Religion and Philosophy Collection, http://link.galegroup.com.ezp.lib.unimelb.edu.au/apps/doc/A197926855/PPRP?u=unimelb&sid=PPRP&xid=1ed530cc. Accessed 24 Aug. 2018.
  16. ^ Troy (1994): p. 24.
  17. ^ boomerang.org.au; see under "The Origin of Boomerang". Retrieved 16 January 2008.
  18. ^ PETERS, PAM (26 April 2007). The Cambridge Guide to Australian English Usage. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780511294969 – via Google Books.
  19. ^ Dalzell, Tom; Victor, Terry (26 June 2015). The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. Routledge. ISBN 9781317372516 – via Google Books.
  20. ^ Dalzell, Tom; Victor, Terry (27 November 2014). The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. Routledge. ISBN 9781317625124 – via Google Books.
  21. ^ Oxford Dictionary of English, 3rd ed., p 977.
  22. ^ "2. THE PEOPLE – A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THEIR LIFE AND CULTURE". Pre-colonial Aboriginal land and resource use in Centennial, Moore and Queens Parks – assessment of historical and archaeological evidence for Centennial Parklands Conservation Management Plan. Val Attenbrow, Australian Museum. Archived from the original on 1 April 2019. Retrieved 22 February 2022.
  23. ^ "Aboriginal people and place". Barani Sydney Aboriginal History. www.sydneybarani.com.au. Retrieved 22 February 2022.
  24. ^ "Lost Aboriginal language revived". 14 April 2009. Retrieved 5 June 2018.
  25. ^ "The first time I spoke in my own language I broke down and wept". The University of Sydney. Retrieved 5 June 2018.
  26. ^ Ding, Ann (28 December 2017). "Sydney Festival's Bayala: How we all speak some Darug". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  27. ^ "'Spine-tingling': Rugby viewers praise Australian national anthem sung in First Nations language". SBS News. 6 December 2020. Retrieved 6 December 2020.


  • Troy, Jakelin (1994). The Sydney Language. Canberra: Panther. ISBN 0-646-11015-2.
  • Broome, Richard (2001). Aboriginal Australians. Sydney: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86508-755-6.

External links[edit]