Palawa kani

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Palawa kani
Created byTheresa Sainty, Jenny Longey, Aboriginal Tasmanians
Language revival
  • Palawa kani
SourcesTasmanian languages
Language codes
ISO 639-3None (mis)

Palawa kani is a constructed language created as a generic revival of the Tasmanian languages, the extinct languages once spoken by Aboriginal Tasmanians.


Map showing the approximate ethnic divisions in pre-European Tasmania.

The original Tasmanian languages became extinct in 1905 when the last native speaker died. As part of community efforts to retrieve as much of the original Tasmanian culture as possible, efforts are made to construct a language for the indigenous community. Due to the scarcity of records, Palawa kani is being constructed as a composite of the estimated dozen original languages.

In 1972, Robert M. W. Dixon and Terry Crowley attempted to reconstruct a Tasmanian language from existing records, funded by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. They also interviewed two granddaughters of Fanny Cochrane Smith, who provided "five words, one sentence, and a short song". Dixon concluded that "there is virtually no data on the grammar and no running texts so that it is impossible to say very much of linguistic interest about the Tasmanian languages".[1]

Theresa Sainty and Jenny Longey were the first two "language workers" to work on the project in 1999.


The project employs various sources such as:

Another source of material for the project is community knowledge where a surprising number of words, phrases and snippets of lore have survived. The reconstruction project also uses linguistic data of related mainland native languages if necessary.

State of the language[edit]

Developed in conjunction with the Tasmanian Aboriginal Corporation, community ownership of the language is maintained for the time being.[2] The language project is entirely community based and the language is not taught in state schools but at various after-school events, organised camps and trips. There is obvious enthusiasm for the language especially among younger people and an increasing number of people are able to use the language to some extent, some to great fluency[citation needed], though the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre requests that non-Aboriginals wanting to use the language first make a formal application to the Centre.[3] Lutana Spotswood gave a eulogy in Palawa kani at the funeral of the Tasmanian Premier Jim Bacon.[4]

Palawa kani is also used on a number of signs in Tasmanian National Parks and kunanyi has been accepted as an official name for Mount Wellington and the formerly Asbestos Range National Park is now known formally as Narawntapu National Park.[5]

Some question the possibility of recreating a truly generic Tasmanian language, given that scholarly opinion has emphasised the lack of information on the original tongues. While the importance of those languages is acknowledged as a source of knowledge about the deep linguistic prehistory of the southern periphery of Australia, and hence of global linguistic prehistory,[6] little information was gathered on Tasmanian languages before they ceased to be spoken at the end of the 19th century.[7] It has also been suggested that the creation of Palawa kani by one particular group is linked to a political and cultural dispute between two Tasmanian groups (the palawa and the Lia Pootah), both claiming Aboriginal descent.[8]

The animated television series Little J & Big Cuz was the first television show to feature an episode entirely in palawa kani, which was broadcast on the NITV network in 2017.[9]


Palawa kani is an isolating language with an SVO structure. It appears to have nouns, verbs and adjectives. Adjectives precede the noun and neither nouns nor adjectives are marked for number, e.g. nayri kati "good number(s)". Negations precede the verb, e.g. putiya makara "not stop".

No capital letters are used in native texts, but when used in English, place names such as Kunanyi are often capitalised.


The word mapali "many" doubles up as a plural suffix for some pronouns and possessives.

mina I, me
nina you
nara he/she
waranta we
nina-mapali you (pl.)
nara-mapali they

Possessive pronouns[edit]

Possessives follow the noun, for example milaythina mana "our land".

mana my
nanya your
mana-mapali our
nanya-mapali your (pl.)
nika their

Possessives can take directional affixes such as -tu "to(wards)", e.g. mana-mapali-tu "to our" or -ta "on" e.g. nika-ta "on their".


  • kipli: eat
  • krakapaka: die
  • laykara: run
  • liyini: sing
  • makara: stop
  • mulaka: hunt
  • ningina: get
  • takara: walk
  • tapilti: go
  • tunapri: 1 understand, know 2 remember
  • yangina: swim

Other vocabulary[edit]

  • kanaplila: dance
  • kani: language
  • katin: number (noun)
  • katina: beach
  • kitana: little girl
  • kunnikung: pigface
  • lakri: tree fern
  • laymi: never
  • luna: woman
  • lutana: moon
  • luwana: girl
  • luwutina: children
  • luyni: stone, rock
  • mapali: very, plenty
  • milaythina: land
  • muka: sea
  • mukra: dog
  • munawuka: chicken
  • mungalina: rain
  • nala: earth
  • nayri: good, happy
  • nika: this
  • nuyina: spirit
  • oanyi: rainbow
  • pakana: people
  • palawa: native Tasmanian
  • payathanima: wallaby
  • pliri: boy
  • poatina: cavern
  • purinina: Tasmanian devil
  • putiya: no, not
  • rayakana: song
  • raytji: white, European
  • redpa: mosquito
  • ringina: burrow (noun)
  • rrala: strong
  • temma: hut
  • timita: possum
  • tiya: shit
  • tiyuratina: wind
  • warina: a type of mollusc
  • waypa: man
  • wura: duck
  • wurangkili: sky
  • yula: short-tailed shearwater (mutton bird)

Place names[edit]


The number system is decimal in nature and has no irregular forms. In composed numerals, stress falls onto the first numeral.

  • pama: 1
  • paya: 2
  • luwa: 3
  • wulya: 4
  • mara: 5
  • nana: 6
  • tura: 7
  • pula: 8
  • tali: 9
  • kati: 10
  • pamakati: 11
  • payakati: 12
  • luwakati: 13


  • payaka: 20
  • luwaka: 30
  • wulyaka: 40


  • pamaki: 100
  • payaki: 200
  • luwaki: 300
  • wulyaki: 400
  • maraki: 500
  • nanaki: 600
  • turaki: 700
  • pulaki: 800
  • taliki: 900
  • pamaku: 1000
  • payaku: 2000
  • luwaku: 3000
  • wulyaku: 4000
  • maraku: 5000
  • nanaku: 6000
  • turaku: 7000
  • pulaku: 8000
  • taliku: 9000


  • nara yangina in muka: he swims in the sea
  • milaythina nika milaythina mana: this land is our country
  • mina putiya tunapri raytji kani: I don't understand English
  • mina kani palawa kani: I speak palawa kani
  • mina takara on milaythina mana: I stand on my land
  • mukra mana laymi putiya nayri: my dog is never not good
  • mukra mana nayri mapali: my dog is very good
  • nina tunapri mina kani: do you understand what I'm saying?
  • ningina paruwi mimara: get that bug
  • tapilti ningina mumara prupari patrule: go and get wood to put on the fire
  • taypani pinikita: come quickly
  • waranta mulaka payathanima: we're hunting wallaby
  • waranta putiya makara: we won't stop
  • waranta tapilti nayri: we're going, ok?
  • ya: hi, hello!
  • ya pulingina: welcome!
  • ya tawatja: good day!

Text samples[edit]

This sample is a eulogy by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre Language Program first used at the 2004 anniversary of the Risdon Cove massacre of 1804.

ya pulingina milaythina mana mapali tu Greetings to all of you here on our land
mumirimina laykara milaythina mulaka tara It was here that the Mumirima people hunted kangaroo all over their lands
raytji mulaka mumirimina It was here that the white men hunted the Mumirimina
mumirimina mapali krakapaka laykara Many Mumirimina died as they ran
krakapaka milaythina nika ta Died here on their lands
waranta takara milaythina nara takara We walk where they once walked
waranta putiya nayri And their absence saddens us
nara laymi krakapaka waranta tu manta waranta tunapri nara. But they will never be dead for us as long as we remember them.

The second sample is from the interpretation boards in Kunanyi Park.

milaythina nika milaythina-mana This land is our country
pakana laykara milaythina nika mulaka Aboriginal people ran over this land to hunt
pakana-mapali krakapaka milaythina nika And many died here
tapilti larapuna, tapilti putalina From Eddystone Point, to Oyster Cove
tapilti kunanyi, tapilti tayaritja From Mount Wellington to the Bass Strait Islands
waranta takara milaythina nara takara We walk where they walked
nara taymi krakapaka waranta-tu waranta tunapri nara And they will never be dead for us as long
milaythina nika waranta pakana As long as we remember them
waranta palawa, milaythina nika This country is us, and we are this country

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Tasmanian language". The Canberra Times. 1 September 1976.
  2. ^ Adi Robertson. "Can you own a language?". The Verge. 13 August 2014. Retrieved 3 October 2017
  3. ^ "Policy and Protocol for Use of palawa kani Aboriginal Language" (PDF). Retrieved 22 Dec 2018.
  4. ^ Andrews, Alison (24 June 2004). "Jim Bacon: The farewell, Celebration of a man of many facets". The Examiner. Retrieved 7 August 2014.
  5. ^ "Aboriginal and Dual Names of places in lutruwita (Tasmania)". Retrieved 22 Dec 2018.
  6. ^ Nichols, Johanna. Linguistic Diversity in Space and Time, 1992, University of Chicago Press, pp. 262-263.
  7. ^ Dixon, R.M.W.. ‘Australian Languages,’ International Encyclopaedia of Linguistics, ed. William Bright, Oxford University Press, 1992 (vol. 1, p. 137)
  8. ^ "language". 6 June 2013. Archived from the original on 6 June 2013. Retrieved 9 September 2017.
  9. ^ J and Big Cuz 'Hopalong' episode in palawa kani


  • MacGilleEathain, R. (2007), "Aiseirigh às an luaithre" in Cothrom, Vol 53 Autumn 2007, CLÌ Gàidhlig, Inverness
  • Plomley, N. J. B. (1976), A word-list of the Tasmanian languages, N. J. B. Plomley and the Government of Tasmania
  • "Pakana Luwana Liyini" 2005 (CD), Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre Inc
  • Sainty, T., "Tasmanian places and Tasmanian Aboriginal language" 2005, Placenames Australia Newsletter of the Australian National Placenames Survey

External links[edit]