The Wiradyuri and Other Languages of New South Wales

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The Wiradyuri and Other Languages of New South Wales
by R. H. Mathews

Produced by the Anthropological Society of the United States.

Synposis and Introduction.[edit]

The native tribes speaking the Wiradyuri language occupy an immense region in the central and southern portions of New South Wales. For their eastern and northern boundaries the reader is referred to the map accompanying my paper to the American Philosophical Society in 1898.[1] The western boundary is shown on the map with my article to the Royal Society of New South Wales the same year.[2] Their southern limit is represented on the map attached to a paper I transmitted to the Anthropological Society at Washington in 1898.[3] The maps referred to were prepared primarily to mark out the boundaries of the social organisation and system of marriage and descent prevailing in the Wiradyuri community, but will also serve to indicate the geographic range of their language.

The Wiradyuri language is spoken over a greater extent of territory than any other tongue in New South Wales, and the object of the present monograph is to furnish a short outline of its grammatical structure. I have included a brief notice of the Burreba-burreba language, which adjoins the Wiradyuri on the west. A cursory outline is also given of the language of the Ngunawal tribe, which bounds the Wiradyuri on a portion of the east. The Kamilaroi tribes, whose language I recently reported to this Institute,[4] adjoin the Wiradyuri on the north.

In all the languages treated in this article, in every part of speech subject to inflexion, there are double forms of the first person, of the dual and plural, similar in character to what have been reported from many islands in Polynesia and Melanesia, and the tribes of North America. Separate forms for "we two," and "he and I," were observed by Rev. James Günther among the pronouns of the Wiradyuri natives at Wellington,[5] but as he does not mention anything of the kind in the plural, we may conclude that he did not observe it.

The materials from which this paper has been prepared have been gathered by me while travelling through various parts of the Wiradyuri country, for the purpose of visiting and interviewing the old native men and women who still speak the native tongue, from whom I noted down all the information herein reproduced. When the difficulties encountered in obtaining the grammar of any language which is purely colloquial are taken into consideration, I feel sure that all necessary allowances will be made for the imperfections of my work.

The initiation ceremonies of the Wiradyuri tribes, which are of a highly interesting character, have been fully described by me in contributions to several societies and other learned institutions.[6]

It will be as well to state that in 1892, Dr. J. Fraser, from the MSS. of the late Rev. James Günther, published some grammatical rules and a vocabulary of the Wiradyuri language. This forms part of a volume entitled An Australian Language (Sydney, 1892), Appendix, pp. 56-120.

Mr. E. M. Curr published several vocabularies collected in different parts of the Wiradyuri territory.—The Australian Race, vol. iii, pp. 363-401.


The system of orthoepy adopted is that recommended by the Royal Geographical Society, London, with the following qualifications:

Ng at the beginning of a word or syllable has a peculiar sound, which I have previously illustrated.[7] At the end of a syllable or word, it has substantially the sound of ng in "sing."

Dh and nh have nearly the sound of th in "that," with a slight initial sound of the d or n as the case may be.

Ty and dy at the commencement of a word or syllable, as dyirril (a spear), has nearly the sound of j. At the end of a word, as gillaty (to-day), ty or dy is pronounced nearly as tch in the word "batch," but omitting the final hissing sound.

w always commences a syllable or word, and has its ordinary sound. G is hard in all cases. R has a rough trilled sound, as in "hurrah!"

The sound of the Spanish ñ is frequent. At the commencement of a syllable or word I have given it as ny, but when terminating a word I have used the Spanish letter.

T is interchangeable with d; p with b; and g with k in most words where they are used.

As far as possible, vowels are unmarked, but in some instances, to avoid ambiguity, the long sound of a, e and u are indicated thus: â, ê, û. In a few cases the short sound of u is marked u. Y at the beginning of a word has its ordinary consonant value.

The Wiradyuri Language.[edit]


There are no articles, properly so-called, in the language. The demonstratives "this" and "that" do duty for our "a" and "the." If it be desired to definitely say that only one is meant, the numeral, ngunbai, is employed.

In all the sentences illustrating the cases of nouns and other parts of speech in this paper, the demonstratives are omitted. A native would say, "Man [that over yonder] beat child [this in front]," the proper demonstratives being inserted where illustrated by the brackets.


Number.—There are three numbers, singular, dual and plural. Wamboin, a kangaroo. Wamboinbula a couple of kangaroos. Wamboingirbang, several kangaroos.

Gender.—In human family different words are used, as mên or gibir, a man; bullâdyeru or inar, a woman; birrengang, a boy; ingargang, a young girl; yiramurung, a youth; megai, a maiden; burai, a child.

Among animals, word are used signifying "male" and "female" respectively. Wille bidyur, a buck opossum; wille gunal, a doe opossum. Nguruñ burramai, hen emu; nguruñ bidyur, a cock emu.

Case.—The cases are the nominative, nominative-agent, genitive, accusative, instrumental dative and ablative.

The nominative simply names the person or thing under attention, as, mirri or burumain, a dog; burrandang, a native-bear; wille or womburan, an opossum; wagan, a crow; bulgang or burgan, a boomerang.

The nominative-agent requires a suffix to the noun, as, gibirru womburan dhê, a man an opossume ate. Bullâdyerudu dhurung bumê, a woman a snake struck (or killed). Inarru wille dharalgiri, a woman an opossum will eat. Burrandangu gurril dhara, a native-bear leaves is eating. Mirridu wille buddhe, a dog an opossum bit.

Genitive.—Mêngu bulgang, a man's boomerang. Bullâdyerugu kunne, a woman's yamstick. Burrandanggu bullung, a native-bear's head.

Dative.—Dhurrangu, to the creek (dhurrang). Ngurangu, to the camp (ngurang).

Ablative.—Dhurrandyi, from the creek; ngurandyi, from the camp. In this case, and also in the dative, the final g of both words is omitted before applying the suffix.

The accusative is the same as the simple nominative, as will be seen by the examples given under the nominative-agent.

Instrumental.—When an instrument is the remote object of the verb, the accusative remains unchanged, but the instrumental case takes the same suffix as the nominative-agent; thus, mêndu wagan burgandu bume, the man hit a crow with a boomerang. Inarru burumain kunnedu bangabe, the woman cut a dog with a yamstick.

In the above examples, as well as in the sentences illustrating the nominative-agent, it will be seen that the agent suffix has euphonic changes according to the termination of the word it is attached to. This may be said of the suffixes in all the cases of nouns and adjectives.


Adjectives take the same inflexions for number and case as the nouns they qualify, and are placed after them. They are without gender.

Womboin munun, a kangaroo large. Womboinbula mununbula, a pair of large kangaroos. Womboinmuddu mununmuddu, several large kangaroos.

Burumaindu munundu womburan buddhe, a dog large an opossum bit. Inarru bubadyallu burai bume, a woman small a child beat.

Womboingu munungu dhun, a large kangaroo's tail.

A big waterhole, dhâ-u munun. Dhâ-ugu munungu, to a big waterhole. Dhâ-wadyi munundyi, from a big waterhole.

Comparison.—Nyila murrumbangbun-gan, this is vey good. Nyilangai murrumbang wirrai, that is not good. If the articles compared be equal in quality, a native would say, This is good—that is good, and so on.


Pronouns are inflected for number and person, and comprise the nominative, possessive and objective cases, a few examples in each of which will be given. There are forms in the dual plural to express the inclusion or exclusion of the person addressed.


Nominative Possessive Objective
1st person I Ngadhu Mine Ngadyi Me Ngunnhal
2nd person Thou Ngindu Thine Nginnu Thee Nginyal
3rd person He Ngagwa His Ngagwaiula Him Ngunnungga


Nominative Possessive Objective
1st person We, incl. Ngulli Ours, incl. Ngulliging Us, incl. Ngullinya
We, excl. Ngulliguna Ours, excl. Ngulligingula Us, excl. Ngullinyuggu
2nd person You Ngindubla Yours Nginnubulala They Nginyalbula
3rd person They Ngagwainbula Theirs Ngagwabulagu Them Ngunnainbula


Nominative Possessive Objective
1st person We, incl. Ngeani Ours, incl. Ngeaniging Us, incl. Ngeaninyagu
We, excl. Ngeaniguna Ours, excl. Ngeaniginguna Us, excl. Ngeaninyaguna
2nd person You Ngindugir Yours Nginnugir They Nginyalgir
3rd person They Ngagwainguler Theirs Ngagwagulaia Them Ngunnagulella

There are other forms of the objective case meaning "from me," "with me," "towards me," etc., which have numerous modifications.

The extended forms of the pronouns given in the above table are not much used as separate words, except in answer to interrogatives, or assertively. Ngulliguna might, for example, be given in answer to the question, "Who killed the kangaroo?" "Whose boomerang is this?" might elicit the reply, Ngaddyi.

In a common conversation, however, the pronominal affixes are employed.

The third personal pronouns have several forms and are subject to much variation, depending upon the position of the parties referred to. Many of them are practically demonstratives.

Interrogatives.—Who, ngandi? Who (agent), nganduwa? Who (dual), nganduwanbula? Who (plural), nganduwandugir? Who for, ngandigula? Whose is this, ngangunginna? Nganduga is equivalent to "I wonder who?" or "I don't know who." Who from, ngangundiburrami? What, minyang? What is that, minyawanna? What for, minyangula? What from, minyalli? How many (what number), minyanggulmañ?

Demonstratives.—The following are a few examples:—This, nginna. These (dual), nginnabula. This other one, nginnagwal. From this, nginnalidhi. Belonging to this, nginnagula. With this, nginnadhurai. That, ngunnila. That other one, ngunniloagwal. That yonder, ngunnainbirra. A native will frequently state the location of an article by its compass direction from a particular tree or other well-known spot.

These demonstratives are very numerous—many of them being used as pronouns of the third person, and are declined for number, person, and case. They also vary according to the position of the object referred to in regard to the speaker, and likewise change with the relative position of the object to the person addressed.

In all parts of aboriginal speech, words are occasionally met with so closely alike in pronunciation that it is almost impossible for any one but a native to detect the difference.


  1. "Initiation Ceremonies of Australian Tribes," Proc. Amer. Philos. Soc., vol. xxxvi, pp. 54-73, map.
  2. "The Group Divisions and Initiation Ceremonies of the Bar-Kunjee Tribes," Journ. Roy. Soc. N.S. Wales, vol. xxxii, pp. 240-250, map. That map includes with the Wiradyuri, the territory of the Burreba-burreba tribe, because their initiation ceremonies and marriage laws are the same.
  3. "The Victorian Aborigines: their Initiation Ceremonies and Division Systems," American Anthropologist, vol. xi, pp. 325-343, map.
  4. "Languages of the Kamilaroi and Other Tribes of New South Wales," Journ. Anthrop. Inst., vol. xxxiii, p. 259.
  5. "An Australian Language" (Sydney, 1892), Appendix, p. 60.
  6. "The Burbung of the Wiradyuri Tribes," Journ. Anthrop. Inst., vol. xxv, pp. 295-318. Ibid., vol. xxvi, pp. 272-285. "The Initiation Ceremonies of the Aborigines of the Upper Lachlan," Proc. Roy. Geog. Soc. Austr., Queensland Bch., vol. xi, pp. 167-169. "The Burbung or Initiation Ceremonies of the Murrumbidgee Tribes," Journ. Roy Soc. N.S. Wales, vol. xxxi, pp. 111-153. "The Burbung of the Wiradhuri Tribes," Proc. Roy. Soc. Queensland, vol. xvi, pp. 35-38.
  7. The Aboriginal Languages of Victoria," Journ. Roy. Soc. N.S. Wales, vol. xxxvi, p. 76.