Vocabulary of the Aboriginal Language of Western Australia

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Vocabulary of the Aboriginal Language of Western Australia (1839)
by George Grey
1909631Vocabulary of the Aboriginal Language of Western Australia1839George Grey
Transcription project
Part Date Notes
Part 1 intoduction to bim-bam
Part 2 be-nung to dyun-do
Part 3 ech-en-a to kar-gal-ya
Part 4 kar-jut to mun-gat
Part 5 mun-ge-ral to noor-do-rung-win
Part 6 noor-go to wal-byne [2]


By Lieut. Grey, of H. M. 83rd Regiment.

After having devoted nearly twelve months to a careful study of the aboriginal language of this part of the Continent, I feel convinced, that if the pure dialect is spoken, but little difference exists between the dialects of the different districts; and this remark is confirmed by my; having lately received from Mr. Bussel of the Vasse district, a vocabulary of the language spoken there; this contains three hundred and twenty words, nearly every one of which is identical with those in use in this neighbourhood.

Such being the case, it appears that the publication of a vocabulary of the dialect generally in use cannot fail to be productive of much advantage, as tending to facilitate our future communications with the natives; either, in the first occupation of new districts, or in civilizing them, or obtaining information from them, in those parts of the Colony which have been for some time settled.

With this view, I have, previously to my leaving this part of the Colony, commenced the publication of the following vocabulary. Had I been able to bestow more time upon it, I could haye rendered it far more complete, but even in its present shape I trust it will be found perfectly adequate to the purpose to which it is intended, and it will, at all events, form a starting point to those who may have sufficient leisure time to complete a perfect history of this interesting language.

In order to have rendered this vocabulary really complete, it would have been necessary to have introduced a pronunciation of the different vowels and consonants, which was suited to this peculiar language, and I had actually begun a vocabulary with this view, upon a plan proposed by His Excellency Mr. Hutt, who also kindly assisted me in my undertaking, which offered the means of avoiding all the difficulties which had hitherto embarrassed me; yet, notwithstanding the facilities afforded by this plan, two reasons have induced me for the present to abandon it. The first is, that I doubt if this plan is the most convenient for a merely popular work, as it requires that before a person can make use of the vocabulary, he should leam a new system of orthography; and, secondly, I found that there would be a difficulty in at present procuring type suited to my purpose in the Colony.

It must be understood, therefore, that the pronunciation of the letters must be as nearly as possible that which is given to them in the English language, the only difference being that a final a must always be pronounced long. I have also necessarily been compelled to introduce the nasal "ng," which is of such constant occurrence in this language.

Without attempting to enter into any of the details of the grammar of a language which is yet but so imperfectly known, it is still necessary to give such a general outline of certain parts of it as will enable any person who employs the following vocabulary to use the plural number, to discriminate between the different degrees of comparison of the adjectives, to employ, when necessary, the different moods and tenses of the verbs-in fact, to give such short and general rules as will suffice for all ordinary occasions.

The plural number of nouns in general is formed by the addition of the common numerals as far as three, after which number the general term boola (much or many) is used. But all nouns which express human beings, such as uncle, sister, woman, &c., form their plural by the addition of "mun," or "gur-ra." Mun is an abbreviation of the word munda, altogether, or collectively, and gurra apparently means human beings, or things.

The general rule for using either "mun" or "gur-ra" is that those words which end in a vowel take the affix "mun," whilst those which end in a consonant take "gur-ra." A few examples will illustrate this. Kar-do, a married or betrothed person; ya-go, a woman; duko, a sister; kango, an uncle; ngoon do, a brother; form respectively in the plural kardomun, yagomun, dukomun, kangomun, ngoordomun; whilst goolang, a child, and mammul, a son, form in the plural golang gurra and mammul-gur-ra.

The genitive case of nouns is formed by the addition of either nk, or ung. This varies from district to district. The literal meaning of these words is of, or belonging to.

The accusative case is identical with the nominative, whilst the vocative is formed by affixing kau to the nominative; and I am inclined to doubt the existence of any other cases besides those I have here named.

The degrees of comparison of adjectives are very simple. The comparative degree is generally formed by the repetition of the word, whilst the superlative degree in all instances that I am acquainted with is formed by the addition of the intensitive jil; as gwabba, good; gwabba, gwabba, better; gwabba-jil, best.

The intensitive jil, the meaning of which is accurately rendered by the English word verily, is, however, equally applicable to substantives, interjections, and all other parts of speech; as "kardo jil," one who is in the direct line to be married to another; "kana jil?" eh, verily?

In forming the principal tenses of the verbs, but few difficulties present themselves. The present tense differs in but few instances from the infinitive mood. The preterite is nearly always formed by the addition of ga to the present, whilst the participle present is formed by the addition of een. This termination of the participle present becomes, however, in some districts, ween. Example:—

Present, yugow (to stand.)

Preterite, yu-ga-ga.

Participle present, yu-gow-een.

There are three kinds of preterite tense, which relate respectively to a time just elapsed, to a time which has elapsed by a small interval, and to a time which has long since elapsed. These are distinguished by prefixing to the regular preterite the words go-ree (just now), garum (a short time since), and gorah (a long time ago.)

There are also two kinds of future tense employed; the one expressing that an action is about to take place immediately, or within a short interval of time, and the other expressing that it will not take place until a considerable interval of time has elapsed. These future tenses are distinguished by the symbols "boorda" (presently), and "mela" (at a future time.) They are generally prefixed to the infinitive mood, but occasionally to the participle present. Whenever the first or second person singular of the future tense is employed, the pronouns respectively used are "nad joo" (I, or I will), "whune-doo" (you, or you will); as "nadjoo boorda yugow" (I will stand presently)

The imperative mood is formed by laying an additional emphasis upon the present tense.

No change takes place in the singular or plural number of the various tenses, and the different persons of a tense are formed by the mere addition of the characteristic pronouns.

All verbs have also a participle past, but I am unable to give any general rule for the formation of this participle.

Upon the proper use of the pronouns it is necessary to bestow the greatest care, for they are not only very complicated, but a slight change in the termination of one of them will altogether alter the force and meaning of a sentence; whilst by properly using them, an otherwise insignificant phrase is rendered replete with meaning. As this is more especially the case with regard to their dual nunmbers, I will here give these.

The first of these dual numbers is used relatively to brothers, sisters, or generally between two friends, implying, in fact, that two people stand to one another in the relation of brothers.

The second dual expresses two persons standing to one another in the relation of parent or child, uncle and nephew, &c., &c.

Whilst the third dual expresses that two persons, male and female, are either man and wife, or are greatly attached to each other.

1st Dual. 2d Dual. 3d Dual.
We two, Nga-lee, Ngal-a, Ngan-neetch.
Ye two, New-bal, New-bal, New-bin,
They two, Boola, Bool-la-la, Bool-lane.

In addition to these, they have the first person of several other incomplete dual numbers, and also the first person of a number which expresses three, and which is constantly used. This is "ngal-a-ta" (we three.)

The genitive case of the personal pronouns is formed in the same manner as that of the nouns, by the mere addition of uk, or ung; although there is an exception to this rule in the genitive case of the second person singular, as will be seen below:—

Nominative. Genitive.


I, Ngan-ya, Ngan-a-luk.
Thou, Ngin-nee, Nune-o luk.
He, she, or it, Bal, Bal-uk.
We, Ngan-neel, Ngan-neel-uk
Ye, Nu-rang, Nurang-uk.
They, Bal goon, Bal-goon-uk.

The place of the different words in a sentence in this language is the same with the arrangement followed in most of the Eastern languages,—that is, the substantive always precedes the verb, or adjective; and the pronoun always precedes the noun to which it belongs.

The usual form of negation in a sentence, is by affixing the terminations burt or broo, both of which mean not; as nganya kattige-burt (I understand not.)

A question is always put by terminating the sentence with the interrogative interjection kana? (eh?) as nginnee watto murrije, kana? (you are going away, eh?)

It will be found that I have given only a few of the principal compound words. I have been induced to pursue this course for the sake of brevity, and because most of the compound words are formed according to the caprice of the speaker; but a compound word may be formed from any two verbs, taking care not to connect them by a conjunction, and indeed nearly all words may be compounded, according to the necessity of the case. The word most commonly used in compounds is "midde" (an agent); and all verbs may be rendered substantives by the addition of this word; for instance, the "kalga," or stick for pulling down the banksia cones, is equally represented by the word "mungyte-burrang-midde" (the mungyte bringing agent.)

One remarkable point in this language, and to which I should much wish to call the attention of any person studying it, is, that whenever any verbs express a similarity of action, this fact would appear to be denoted by a common termination being given to the iwfinitive mood of such verbs. An example will fully show what I mean.

A variety of verbs express the action of carrying; for instance,

Bur-rang, to carry off or bring.

Wun-dang, to wear, or carry on the back.

Moon-ang, to carry in the arms.

Deen-ang, to carry on the shoulders.

Go-tang, to carry in a bag.

All express the action of carrying, and have all a common termination. The same rule holds good with verbs expressing other actions; and I believe that if observations were made upon this point, much light might be thrown upon the origin and construction of this language.

In conclusion, I have to observe, that although this vocabulary stands in my name, I have received very important assistance in its compilation from many individuals; amongst others, from His Excellency the Governor, from Mr. Armstrong the Interpreter, from the Hon. G. F. Moore, Esq, and from the Messrs. Bussel, of the Vasse district.


Ad-jo, corruption of nad-jo; I will

Alla, that

Ar-da, merely, only; ya ga

Ar-din-ung, within, beneath

Ar-duc, low down; a corruption of the word nar duk

Ar-lin-gul, we

Arn-din, sick, ill, sore

Arn-ga, the beard; a corruption of nan-ga


Bab-ba, bad, foolish, childish, weak

Bab-bal-ya, pudendum

Bab een, a friend

Bad-do-een, thin, small, wasted

Bad-jang, matter from a bile or sore.

Bad-jé, interval between two stones or rocks near together; as boye-bad-jé, nginnoween

Bak-kan, to bite, hurt, pain, ache

Bal, he, she, it; the third person singular of all genders

Bal-beer-re, a long sort of dtuna; see dtuna

Bal beit, silly, foolish, giddy, childish

Bal-ga, a species of Xanthorea

Bal-goon, they

Bal-goop, them

Bal-gore, a leaf, a gum-leaf

Bal-gang, to track

Bal-jar-ra, uncovered, naked; mya-broo boka broo; as baljarra ngwundow, to sleep without a hut in the open air

Bal-la-ga-ra, species of opossum

Bal-la-jin, to attack, assault, slay. In some parts pronounced short, as badjiu

Bal-la-jin-een, fighting contest; bac-at chin, throwing spears

Bal-lar, secretly

Bal-lar-e jow, to hide

Bal-lar-oke, one of the principal families into which the natives are divided. The general laws relative to these families are, that no man can marry a woman of the same family name as himself: and that the children should always take the family name of their mother. As the sons inherit the property of their father, it follows that the land is never for two generations in the hands of men of the same family name, and in the event of the head of a family having had several wives of different family names, his land becomes divided between several new families. His male children also owe certain duties to their half-brothers, and other duties to the men of their own family name, which often clash with one another, and give rise to endless dissensions amongst them. The other principal families are the Dton dar-up, Na-gar-noke, No go-nyuk, and Ngotak; but there are again several subdivisions of these families

Bal-lee, on this side, this way, in this direction

Bal-look, accidentally, unintentionally

Bal-yan, dew, water resting on any thing in drops

Bal-ya-ta, "Boyee Balyata," a stone that cannot be moved; fixed form

Bal-yure, hungry, empty

Bam-ba, species of stingray fish. The natives will not eat this fish

Bam-bee, a bat

Ban-dak, outside, in the open air

Ban-de, a leg, a shank

Ban-dyne, hungry, (a Northern word)

Ban-gup, an animal that burrows in the ground, the walloby

Ban-ya, to sweat, perspire, drop water; sometimes it means wet

Bardang-nginnow, to jump

Bar-dang-een, fording, wading; as beloe bar dungeen, fording a river

Bar-dan-itch, a bittern

Bar-de. a white grub found in the xanthorea. These grubs have a fragrant, aromatic flavour, and form a favorite article of food amongst the natives; they are eaten either raw or roasted; they frequently form a sort of dessert after native repasts. The presence of these grubs in a grass-tree is thus ascertained: If the top of one of these trees is observed to be dead, the natives give it a few sharp kicks with their feet, when, if it contains any barde, it begins to give; if this take place, they then push it over, and, breaking the tree to pieces with their hammers, extract the barde

Bar-do, to go

Bar-dook, near, not far

Bar-nak, openly, publicly; as "Nadjo boorda-bar-nack wur rang," I will bye and bye inform

Bar-rab-a-ra, well, not ill

Bar-ra lin, joking, jesting, telling untruths

Bar-reet, deception, lying, deceit

Barro, species of xanthorea

Batta, the sun; a sort of rush with which the natives sew their cloaks

Bat-tar dal, lone-wild, trackless Bat-erre, rough, hard Be-an, to dig, scrape, scratch Be-a-ra, species of banksia; "

Beara Kalla," dead wood of the banksia Be dang ween un, pounding roots before eating them; Ya-dang-ween-nun Bee-bee, a breast, a nipple Bee-bil-yer, bird called the wild turkey Bee-dee, a vein, a path Bee-dee-eer, an old man with a large family, and having some weight among the other natives^ owing to this " mam-meiup bee-dee-eer"

Bee-na, down Bee-noon, lo pinch, to squeeze Bee-rai, daylight, the day Be-lar-a, a dead leaf, dried leaves Belli Belli, this or that side; superior, excellent Be-loe, a river, a stream; "

Gur-jyto ngoo-mon'* Bel-uk-a, enough, sufficient Be-rytcke, or Be-ytche, small cone of the banksia somewhat resembling the metjo; it burns slowly,, like a pastil Be-roke, the summer season. This season follows Kum-bar-rung, and is followed by Boor-no -roo, "Ngan-ga moor-doo-een"

Be-roon -na, north wind Ber-re, the nails; as Marra berre, hand nails Bet-tick, softly, noiselessly Betti-noon, to pinch Bid-doo-rook, or Bid-doo-rong, forenoon, about ten o'clock Bid-jak, stinking, offensive Bid-jar, sleep Bid-jar Ngwoondow, to sleep Bid-ji-roon-go, species of snake Bid-ye, in a dying state Be-dyle, charcoal Be-gyte, the forehead Bil-ga, the ancle Billang, as "

Billang gin-nung, " lifting up for the purpose of looking at a thing Bil-ya-go-rong, a species of bird Bil-yan-win, throwing off, taking off; asBokabil yan-win Bil-ye, the navel Bil-yup. a species of guana Bim-ban, to kiss; "


(To be continued.) EDITED, PRINTED, AND PUBLISHED, BV CHARLES MACFAULL, AT THE GAZETTE OFFICE, PERTH. Terms of Subscription:-10.6d. per Quarter, if paid in advance; or. 12s. if paid at the end of the Quarter. Single number One shilling* Terms of Advertisements: For Eight lines 9«. 6d and 3d. per line above this number. > Advertisements must be paid for previously lo insertion.

Mun-ge-ral, fat

Mun-gyte, the flower of the banksia

Mun-gyte-du, the hairy part of the banksia flower

Mun-jang, harmless, not fierce

Mur-ang, a root eaten by the natives

Muir-da, bald, bald; "bir-ri-kirre," as "katta murda," bald head

Mur-daile, the wrist

Mur-rigo, to go, to move

Murr-jy, the upper part of the back of the neck

Murro-murro, the peeled and ornamented sticks which the natives wear in their heads during the "yallore"

My-a, anything constructed of bark; as a house or basket

Mya, the voice

Mya kowd, an echo

Mya-gyne, to-morrow,

Mya*gyne, the day before yesterday

Myar, a place of residence

Myar-a, a roperty in land, onels landed property My ardu ck, night

My-a?ree, foliage

Mtyart, darknesi

My.er-ree, tht liver

l!liy-erbûg ul, the monthly illness of'females. During this period the native women are separ rated from their husbands and friends; a little hut close to that of UVir husbands* ia erected for them, and for six days ihev are obliged to remain in the state of "walluck wûndoween," lying apart

My-ra-bot-tine, joints of the fingers

Myre-a, the hand 01 fingers

Myre-ook, yesterday


Naal, here, present

Nab-bow, to rub on, to anoint; as "wilgey nab bow,'* to paint with wilgey

Na-ga, this


Ná-gá-lia, to steal, to purloin

Na-ga-li ung, ä thief, a robber

Na-gar*nook, one of the great families into which the natives are divided

Na-gein, stolen, that which has been obtained by theft; as "maryne nagein ngannoween," eating stolen food

Nag-o, cold

Na-go, to know (principally used to the south of Swan River

Na-go-look, an acquaintance, any person or thing that is known to one

Nag-o-mun, cold

Na-gu, fiiendly, nice, amicably; as "nagul «ginnoween/'sitting together in »'friendly manner

Nag-ul, the part of the mouth under the tongue

Nail, what? as "ntfga-nàit," what is this?

Nait juck, wherefore, for what reason

Kal-g, a sha) p edge, as the edge of a knife

Nal-go, the teeth; improperly used for to ça$ Kal ja, tu peep sideways at anything jNal juck, the outer corner of the eye Nal-ya, the arm pit Nal-yuck, the skin Nam-me-die, a small species of fresh water fish Nam-yun-go, an emu; the local name for the Dtondarup family in the VasBe district Nan-do, the breast bone Nan-dup, the red gum tree Na-nee, a species of water bird, a quail Nan-ga, the beard; the roots, and bottom parts of certain roots which the natives eat; as "borhn nanga," the roolB of borHh; "gwar-dina nanga," the, roots of gwardine . ^N*n-gar, the stars Nan-jart, the east wind Nan-ger-goon, a root eaten by the natives Nan-gutta, moss £ïan-nûp, stop, halt Na-no, mud, also.a swamp Nan-yar, benumbed, stiffened Nar-duck, downwards r^ar-duck-yogoween, the teeth in the upper jaw, so called from their pointing downward» Nar-gyle, a root eaten by the natives Nar-rta, a small species of caterpillar Nar-ra, the ribs Nar-lrJtg a-ra, the name of a Btar Nar-rail, the ribs Narr-gal-lia,

    • Moodoo een-nalgo"

Nar-ri-ik, plenty,'

" boola"

Nar-ri-ja, spittle, froth; **narrija-gwart," to spit Nar-ruck-nar-ruck, from side to side; " wool-ing murrijo bingoort bingoort," unsteady, in different directions, on all sides Narrup-in-dan-win, also Nar-ruçk-wll-yan-een,, passing on one Bide Nat-djing, the yolk of an egg '

  • '

Nat-te, more, continue Nee-bel, truly, in truth < . ' Nee-myte* the ribs Nee-nat, covered with sores or sore places Nee-neem, a large species of leech Nee-Van, to howl, as a dog Neer-im-ba, a species of pelican Neer-ran, to plant, to put in the ground New-ball, ye two, brother and sister, or parent and child New-bin^ ye two, man and wife Nhur doo, conduct, behaviour Nid-ja, or Nid-juk, in this place, here Nul-jal-la, here, in this place Nig-ga, the string of the opossum's hair, worn round the head Nil-lar-ee, orNil-lar-uk, blue Nin-dyan, to kiss Nirr go, a moscheto Ni-yoong, the elbow n No-dytche, dead No-go, a specif's of fungus No go-luk, the craw of a bird No-go-nnyuck,one of the great families into which the natives are divided No-go-ro, heavy sleep, to sleep soundly; "bid-jar uguo-mon,"

"nogoro backaneen," heavy slee¡) bites nie N > gyte, the elbow Nool-burn, the gird'e of opossum's hair worn round the waist by the natives, Nool-ioo, narrow Noon-al-lung, yours, thine Noon dee, the tail of an animal Noon-goor-dool, stuck in. That which has pierced but not peneirated is said to be Noon-goor-doo 1 Noor-doo, a fly Noor-do rung-win, snoring

References and notes

  1. "Classified Advertising.", National Library of Australia, 9 November 1839
  2. Part 5 concludes with 'to be continued', but there doesn't seem to be any further installment and on the paper started advertising that the pamphlet edition had been published.