Australian Aboriginal English

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 whom they are speaking to, e.g. striving to speak more like Australian English when speaking to a non-Indigenous English-speaking person.[4]

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.

Australian Aboriginal English
Latin (English alphabet)
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottologabor1240  code abandoned, but bibliography retained[1]


Auxiliary verbs

Aboriginal English does not make use of auxiliary verbs, such as to be and to have, or copulas to link things together. For example, the Aboriginal English equivalent of "We are working" would be "We workin'". Linguists do not regard this as "just dropping words out", but as a fundamental change to the way in which English is constructed.[7]


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.


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".


Kin terms

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 one's mother's sister and of one's father's brother (cousin), just as in many indigenous languages.
  • Cousin-brother and cousin-sister are often used to refer to children of one's mother's sister and of one's father's brother.
  • Cousin refers to children of one's father's sister and of one's mother's brother, but may be extended to any relative of one's own generation, such as somebody 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 whom 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.


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.


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


"Cheeky" may be used to describe a dog or other animal that's likely to bite or attack.


Dardy, meaning "cool", is used amongst South West Australian Aboriginal peoples. This word has also been adopted by non-Indigenous Australian teens, particularly in the skateboarding subculture. Many Australian teens also use the word to describe something worth buying.


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 were awards for outstanding achievement by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people. This usage is not exclusive to Aboriginal people. It is commonly heard in Ireland.


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 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. A transformative use has seen prevalence among non-indigenous Australians referring to people as 'Cobber'.


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, refers to an Aboriginal person asking a relative for money. Humbugging can become a serious burden where the traditional culture is one of communal ownership and strong obligations between relatives.


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.


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 cheeky. In both cases, rubbish approximately means "inert".


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.


Often conjoined with the word "deadly", "unna" means "ain't it?" This word is used frequently in the 1998 novel Deadly, Unna? by Phillip Gwynne.


Sutton (1989) documents that some speakers of Aboriginal English in the area around Adelaide have an uncommon degree of rhoticity, relative to both other AAE speakers and Standard Australian English speakers (which are generally non-rhotic). These speakers realise /r/ as [ɹ] in the preconsonantal postvocalic position – after a vowel but before another a consonant – within stems. For example: [boːɹd] "board", [t̠ʃɜɹt̠ʃ] "church", [pɜɹθ] "Perth"; but [flæː] "flour", [dɒktə] "doctor", [jɪəz] "years". Sutton speculates that this feature may derive from the fact that many of the first settlers in coastal South Australia – including Cornish tin-miners, Scottish missionaries, and American whalers – spoke rhotic varieties. Many of his informants grew up in Point Pearce and Point McLeay.[10]

See also


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Australian Aboriginal English". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ P4 Australian 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. ^ a b 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. ^ "What is Aboriginal English like, and how would you recognise it?". NSW Board of Studies. November 7, 2015. Retrieved November 7, 2015.
  8. ^ Wilkes, G.A. A Dictionary of Australian Colloquialisms (Sydney: Fontana/Collins, 1978, p. 167
  9. ^ "Online etymology dictionary".
  10. ^ Sutton, Peter (1989). "Postvocalic R in an Australian English dialect". Australian Journal of Linguistics. 9 (1): 161–163.

External links

Aboriginal Australians

Aboriginal Australian is a collective term for all the indigenous peoples from the Australian mainland and Tasmania. This group contains many separate cultures that have developed in the various environments of Australia for more than 50,000 years. These peoples have a broadly shared, though complex, genetic history, but it is only in the last two hundred years that they have been defined and started to self identify as a single group. The exact definition of the term Aboriginal Australian has changed over time and place, with the importance of family lineage, self identification and community acceptance all being of varying importance. In the past Aboriginal Australians also lived over large sections of the continental shelf and were isolated on many of the smaller offshore islands, once the land was inundated at the start of the inter-glacial. However, they are distinct from the Torres Strait Islander people, despite extensive cultural exchange.Today Aboriginal Australians comprise 3.1% of Australia's population. They also live throughout the world as part of the Australia diaspora. Before extensive European settlement, there were over 200 Aboriginal languages. However, today most Aboriginal people speak English, with Aboriginal phrases and words being added to create Australian Aboriginal English (which also has a tangible influence of Indigenous languages in the phonology and grammatical structure). They have a number of health and economic deprivations in comparison with the wider Australian community.

Aboriginal English

Aboriginal English can refer to

Australian Aboriginal English

Aboriginal English in Canada


The Adnyamathanha (Pronounced: ) are a contemporary Indigenous Australian people from the Flinders Ranges, South Australia, formed as an aggregate of several distinct peoples. Strictly speaking the ethnonym Adnyamathanha was an alternative name for the Wailpi. Adnyamathanha is also often used as the name of their traditional language, although the language is more commonly called "yura ngarwala" by Adnyamathanha people themselves (being Adnyamathanha for – loosely translated – "our speech").


Auntie may refer to:

an informal form of the word aunt

an informal name for the British Broadcasting Corporation (the BBC)

"Auntie" (song), a song released in 1972 to celebrate the BBC's 50th year

an informal name for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (the ABC)

Aunty (film), a 1995 Telugu film

Celebrated on Auntie's Day (holiday), the fourth Sunday in July, which was created by Melanie Notkin in 2009. She is the author of Savvy Auntie (book) and (website).

Auntie (or Aunty) is an Australian Aboriginal English term used when addressing an older Aboriginal female who may or may not be related to the speaker

Australian Aboriginal kinship

Aboriginal Australian kinship are the systems of law governing social interaction, particularly marriage, in traditional Australian Aboriginal cultures. It is an integral part of the culture of every Aboriginal group across Australia.


A boomerang is a thrown tool, typically constructed as a flat airfoil, that is designed to spin about an axis perpendicular to the direction of its flight. A returning boomerang is designed to return to the thrower. It is well known as a weapon used by Indigenous Australians for hunting.

Boomerangs have been historically used for hunting, as well as sport and entertainment. They are commonly thought of as an Australian icon, and come in various shapes and sizes.

Business (disambiguation)

Business is the activity of making one's living or making money by producing or buying-and-selling goods or services.

Business may also refer to:

a business: an organization (company or enterprise, for example) involved in the trade of goods, services, or both, with consumers

the business sector – the combined activity of all company-based trading and industrial activity in an economy

trade, the transfer of the ownership of goods or services from one person or entity to another in exchange for other goods or services or for money

an individual industry, such as "the meat business" or "the oil business"

an individual line of business within an industry, such as "the bacon business" within "the meat business" or "a ball-bearing line" within "a bearing business"

Business (EP), an EP by Jet Lag Gemini

Business (newspaper), a weekly business newspaper in Ukraine

"Business" (song), a single by Eminem

business class on airlines

business route, a type of highway in North America

a group of ferrets

business is a term used in Australian Aboriginal English in a distinctive way to mean matters. “Sorry business” refers to mourning or funeral practices. Social rituals specific to each sex are called “Women’s business” or “Men’s business.” Financial matters are referred to as “Money business”


Gammon may refer to:

Gammon (meat), a cut of quick-cured pork legGammon bomb, a British hand grenade used during World War II

Gammon Construction, a construction company in Hong Kong

Gammon India, civil engineering construction company in India

SA-5 Gammon, the NATO designation for the Russian Angara/Vega/Dubna surface-to-air missile system

Shelta, the language of the Irish Travellers

Gammon, a victory in backgammon achieved before the loser removed a single checker

Gammon, the rope lashing or iron hardware to attach a mast to a boat or ship

Reg Gammon (1894–1997), English painter

Steve Gammon, Welsh professional footballer

Gammon (insult), a pejorative term

Gammon is a term used in Australian Aboriginal English to describe conversation that is considered to be nonsense, joking or pretending

Gunai language

The Gunai language ( GUN-eye, also spelt Gunnai, Ganai, Gaanay, Kurnai, Kurnay KUR-nye) is an Australian aboriginal dialect cluster of the Gunai people in Gippsland in south-east Victoria. Bidhawal (Birrdhawal) was either a divergent dialect or a closely related language.

Indigenous Australians

Indigenous Australians are the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia, descended from groups that existed in Australia and surrounding islands before British colonisation. The time of arrival of the first Indigenous Australians is a matter of debate among researchers. The earliest conclusively human remains found in Australia are those of Mungo Man LM3 and Mungo Lady, which have been dated to around 50,000 years BP. Recent archaeological evidence from the analysis of charcoal and artefacts revealing human use suggests a date as early as 65,000 BP. Luminescence dating has suggested habitation in Arnhem Land as far back as 60,000 years BP. Genetic research has inferred a date of habitation as early as 80,000 years BP. Other estimates have ranged up to 100,000 years and 125,000 years BP.Although there are a number of commonalities between Indigenous Aboriginal Australians, there is also a great diversity among different Indigenous communities and societies in Australia, each with its own mixture of cultures, customs and languages. In present-day Australia these groups are further divided into local communities. At the time of initial European settlement, over 250 languages were spoken; it is currently estimated that 120 to 145 of these remain in use, but only 13 of these are not considered endangered. Aboriginal people today mostly speak English, with Aboriginal phrases and words being added to create Australian Aboriginal English (which also has a tangible influence of Indigenous languages in the phonology and grammatical structure). The population of Indigenous Australians at the time of permanent European settlement is contentious and has been estimated at between 318,000 and 1,000,000 with the distribution being similar to that of the current Australian population, the majority living in the south-east, centred along the Murray River. A population collapse principally from disease followed European settlement beginning with a smallpox epidemic spreading three years after the arrival of Europeans. Massacres and war by British settlers also contributed to depopulation. The characterisation of this violence as genocide is controversial and disputed.Since 1995, the Australian Aboriginal Flag and the Torres Strait Islander Flag have been among the official flags of Australia.


The Kaytetye, otherwise written Kaititya, and pronounced kay-ditch, are an Indigenous Australian people who live around Barrow Creek and Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory. Their neighbours to the east are the Alyawarre, to the south the Anmatyerre, to the west the Warlpiri, and to the north the Warumungu. Kaytetye country is dissected by the Stuart Highway.

Light Warlpiri

Light Warlpiri is a mixed language of Australia, with indigenous Warlpiri, Kriol, and Standard Australian English as its parent languages. First documented by linguist Carmel O'Shannessy of the University of Michigan, it is spoken in the Warlpiri community of Lajamanu, mostly by people under the age of 40. As of 2013, there were 350 native speakers of Light Warlpiri, although all of the speakers also knew traditional Warlpiri and many speak Kriol and English.

List of dialects of English

The following is a list of dialects of English. Dialects are linguistic varieties which may differ in pronunciation, vocabulary, spelling and grammar. For the classification of varieties of English in terms of pronunciation only, see Regional accents of English.

Dialects can be defined as "sub-forms of languages which are, in general, mutually comprehensible." English speakers from different countries and regions use a variety of different accents (systems of pronunciation), as well as various localized words and grammatical constructions; many different dialects can be identified based on these factors. Dialects can be classified at broader or narrower levels: within a broad national or regional dialect, various more localized sub-dialects can be identified, and so on. The combination of differences in pronunciation and use of local words may make some English dialects almost unintelligible to speakers from other regions.

The major native dialects of English are often divided by linguists into three general categories: the British Isles dialects, those of North America, and those of Australasia. Dialects can be associated not only with place, but also with particular social groups. Within a given English-speaking country, there will often be a form of the language considered to be Standard English – the Standard Englishes of different countries differ, and each can itself be considered a dialect. Standard English is often associated with the more educated layers of society, as well as more formal registers.

British and American English are the reference norms for English as spoken, written, and taught in the rest of the world, excluding countries where English is spoken natively such as Australia, Canada, Ireland and New Zealand. In many former British Empire countries where English is not spoken natively, British English forms are closely followed, alongside numerous AmE usages which have become widespread throughout the English-speaking world. Conversely, in many countries historically influenced by the United States where English is not spoken natively, American English forms are closely followed. Many of these countries, while retaining strong BrE or AmE influences, have developed their own unique dialects, which include Indian English and Philippine English.

Chief among other native English dialects are Canadian English and Australian English, which rank third and fourth in the number of native speakers. For the most part, Canadian English, while featuring numerous British forms alongside indigenous Canadianisms, shares vocabulary, phonology and syntax with American English, leading many to recognize North American English as an organic grouping of dialects. Australian English likewise shares many American and British English usages alongside plentiful features unique to Australia, and retains a significantly higher degree of distinctiveness from both the larger varieties than does Canadian English. South African English, New Zealand English and the Hiberno-English of Ireland are also distinctive and rank fifth, sixth and seventh in the number of native speakers.

National Indigenous Council

The National Indigenous Council (NIC) was an appointed advisory body to the Australian Government through the Minister's for Indigenous Affairs Taskforce on Indigenous Affairs (MTIA) established in November 2004 and chaired by Sue Gordon, a Western Australian magistrate. It first met in December 2004 and wound up in early 2008.

Terms of reference of the council were to provide expert advice to government on improving outcomes for indigenous Australians.


The Noongar () (also spelt Nyungar, Nyoongar, Nyoongah, Nyungah, Nyugah, Yunga) are a constellation of peoples of Indigenous Australian descent who live in the south-west corner of Western Australia, from Geraldton on the west coast to Esperance on the south coast. Noongar country is now understood as referring to the land occupied by 14 different groups: Amangu, Ballardong, Yued, Kaneang, Koreng, Mineng, Njakinjaki, Njunga, Pibelmen, Pindjarup, Wardandi, Whadjuk, Wiilman and Wudjari.The members of the collective Noongar cultural block descend from peoples who spoke several languages and dialects that were often mutually intelligible. What is now classed as the Noongar language is a member of the large Pama-Nyungan language family. Contemporary Noongar speak Australian Aboriginal English (a dialect of the English language) laced with Noongar words and occasionally inflected by its grammar. Most contemporary Noongar trace their ancestry to more than one of these groups. The 2001 census figures showed that 21,000 people identified themselves as indigenous in the south-west of Western Australia.


The Pitjantjatjara (English: ,Aboriginal pronunciation: [ˈpɪɟanɟaɟaɾa] or [ˈpɪɟanɟaɾa]) are an Aboriginal people of the Central Australian desert. They are closely related to the Yankunytjatjara and Ngaanyatjarra and their languages are, to a large extent, mutually intelligible (all are varieties of the Western Desert language).

They refer to themselves as Anangu (people). The Pitjantjatjara live mostly in the northwest of South Australia, extending across the border into the Northern Territory to just south of Lake Amadeus, and west a short distance into Western Australia. The land is an inseparable and important part of their identity, and every part of it is rich with stories and meaning to Anangu.They have, for the most part, given up their nomadic hunting and gathering lifestyle but have retained their language and much of their culture in spite of increasing influences from the broader Australian community.

Today there are still about 4,000 Anangu living scattered in small communities and outstations across their traditional lands, forming one of the most successful joint land arrangements in Australia with Aboriginal Traditional Owners.

Uncle (disambiguation)

An uncle is a family relative.

Uncle may also refer to:

Uncle (book series), by J. P. Martin

Uncle (film), a 2018 Indian Malayalam drama thriller film

Uncle (TV series), a BBC Three sitcom starring Nick Helm

Uncle (novel), a children's novel by J. P. Martin

U.N.C.L.E., a fictional organization in the TV series The Man from U.N.C.L.E.The Uncle, a 1965 British drama film

"Uncle", a song by Mindless Self Indulgence on the album If

Uncle, an Australian Aboriginal English term used when addressing an older Aboriginal man who may or may not be related to the speaker

Yininmadyemi - Thou didst let fall

Yininmadyemi - Thou didst let fall is a sculptural artwork by Indigenous Australian artist Tony Albert located in Hyde Park, Sydney. Unveiled on 31 March 2015, the artwork acknowledges the service of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women in the Australian Defence Force.

English varieties
Major indigenous
Pidgins, creoles and
mixed languages
Sign languages
Dialects and accents of Modern English by continent
North and

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