Australian Aboriginal English

Australian Aboriginal English

Australian Aboriginal English (AAE) is a term referring to the various varieties of the English language used by Indigenous Australians. These varieties, which developed differently in different parts of Australia, vary along a continuum, from forms close to standard English to more nonstandard forms. The furthest extent of this is Kriol, which is regarded by linguists as a distinct language from English. Speakers change between different forms according to social context.

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. This is particularly true in outback areas, where the indigenous population is generally more significant than in urban and suburban areas.




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 accusative 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" 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 used as terms of address for older people, to whom the speaker may not be related.
*"Brother" and "sister" include close relatives of the same generation, not just siblings.
*"Cousin" includes any relative of one's own generation.
*The combinations "cousin-brother" and "cousin-sister" are used to refer to biological cousins.
*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.
*"Father" and "mother" include any relative of one's parents' generation, such as uncles, aunts, 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 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 fathers" or "little bit fathers" are men of one's father's generation not closely related to the speaker. 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.


Many Aborigines 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 "Secret Women's Business" and "Secret Men's Business".


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


Deadly is used by many Aboriginal people to mean excellent, very good, in the same way that "wicked" is by other English speakers. The Deadlys are awarded for outstanding achievement by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people. This usage is not exclusive to Aborigines.


Victorian era English word for "pretend". Still used by some Australian Aborigines to mean joking generally. Gammoning – usually pronounced "Gam'in"'.

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. It is a shortening of the word "Government", since traditionally Aboriginal people's contact with whites most often involved government officials. Another theory is that it is a contraction of "Governor". It has also been said to mean "White Ghost".


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.


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.


English word for a long story, often with incredible or unbelievable events. In Australian English, and particularly among Aborigines, has become a verb, to talk. Often, "Yarnin"'.

ee also

*Australian Aboriginal Pidgin English
*Australian English
*Australian Aboriginal languages
*List of English words of Australian Aboriginal origin
*Torres Strait Creole


*cite book |last=Arthur |first=J. M. |year=1996 |title=Aboriginal English |publisher=Oxford University Press Australia
*cite book |year=2000 |title=Aboriginal English in the courts: a handbook |publisher=Dept. of Justice and Attorney General |id=ISBN 0-7242-8071-5 |url=

External links

* [ West Australian Aboriginal English]

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