Aboriginal Languages


It is unknown how many Aboriginal languages once existed. Some researchers estimate there were once more than 600 different Aboriginal languages in Australia. After colonization, years of oppression and the aging of native speakers, only about 150 remain, many of which are only spoken by a handful of elders. Recent movements have pressured for the introduction of Aboriginal language classes and stressed the importance of bilingual education.

Australian lingo borrows heavily from Aboriginal words, especially in the naming of places and animals. Billabong, boomerang, dingo, kangaroo, koala, kookaburra, quokka, wombat and yabby are all aboriginal words.

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The word “kangaroo” has an interesting history. A common tale jokes that it is actually an Aboriginal response for “I don’t know/understand (what you are asking)” and was elicited in a response to Captain James Cook’s inquiry about what Aborigines called the large animals. In reality, kangaroo is a derivative of the Guugu Yimidhirr word gangurru, which refers to a particular kangaroo species.

For more information, check out this comprehensive database on Aboriginal languages.