Word for Word #9 Australian Indigenous languages

Apr 27, 2017

Before 1788, hundreds of Indigenous languages were spoken in Australia. Today, that picture looks very different, but language remains an essential part of the fabric of Indigenous identity.

In this special episode of Word for Word, we explore a language with tens of thousands of speakers, as well as some languages spoken only by a handful of people; novelist Kate Grenville tells the story of an unusual First Fleet lieutenant and his attempts to learn the Gadigal language; and we meet a young Indigenous woman in the remote community of Ngukurr, who is determined to keep her grandmother's language alive.

Macquarie Dictionary acknowledges the traditional owners of country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, culture and community. We pay our respects to elders past and present. We acknowledge the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, their cultures, languages, communities and ways of life. We acknowledge there are differing usages of the terms “Aboriginal”, “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander”, and “Indigenous” within Australia, and use these terms respectfully throughout this episode.

Join us as we explore our language: the ways we use it, the ways we abuse it, and the ways we ultimately change it.

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Words from this episode

Aboriginal English






Mara or Marra

Pama-Ngyugan (and non-Pama-Ngyugan)



Additional links

You can read about Dr Maia Ponsonnet's work on the expression of emotions in Dalabon in her book The Language of Emotions.

Also check out Dr Greg Dickson's illuminating piece about Kriol for The Conversation.

You can find My Grandmother's Lingo at sbs.com.au/mygrandmotherslingo. Learn more about Angelina Joshua and the Ngukurr Language Centre in this piece from SBS.

Kate Grenville's novel The Lieutenant is published by Text. Her latest book is The Case Against Fragrance.

The website www.williamdawes.org is a helpful resource in understanding the Dawes notebooks, as is the work of linguist Dr Jakelin Troy.

You can find the clip featuring Stan Grant Snr on the Guardian Australia website

Other links of interest, which informed this episode:


Word for Word is produced by Kate Sherington for Macquarie Dictionary and Pan Macmillan Australia.

Thanks are due to Dr Maia Ponsonnet, Dr Greg Dickson, Angelina Joshua, Kate Grenville, and the whole team at Macquarie.

Clips from the My Grandmother’s Lingo interactive animation are used by permission of SBS.

Music used in this episode is by Broke For Free, available from the Free Music Archive and used by permission of the artist. Find more music by Broke for Free including The Gold Lining; and If

Additional music used in this episode is by Lee Rosevere, also available from the Free Music Archive: Making a ChangeIt's a Mystery, and The Secret to Growing Up.

Sound effects are public domain and sourced from FreeSound.org.

Our logo is by Amy Sherington.

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