Document Type



Aboriginal Teacher Education Program, Mount Lawley College of Advanced Education

Place of Publication

Mount Lawley, Western Australia


Aboriginal Teacher Education Program


Vaszolyi, E. (1976). Aboriginal Australians speak : an introduction to Australian Aboriginal linguistics. Mount Lawley, Australia: Aboriginal Teacher Education Program, Mount Lawley College of Advanced Education.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are advised that this document may contain references to people who have died.


It has duly been recognized that Aboriginal society in Australia is far from homogeneous. People and groups referred to as part-Aborigines, urban Aborigines, fringe-dwellers, rural Aborigines, traditionally oriented or tribal Aborigines in the outback and so on display considerable diversity in terms of culture, identity, aspirations and the like. Language is no exception. Some Aboriginal people (mainly in cities or towns and some rural areas) would speak as good an English as any non-Aboriginal Australian and often much better: indeed, their only language, their. 'mother tongue' is English. In contrast, in the outback one can still meet Aborigines who speak precious little or no English. Between these extremes there are lots of transitions: people who speak one or more Aboriginal languages well and also speak fluent English or not-so-fluent English or what is termed in this booklet Aboriginal English or Pidgin English. Others (young and school-educated people in particular) may no longer be fluent in Aboriginal languages, others again may understand but not speak the 'bush language' and use Pidgin or one or another variety of English instead and there are further variations on this theme. The writer of these lines has also had the sad, or rather tragic, experience when young Aboriginal fringe-dwellers of up to twenty years of age did not speak any language with full proficiency: they only knew a broken and poor variety of their forefathers' beautiful and powerful language while had not been able to acquire more than a very limited English or Pidgin. The result was, of course, an appalling intellectual, mental and social breakdown.

The objective of this booklet is to give the reader some idea about the most salient features of three, clearly distinguishable though mutually interfering, communalects or speech forms: Aboriginal languages in general, the Aboriginal English dialect of Australia and Pidgin English spoken in some Aboriginal communities. lt goes without saying that only very essential linguistic features have been touched upon. For practical reasons, too, the scope had to be limited to Western Australia as much as possible. An all-Australian overview would be far beyond the limits of the present undertaking.