2—Aboriginal loan words into English
Standard Australian English (SAE) includes many loan words and place names from Australian Aboriginal languages, and Aboriginal English has borrowed and transformed English words, often introducing concepts from Aboriginal cultures to their meaning.
A loan word is a word that has been ‘borrowed’ from another language and absorbed into English to enrich it. English speakers are so familiar with loan words they often have no idea of their origin. Begin with the word ‘tattoo’, which came into English in the 18th century from Polynesian ‘tatau’, to discuss the concept of loan words and the cultural associations they can carry with them. The practice of illustrating skin was taken to Europe by sailors along with the word (though Europeans also tattooed in ancient times). Polynesian people such as Maoris and Tahitians, and other Indigenous peoples, have long been known for tattooing their bodies. Being of European descent and having tattoos once connoted membership of a tough subculture, or rebellion, but tattooing is now part of popular culture. Tattooing is thus both a traditional Indigenous practice and a contemporary Western practice inherited from Indigenous cultures.
Shared reading (interactive whiteboard) and discussion
Thinking back to the film Barbekueria, share-read and discuss the borrowing of the word ‘kangaroo’ and confusions surrounding it in a short 250 word recount from the Australian National Dictionary Centre.
What words do you think we have in Australian English that we have borrowed from other languages, including Aboriginal languages?
Ask students if they can think of or know of any Aboriginal loan words in Australian English. On the whiteboard, using the word ‘goanna’ which may also sound Aboriginal but is not, demonstrate how a Google search term of ‘etymology’ and the research word can obtain good results.
Mix up the following list of loan words from their origins. Have students work in small groups to try to correctly match them.
With student input, correctly match the above words. Students may know the Australian Aboriginal words but be unable to match them to their language, and this is a prompt to realise how many different Indigenous languages exist in Australia.
Do students know of names of Aboriginal languages and where they are spoken? Have students use an Indigenous language map to identify five Aboriginal languages, including the language of their own area.
Most Aboriginal loan words are from the Darug (Dharuk or Dharug) language around Sydney. Why do students think this is? (Place of first white settlement.) Look at this list of loan words from Darug.
William Dawes and Patyegarang
While language lives on in loan words, complexity and world-view is reduced, and recording or reducing language is never an impartial process. Introduce students to the notebooks of William Dawes, an officer of the First Fleet of 1787–88, and the role of 15-year-old Patyegarang in helping keep Darug language alive.
Patyegarang was just 15 when she roamed Sydney with Dawes, teaching him Darug while he recorded conversational snatches in his notebooks. Now digitised, the notebooks are a rich resource for Darug language revival.
Students might form pairs to discuss what it would be like to show an older stranger from a foreign culture around their local area so that the person might learn about their language and culture. Imagine then if what they were to relay, in gestures and words, became the only extensive record of that language in existence! Is what Dawes recorded accurate, or is it ‘kangaroo’ and ‘Barbekueria’?
As an extension activity, have students look through Dawes’s online notebooks, not as a dictionary or glossary but as the fragments from conversations of a teenage girl from long ago. Choose a single page and have students write a coherent conversation or description of what is happening that justifies this particular record — that fills out the context for the page.