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The Wiradyuri and Other Languages of New South Wales   By: (1841-1918)

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By R. H. Mathews, L.S., Corres. Memb. Anthrop. Soc., Washington, U.S.A.

Synposis. Introductory. Orthography. The Wiradyuri Language. The Burreba burreba Language. The Ngunawal Language. Vocabulary of Wiradyuri Words. Vocabulary of Ngunawal Words.

The native tribes speaking the Wiradyuri language occupy an immense region in the central and southern portions of New South Wales. For their eastern and northern boundaries the reader is referred to the map accompanying my paper to the American Philosophical Society in 1898.[1] The western boundary is shown on the map with my article to the Royal Society of New South Wales the same year.[2] Their southern limit is represented on the map attached to a paper I transmitted to the Anthropological Society at Washington in 1898.[3] The maps referred to were prepared primarily to mark out the boundaries of the social organisation and system of marriage and descent prevailing in the Wiradyuri community, but will also serve to indicate the geographic range of their language.

The Wiradyuri language is spoken over a greater extent of territory than any other tongue in New South Wales, and the object of the present monograph is to furnish a short outline of its grammatical structure. I have included a brief notice of the Burreba burreba language, which adjoins the Wiradyuri on the west. A cursory outline is also given of the language of the Ngunawal tribe, which bounds the Wiradyuri on a portion of the east. The Kamilaroi tribes, whose language I recently reported to this Institute,[4] adjoin the Wiradyuri on the north.

In all the languages treated in this article, in every part of speech subject to inflexion, there are double forms of the first person, of the dual and plural, similar in character to what have been reported from many islands in Polynesia and Melanesia, and the tribes of North America. Separate forms for "we two," and "he and I," were observed by Rev. James Günther among the pronouns of the Wiradyuri natives at Wellington,[5] but as he does not mention anything of the kind in the plural, we may conclude that he did not observe it.

The materials from which this paper has been prepared have been gathered by me while travelling through various parts of the Wiradyuri country, for the purpose of visiting and interviewing the old native men and women who still speak the native tongue, from whom I noted down all the information herein reproduced. When the difficulties encountered in obtaining the grammar of any language which is purely colloquial are taken into consideration, I feel sure that all necessary allowances will be made for the imperfections of my work.

The initiation ceremonies of the Wiradyuri tribes, which are of a highly interesting character, have been fully described by me in contributions to several societies and other learned institutions.[6]

It will be as well to state that in 1892, Dr. J. Fraser, from the MSS. of the late Rev. James Günther, published some gramatical rules and a vocabulary of the Wiradyuri language. This forms part of a volume entitled An Australian Language (Sydney, 1892), Appendix, pp. 56 120.

Mr. E. M. Curr published several vocabularies collected in different parts of the Wiradyuri territory. The Australian Race , vol. iii, pp. 363 401.


The system of orthoepy adopted is that recommended by the Royal Geographical Society, London, with the following qualifications:

Ng at the beginning of a word or syllable has a peculiar sound, which I have previously illustrated.[7] At the end of a syllable or word, it has substantially the sound of ng in "sing."

Dh and nh have nearly the sound of th in "that," with a slight initial sound of the d or n as the case may be.

Ty and dy at the commencement of a word or syllable, as dyirril (a spear), has nearly the sound of j . At the end of a word, as gillaty (to day), ty or dy is pronounced nearly as tch in the word "batch," but omitting the final hissing sound... Continue reading book >>

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