Aboriginal English

Aboriginal English is just one way in which different aspects of Aboriginal identity are expressed. It has various forms and they are all dialects of English. The differences are expressed in accent, grammar, words, meaning and language use. There is no one dialect of Aboriginal English; it can range from a similarity to Standard Australian English to being strongly influenced by Kriol.

Author Margaret Somerville, who worked closely with co-author Tony Perkins and the Aboriginal community at Corindi Beach community (mid-north coast of New South Wales) to produce Singing the coast (Somerville & Perkins 2010, Aboriginal Studies Press), provides a thoughtful explanation of the collaboration about language, and honouring the spoken word on the page (pp. ix—x):

Tony was keen that the written form of his voice should be as close as possible to the way he speaks so that that his words as they appear on the page reflect the meanings of the stories and places that he wanted to convey. There are variations between the way that some words are spelt within a single story, for example 'fella/fellows', depending on the emphases in the conversation. Apostrophes are used to represent letters not sounded out at the beginning of words, like 'cause, 'em and at the end of words, like thinkin' or runnin'. On occasions, words are elided, like m'Grandmother.


Examples of register

There are generally agreed to be three registers; formal, middle and non-standard. Here are three examples of the same text, each written in a different register:

  • At the Board meeting yesterday the Chairman tabled a document for which he hoped to secure formal Board approval. If passed by the Board, Board members' annual remunerations would rise by 50 per cent. (standard formal, the formal register)
  • The Chairman tabled a document at yesterday's Board Meeting which seeks approval for a 50 per cent increase in Directors' fees. (standard informal, the middle register)
  • At yesterday's Board Meeting the Chairman pushed for a 50 per cent hike in pay for him and the other Directors. (non-standard, the non-standard register)
Last reviewed: 6 Nov 2018