Articles > English words coming from Australian Aboriginal languagesby Alexis Ulrich
English words coming from Australian Aboriginal languages
When the first settlers arrived in Australia in 1788, they established themselves in the Sydney area where the Dharug language was spoken. Many Dharug words entered English around that time, like waratah (1788), dingo (1789), boomerang (1790), koala, wallaby and wombat (1798). Alongside the further expansion of the settlement, other languages were encountered, and words borrowed: Kamilaroi (budgerigar in 1840, brolga in 1896), Yuwaalaraay (galah in 1862, bilby in 1885), Wiradjuri (gang-gang in 1833, kookaburra in 1834, corella in 1859).
Bilby – Billabong – Boomerang – Brolga – Budgerigar – Bung – Corella – Didgeridoo – Galah – Gang-gang – Gilgie – Kangaroo – Karrikin – Koala – Kookaburra – Wallaby – Waratah – Wombat
The rabbit-bandicoot, a desert marsupial, is a loanword from the Yuwaalaraay language of northern New South Wales in which it means “long-nosed rat”.
A billabong is an oxbow lake, i.-e. an isolated pond left behind after a river changes course.
The word is most likely derived from the Wiradjuri term bilabaŋ, which means “a watercourse that runs only after rain” (itself derived from bila, meaning “river”), and bong or bung, meaning “dead”.
Originally written as bou-mar-rang in the language of the Turuwal people (a sub-group of the Dharug) in 1822, the true origin of this word is not sure.
The Australian crane got its name from a Kamilaroi word.
The common pet parakeet, also nicknamed budgie, got its name from the Kamilaroi language.
This Australian English word means “broken, exhausted, out of action”. It comes from bang meaning “dead”, which was first recorded in 1841 in the Yagara Aboriginal language of the Brisbane region, which then passed through Australian pidgin where to go bung meant “to die”.
This white cockatoo got its name from the Wiradjuri language.
Also spelled didjeridu. Even though this music instrument comes from Australia, its name is an onomatopoeia of Western origin.
The galah, also known as rose-breasted cockatoo, is a loanword from Yuwaalaraay.
The gang-gang cockatoo takes its name from an onomatopoeia in the Wiradjuri language.
This small freshwater crayfish endemic to the south-west corner of Australia is named from a Nyungar (or Noongar) word.
The word comes from gangurru in Guugu Yimidhirr, a language of north Queensland.
Karrikins are a group of plant growth regulators (or hormones) found in the smoke of burning plant named after the Nyungar (or Noongar) word karrik which means “smoke”.
From the Dharug gula, it was originally written coola or koolah in English.
The Wiradjuri name of this emblematic bird, guuguubarra, is an onomatopoeia of its call.
The name of this marsupial from the same taxonomic family as kangaroos comes from the Dharug word walabi or waliba.
The official floral emblem of New South Wales takes its name from the Dharug language.
Derived from the Dharug word wambad, wambaj, or wambag, it was originally written whom-batt in English.
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