Bundjalung people have been teaching their language and culture in community groups and schools for many years. Years ago, Bundjalung people were multilingual, also speaking the languages of their neighbours. Several Bundjalung speakers were recorded in the1960s and 1970s; along with today’s speakers, these recordings form the bedrock for current Bundjalung language revitalisation.
The Bundjalung language was spoken in an area that included the north-east corner of New South Wales and the south-eastern corner of Queensland. This area stretches from Grafton on the Clarence River in the south, to the Logan River in the north and inland as far as the Great Dividing Range at Tenterfield and Warwick. It includes the regional centres of Lismore, Casino, Kyogle, Woodenbong, Byron Bay, Ballina, Coolangatta-Tweed Heads, Murwillumbah, the Gold Coast, Beaudesert and Warwick.
Bundjalung (also spelt Bandjalang or Banjalang) belongs to the Pama-Nyungan family of Australia languages. At the time of first contact with Europeans in the mid 1800s, there was up to 20 dialects of Bundjalung. ‘Bundjalung’ has been used as a general term for the whole language (covering all the different dialects) and also as a term to refer to certain individual dialects. However, each dialect has a specific name of its own. Dialects include: Wahlubal (also known as Western Bandjalang), Yugambeh, Birrihn, the Barryugil dialect, Bandjalang, Wudjebal, Wiyabal, Wuhyabal, Minyangbal, Gidhabal, Galibal and Ngarrahngbal. Many of these names point to some characteristic peculiar to that dialect. For example, Gidhabal means ‘those who say gidha (alright)’, while Wiyabal means ‘those who say wiya (you)’. It is thought that the term ‘Bandjalung’ was originally used to describe the dialect spoken around Bangawalbin Creek and that this name was later used to cover all dialects.
Although Bundjalung people slowed the stealing of tribal lands by European settlers, the European invasion had a severe impact on population, settlement and inhabitation of tradition areas, and on cultural practices, including language use. The use of Bundjalung was actively suppressed, and English emerged as a common language. Despite the forces working against Bundjalung, some dialects were still actively and widely used as late as the 1950s.
Outline of the language
- Bundjalung has 4 vowels: i, a, u and e each of which can also be pronounced as a longer vowel. There are 10 consonants: b, d, dj, g, m, n, ng, ny, l, r, w and y.
- Nouns take many different suffixes (tag endings) to mark such roles as subject, object, instrument, location, movement towards, possession and to make feminine from masculine nouns. Nouns can also show singular and plural in three classes: masculine, feminine, and neuter or tree nouns.
- Verbs have 4 tenses: future, present, and two pasts; various suffixes also show that someone ‘keeps on’ doing something, or that people are doing something ‘to each other’ .
- Word order is fairly free, although there is a tendency toward Subject – Object – Verb word order.
Language Resources and Recordings
Various people, including researchers, have been writing down information about the Bandjalung language since the late 1800s. A few Bundjalung dialects have been recorded in some detail, while for others there are limited records, or no record at all. A large collection of audio recordings of Bundjalung speakers, and researchers’ field notes are held at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in Canberra.
There are four dialects that have been described in detail:
- Yugumbeh: Cunningham’s 1969 grammar is reliable;
- Gidabal: the Geytenbeek’s 1971 grammar and word-list;
- Wahlubal or Western Bundjalung: Crowley’s 1978 grammar and wordlist is the most detailed available;
- Casino dialect: Smythe’s 1940s description first appeared in Crowley 1978;
- Sharpe’s description of the ‘Yugambeh-Bundjalung dialect chain’.
There are brief sketch grammars on several Bundjalung dialects, including:
- the Minjangbal dialect of Byron Bay, Livingstone (1892),
- Biirin dialect of Rappville and the Baryulgil dialect, Crowley (n.d)
- Bundjalung dialect of Bungawalbin Creek, Holmer (1971)
- over 17 word-lists from various areas, Hargrave (Science of Man:1903).
Written examples of the language
These sentences are from Wahlubal/Western Bandjalang ( Crowley:1978).
Ngay waymalehla nganyahya nguyaya.
I am speaking my own language.
Nyarram mala behn gudjahrra.
The frilled-neck lizard fell into a hole.
Don’t (speak in) English.
Mala baygal djehrr.
That man is big.
Djununu wudja yang giwani.
Where have you come from?
Maliyu dandaygambu yarbini.
That man sang (a song).
Mala bin-gihng birrah waybarra mala waganyngula.
Throw that turtle onto the fire, and that catfish too!
Yuh ngali yanah buyan gala djahnanah.
Let’s go later when the wind stops.