An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, Volume 1 eBook

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APPENDIX XII—­LANGUAGE

In giving an account of an unwritten language many difficulties occur.  For things cognizable by the external senses, names may be easily procured; but not so for those which depend on action, or address themselves only to the mind:  for instance, a spear was an object both visible and tangible, and a name for it was easily obtained; but the use of it went through a number of variations and inflexions, which it was extremely difficult to ascertain; indeed I never could, with any degree of certainty fix the infinitive mood of any one of their verbs.  The following sketch is therefore very limited, though, as far as it does proceed, the reader may be assured of its accuracy.

Their language is extremely grateful to the ear, being in many instances expressive and sonorous.  It certainly has no analogy with any other known language (at least so far as my knowledge of any other language extends), one or two instances excepted, which will be noticed in the specimen.  The dialect spoken by the natives at Sydney not only differs entirely from that left us by Captain Cook of the people with whom he had intercourse to the northward (about Endeavour river) but also from that spoken by those natives who lived at Port Stephens, and to the southward of Botany Bay (about Adventure Bay), as well as on the banks of the Hawkesbury.  We often heard, that people from the northward had been met with, who could not be exactly understood by our friends; but this is not so wonderful as that people living at the distance of only fifty or sixty miles should call the sun and moon by different names; such, however, was the fact.  In an excursion to the banks of the Hawkesbury, accompanied by two Sydney natives, we first discovered this difference; but our companions conversed with the river natives without any apparent difficulty, each understanding or comprehending the other.

We have often remarked a sensible difference on hearing the same word sounded by two people; and, in fact, they have been observed sometimes to differ from themselves, substituting often the letter b for p, and g for c, and vice versa.  In their alphabet they have neither s nor v; and some of their letters would require a new character to ascertain them precisely.

What follows is offered only as a specimen, not as a perfect vocabulary of their language.

NEW SOUTH WALES          ENGLISH
---------------          -------

NAMES CHIEFLY OF OBJECTS OF SENSE

Co-ing The sun
Yen-na-dah The moon
Bir-rong A star
Mo-loo-mo-long The Pleiades
War-re-wull The Milky Way
Ca-ra-go-ro A cloud
Boo-do-en-ong
general name
Cal-gal-le-on The Magellanic

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An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, Volume 1 from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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