The Gundungurra Language
by R. H. Mathews
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[Transcriber's Note: In this version, the following replacements were made: a with macron is a, a with circumflex is a, i with macron is i, o with circumflex is o, and n with tilde is n.]



(Read October 4, 1901.)

The Dhar'rook and Gun'dungur'ra tribes respectively occupied the from the mouth of the Hawkesbury river to Mount Victoria, and thence southerly to Berrima and Goulburn, New South Wales. On the south and southeast they were joined by the Thurrawal, whose language has the same structure, although differing in vocabulary.

Besides the verbs and pronouns, many of the nouns, adjectives, prepositions and adverbs are subject to inflection for number and person. Similar inflections have, to some extent, been observed in certain islands of the Pacific Ocean, but have not hitherto been reported in Australia. I have also discovered two forms of the dual and plural of the first personal pronoun, a specialty which has likewise been found in Polynesian and North American dialects. Traces of a double dual were noticed by Mr. Threlkeld at Lake Macquarie, New South Wales, and traces of a double plural by Mr. Tuckfield in the Geelong tribe; but the prevalence of both forms of the dual and plural in different parts of speech in any Australian language has, up to the present, escaped observation.


Ninteen letters of the English alphabet are sounded, comprising fourteen consonants—b, d, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, r, t, w, y—and five vowels—a, e, i, o, u. Every word is spelled phonetically, the letters having the same value as in English, with the following qualifications:

Unmarked vowels have the usual short sound.

Vowels having the long sound are distinguished by the following marks:

a as in fate i as in pie oo as in moon a as in father o as in pole ee as in feel ou as in loud

It is frequently difficult to distinguish between the short or unmarked sound of a and that of u. A thick or dull sound of i is occasionally met with, which closely approaches the short sound of u or a.

G is hard in every instance.

R has a rough trilled sound, as in hurrah!

Ng at the beginning of a word, as ngee=yes, has a peculiar sound, which can be got very closely by putting oo before it, as oong-ee', and articulating it quickly as ony syllable. At the end of a word or syllable it has substantially the sound of ng in our word sing.

The sound of the Spanish n is frequent, both at the beginning or end of a syllable.

Y, followed by a vowel, is attached to several consonants, as in dya, dyee, tyoo, etc., and is pronounced therewith in one syllable, the initial sound of the d or other consonant being retained. Y at the beginning of a word or syllable has its usual consonant value.

Dh is pronounced nearly as th in "that" with a slight sound of the d preceding it.

Nh has nearly the sound of th in "that" with an initial sound of the n.

The final h is guttural, resembling ch in the German word "joch."

T is interchangeable with d, p with b, and g with k in most words where these letters are employed.

A sound resembling j is frequently given by the natives, which can be represented by dy or ty; thus, dya or tya has very nearly the same sound as ja.

In all cases where there is a double consonant, each letter is distinctly enunciated.

W always commences a syllable or word and has its ordinary consonant sound in all cases.

At the end of a syllable or word, ty is sounded as one letter; thus, in beety-bal-lee-man, it is disappearing, the syllable beety can be obtained by commencing to say "beet-ye," and stopping short without articulating the final e, but including the sound of the y in conjunction with the t—the two letters being pronounced together as one.


The equivalents of the English articles, "a" and "the," do not occur in this language.


Number.—Nouns have the singular, dual and plural:

(1) Singular A man Murrin Dual A pair of men Murrinboolallee Plural Several men Murrindyargang

(2) Singular A kangaroo Booroo Dual A pair of kangaroos Booroolallee Plural Several kangaroos Boorooyargang

It will be observed that the dual and plural suffixes vary slightly in form, according to the termination of the noun.

Gender.—Mur'rin, a man; bul'lan, a woman; boobal, a boy; mullunga, a girl; goodha, a child of either sex; warrambal, a young man. Another name for a man is boual; a married man is kunbeelang; a married woman is boualillang. Generally the males of animals are distinguished by the addition of goomban, and the females by dhoorook. The males of certain animals have a name which distinguishes them without stating the sex; thus, the male of wallee, the opossum, is known as jerrawul, while the female is wallee dhoorook. Goola, the native bear, has burrandang for the male and goola dhoorook for the female. A few animals have a distinctive word for the female as well as for the male; thus, the female of the wallaroo is bawa, and the male goondarwa. Others again have the suffix koual for the male, and noual for the female. The words for "male" and "female" are inflected for number like other adjectives.

Case.—There are two forms of the nominative, the first naming the subject at rest; as Boual ngabooroman, the man sleeps. The second shows that the subject is doing some act; thus, mirreegangga wallee burraran, the dog an opossum bit. Mirreegang is a dog in the first nominative.

The possessive case takes a suffix both to the possessor and that which is possessed:

Murringoo warrangangoong, a man's boomerang.

Mirreegangoo goodhawoong, a dog's puppy.

Bullangoo goodhayarroong, a woman's children.

Booroongoo dhoombirgoong, a kangaroo's tail.

Any object over which one can exercise ownership can be conjugated by possessive suffixes for number and person:

Singular. First person My boomerang Warrangandya Second Person Thy boomerang Warranganyee Third Person His boomerang Warrangangoong

Dual. First Person Our boomerang, incl. Warrangangulla Our boomerang, excl. Warrangangullang Second Person Your boomerang Warranganboola Third Person Their boomerang Warranganboolangoo

Plural. First Person Our boomerang, incl. Warranganyinnang Our boomerang, excl. Warranganyillung Second Person Your boomerang Warranganyoorung Third Person Their boomerang Warrangandyunnung

The accusative does not differ from the nominative. There are a few forms of nouns for the dative and oblative, but these cases are frequently shown by modifications of the verb; as, I carried to him, he carried from me. They are also indicated by the pronouns; as, with me, to me.


Pronouns are inflected for number, person and case. There are two forms of the dual and plural in the first person. The following table shows the nominative and possessive cases:

Singular. I Goolangga Mine Goolanggooya Thou Goolanjee Thine Goolanyingoo He Dhannooladhoo His Dhannoogoolangoo

Dual. We, incl. Goolanga Ours, incl. Goolangalia We, excl. Goolangaloong Ours, excl. Goolangaloong Ye Goolamboo Yours Goolambooloong They Dhannooboola Theirs Dhannooboolangoo

Plural. We, incl. Goolanyan Ours, incl. Goolanyannung We, excl. Goolanyilla Ours, excl. Goolanyillungoon Ye Goolambanoo Yours Goolanthooroong They Dhannoojimmalang Theirs Goolangandyoolang

These possessives admit of variations to include two or several articles and in other ways. There are also forms of the pronouns signifying, with me, with thee, and so on as follows:

Singular. First Person With me Goolangngooreea Second Person With thee Goolangooroonyee Third Person With him Goolangooroong

Dual. First Person With us, incl. Goolangooroongulla With us, excl. Goolangooroongullung Second Person With ye Goolangoorooloong Third Person With them Goolangooroolangoo

Plural. First Person With us, incl. Goolangooroonunnung With us, excl. Goolangooroonullungoo Second Person With ye Goolangooroonooroong Third Person With them Goolangooroodyunnung

There are other modifications of the pronouns to meet different forms of expression. The demonstratives and interrogatives are inflected for number and person like the rest.


Adjectives take the same dual and plural numbers as the nouns with which they are used:

(1) Barri buggarabang A wallaby, large Barriwoolallee buggarabangoolallee A couple of wallabies, both large Barridyargang buggarabangargang Several wallabies, all large

(2) Bullan yeddung A woman pretty Bullanboollee yeddungboolallee A couple of pretty women Bullandhar yeddungdyargang Several pretty women

Comparison is effected by saying, This is heavy—that is heavy; this is smooth—that is not; this is sharp—that is very sharp.

When used predicatively, as yooroang or yoorwang, he is strong, an adjective can be conjugated through all the tenses and moods of an intransitive verb:

Present Tense.

Singular. First Person I am strong Yooroangga or Yoorwangga Second Person Thou art strong Yooroandyee Third Person He is strong Yooroang

Dual. First Person We are strong, incl. Yooroanga We are strong, excl. Yooroangaloong Second Person Ye are strong Yooroangboo Third Person They are strong Yooroangboola

Plural. First Person We are strong, incl. Yooroanyun We are strong, excl. Yooroanyulla Second Person Ye are strong Yooroanthoo Third Person They are strong Yooroanjimmalang

The past and future tenses are not given, owing to want of space.


Verbs have the singular, dual and plural numbers, the usual persons and tenses, and three principal moods, viz., indicative, imperative and conditional. The verb-stem and a contraction of the pronoun are incorporated, and the word thus formed is used in the conjugation.


Present Tense.

Singular. First Person I throw (throw I) Yerreemangga Second Person Thou throwest Yerreemandyee Third Person He throws Yerreeman

Dual. First Person We throw, incl. Yerreemang'a We throw, excl. Yerreemangaloong Second Person Ye throw Yerreemanboo Third Person They throw Yerreemanboola

Plural. First Person We throw, incl. Yerreemanyan We throw, excl. Yerreemanyalla Second Person Ye throw Yerreemanthoo Third Person They throw Yerreemandyoolung

Past Tense.

Singular. First Person I threw (threw I) Yerreeing'ga Second Person Thou threwest Yerreerindyee Third Person He threw Yerreering

Dual. First Person We threw, incl. Yerreering'a We threw, excl. Yerreeringaloong Second Person Ye threw Yerreeringboo Third Person They threw Yerreeringboola

Plural. First Person We threw, incl. Yerreeooranyan We threw, excl. Yerreeooranyulla Second Person Ye threw Yerreeooranthoo Third Person They threw Yerreeooradyoolung

Future Tense.

Singular. First Person I will throw Yerreeningga Second Person Thou wilt throw Yerrenindyee Third Person He will throw Yerreenin

Dual. First Person We will throw, incl. Yerreening'a We will throw, excl. Yerreeningaloong Second Person Ye will throw Yerreenimboo Third Person They will throw Yerreenimboola

Plural. First Person We will throw, incl. Yerreeninyan We will throw, excl. Yerreeninyulla Second Person Ye will throw Yerreemunanthoo Third Person They will throw Yerreemunadyoolung


Singular Second Person Throw thou Yer'-ree Dual Second Person Throw ye Yer'-ree-ou' Plural Second Person Throw ye Yer'-ree-a-nhoor'


Perhaps I will throw Yerreeningga booramboonda

If a negative meaning be required, it is effected by means of an infix, mooga, between the verb-stem and the abbreviated pronoun. One example in the first person singular in each tense will exhibit the negative form of the verb:

I am not throwing Yerreemoogamangga I did not throw Yerreemoogaringga I will not throw Yerreemooganingga

This negative infix can be applied in the same manner to all the persons of the three tenses.

There are numerous modifications of the verbal suffixes to convey variations of meaning; as, "I threw at him," "He threw at me," etc., which can be conjugated for number and person. Case can also be indicated in this way, as already stated in dealing with the nouns.

Verbs have no passive voice. If a native desires to state that a fish was swallowed by a pelican, he would say, "A pelican swallowed a fish."


Some prepositions can be used separately, as dhooreegoong, between; warroo, around; willinga, behind, and several others, thus: Dhooreegoong ngullawoolee, between trees two or between two trees; gunbee warroo, the fire around or around the fire.

A prepositional meaning is often obtained by a verb; thus, instead of having a word for "up" or "down," a native will say, Boomaningga, up I will go; wooraramuningga, down I will go. Many of the prepositions admit of conjugation for number and person, as in the following example:

Singular. First Person Behind me Willingia Second Person Behind thee Willinganyee Third Person Behind him Willingawoong

Dual. First Person Behind us, incl. Willingangulla Behind us, excl. Willingangullung Second Person Behind ye Willingangawooloong Third Person Behind them Willingangawoolangoo

Plural. First Person Behind us, incl. Willinganyanung Behind us, excl. Willinganyanungoo Second Person Behind ye Willinganthooroong Third Person Behind them Willingadyanung


Space will not permit of a list of adverbs any further than to illustrate how some of them can be conjugated:

Singular. First Person Where go I Ngoondeeneea Second Person Where goest thou Ngoondeeneenee Third Person Where goes he Ngoondeeneeoong

Dual. First Person Where go we, incl. Ngoondeeneenga Where go we, excl. Ngoondeeneengoolung Second Person Where go ye Ngoondeeneewoo Third Person Where go they Ngoondeeneewoola

Plural. First Person Where go we, incl. Ngoondeeneennun Where go we, excl. Ngoondeeneenulla Second Person Where go ye Ngoondeeneenoo Third Person Where go they Ngoondeeneeyoolung

Adverbial meanings are sometimes conveyed by means of verbs, as beetyballeeman, he (or it) goes out of sight. Conjunctions and interjections are few and unimportant.


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