Tasmanian Aboriginal Languages and Phonology: According to Milligan

Attached are three page excerpts from Vocabulary of the dialects of some of the aboriginal tribes of Tasmania by Joseph Milligan.

From Linguistics
From Linguistics
From Linguistics

An example from Milligan’s Vocabulary showing the affinity of construction of the different Tasmanian Aboriginal dialects spoken.

English Oyster Bay and Pittwater Tribes Mount Royal, Bruni Island, Recherche Bay and Southern Tasmania Tribes
Eye Mongetena Nubre or Nubrenah
Eyelash Mongtalinna Nubre tongany
Eyelid Moygta genna Nubre wurrine
To see Mongtone Nubreatone
Dizzy/Faint mongtantiack Nubretanyte

According to Milligan’s data, I have noticed the following in relation to the phonology of the Tasmanian languages.


(According to Milligan the vowels are sounded full and round.)

  • a – as in cat
  • é – as in potato
  • e – as in the
  • e – as in thee, see
  • i (before a vowel) – as in shine
  • i – as in sigh
  • – as in go
  • oo – as in moon
  • u – as in use (never like flute)
  • u – as in lump


  • y – as in yellow


  • aa (aw)– as in lawn
  • oi – as in soil
  • ou – as in noun


b, c [? k], g, h are used only at the ends of the words

k, l, m, n, p, q [? k], r, t [w], ch and gh (as in the German ‘hochachten’)

There seems to be no d, f, v, s, or z.

However, d is used in the spelling of some words, as the Aboriginals occasionally use a soft equivalent for t. Milligan places din the words mannaladdy – cough, tendyagh – red, dgulla­ – acid, rhomdunna – star, and lowide – scab.

As there are no buzz or hissing sounds it is more than likely th is not a sound used in their language. This is shown by Milligan’s spelling of the words re-mutta – hand, and poyenna pottatyack – vanish, where t takes the place of th.

However, some spellings include th such as: re-mutha – fist, elapthatea – beauty, riaputhaggana – tame, and pothyack – no.

Words largely start with a conjoined consonant, the common ones are: br, gr, kr, and nt and the less common ones are cht, ghr, ght, gl, kn, lb, mp, ngh, ngl, ngt, nk, nr, pr, rk, rn, rt and tr.

Although some words end with ack, ak, iack, yak and similar groups. Words largely end with a soft, aspirated vowel such as: a, e and ah.

Reference: Milligan, Joseph, 1866, Vocabulary of the dialects of some of the aboriginal tribes of Tasmania, Royal Society of Tasmania.

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