Word List from the Williams River Area

In searching for some more information on the Aboriginal language(s) in my local area (Muswellbrook, NSW), I came across the Wonnarua Nation Aboriginal Corporation website (http://www.wonnarua.org.au/)

After following a few links, I was led to an intriguing excerpt from a 1906 newspaper. It contains a word list of the ‘Williams River Language’ (likely Wonnarua or Awabakal, or a similar/related dialect), compiled by a non-Aboriginal around the 1840s.

The list is rudimentary at best, but alludes to some interesting grammatical features (although it may raise more questions than it answers!). Take, for example:

  • husband ‘minya’ and wife ‘minyat’; mother ‘gneeya’ and father ‘beeya’ – both pairs appear to share a base noun, with different affixation. It is strange to think, though, that the marital terms may be suffixed whilst the kinship terms are prefixed – perhaps this is just a matter of coincidence, and not necessarily grammatical in nature.
  • From what I can read, the word for arm ‘goongock’ and frog ‘goongock’ are the same, though Hector lists them separately – presumably because he cannot conceive of how they may be related. This ties in nicely with some of our discussions on the relationships between body part terms and natural terms in Australian languages.
  • In the sentences that Hector lists, he writes get some water ‘mana battoo’ (where ‘batoo’ means water). Interestingly, though, he writes get some fire ‘watta mana’ (where ‘watta’ means fire). I wonder why the change in word order!


There are many more observations to be made from just a short word list, and it becomes clear that Hector didn’t necessarily invest time into understanding grammar or classification systems! You may find it fascinating to scour the list yourself for some patterns and regularities:

Hector vocabulary


– Megan Vile

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