Keeping Noongar language strong through songs

Kaya! Hello!

I would like to start by giving an overview of the Noongar language. Noongar is the official language of the Aboriginal people in the southwest region of Western Australia. The language is also known as Nyungar, Nyoongah, Noongar and many other ways of pronouncing and spelling it. According to the 2016 census by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there were only about 475 native speakers left. Thus, according to Krauss’ definition, the Noongar language is not ‘safe’ as it doesn’t have an official status in government and education and also the fact that it has a small number of speakers. The word Noongar means person of the southwest of WA and it can be found in our beloved term Pama-Nyunga.

The reason why I chose Noongar is because I’m from Perth and it is the language of the land in which I walk. More specifically, it is the land of the Whadjuk Noongar people (for Noongar language groups see the map below by John D. Croft).

Noongar Groups of the South West of Western Australia (map by John D. Croft)

kalyakoorl album cover

Gina William and Guy Ghouse are multi-award-winning artists who perform acoustic songs in Noongar language. I had the wonderful opportunity to see them live in 2017 at a language teachers’ conference in Perth and it was quite an eye-opening experience for me. The first song that I heard from them was Wanjoo meaning welcome and I absolutely fell in love with the song because it’s very catchy and easy to remember. The term Wanjoo (also written as wandju, wanju, etc.) is very familiar to my ears because it is used in the ‘welcome to country’ speech here in Perth.

“Kaya noonakoort. Wandju, wandju, nidja Noongar Boodja. Nguny djurapin, nguny koort djurapin wanganiny noonakoort. “

“Hello everyone. Welcome to Noongar country. We are happy, our heart is happy to be speaking with you all.”

Here are some videos of Wanjoo by Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse. At the conference Gina told us that she actually used this song to teach her children some Noongar words and especially the directions (Djiarly, Koongal, Boyal, Marawar). This song is also used in workshops with school students to raise their awareness of the Noongar language and promote Noongar language revival. I have also found some videos of Wanjoo sung by high school choirs. The tune is merry and the words are easy to follow. So give it a go! You might find yourself randomly singing Wanjoo throughout the day as it is very catchy!

Wanjoo sung by the Hammond Park Primary School Choir:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1VVU2fRXvls

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7gOZ9-6FpFA

In addition to Wandjoo, Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse are also known for their songs Kalyakoorl (forever) and Boorda (soon). This duo has won the prestigious WA Music Industry Award for Indigenous Act of the Year. If you have the time, have a look at their TEDxPerth talk and performance.

Kalyakoorl and Boorda by Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse (TEDx Perth, December 2015)

Their performance was very moving and educative. I learned that the word kaya means both hello and yes. I also found it fascinating that their counting system is one to five and after that it is considered “plenty”.  I also learned that in the Balardong community there is no proper word for goodbye like in the English language, instead, they use the expression boorda which means soon. They believe that one day our paths will cross again so instead of the harsh-sounding goodbye they prefer to say boorda-wan (talk soon) / boorda-djinang (see you soon).

Kalyakoorl: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJXaeIVrI0A

Boorda: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFBAJO6ZL6g

On Noongar Language: https://www.noongarculture.org.au/language/

Artists’ website: http://www.ginawilliams.com.au/bio.html

Collin Wiyoto, LING366, 28/05/18

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