English in Its Social Contexts: Essays in Historical Sociolinguistics

By Tim William MacHan; Charles T. Scott | Go to book overview
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gin ("woman"), and waddy ("club"), some of which have even been endowed with false European etymologies. In quoting a pitiful statement by an Aboriginal youth about to hang, Ramson ( 1964b:57) pinpoints how pidgin, from the mix of a native dialect and low-class English, including thieves' slang and swearing, can distort both meaning and the source of words form both cultures. As a result of such confused idiom, many Aboriginal terms, familiar to most Australians, are now suspect in origin; for example, bingy ("stomach"), bogey ("swim"), cooee ("call"), jumbuck ("sheep"), yacker ("work"), and yarraman ("horse") could well be Aboriginal attempts at English. Debbil, peller, and plurry are obvious pidgin for "devil," "fellow," and "bloody," and one might be similarly convinced by boma ("gun"), borak ("derisive talk" or perhaps "barrack"), pialler ("talk," perhaps from parley), yabber ("talk," perhaps from jabber). More research is needed, because one is tempted to conjecture further. What might one read into the "Aboriginal" badgee ("angry"), bombora ("breaking waves on rocks"), dhabba ("painting stick"), jinki ("legendary spirit"), yan ("go"), yowi ("yes"), yukki ("exclamation"), wakaburra ("club")?
Some expressions combine Aboriginal and English words, useful for immediate communication but not always good for the better adjustment of the two cultures: baal gammon ("no deceit"), bora ground ("ceremonial area"), bunyip aristocracy (derogatory name for a failed attempt to create a colonial aristocracy), finger yabber ("sign language"), and piccaninny daylight ("period before sunrise"). Typically used by English speakers, such words reflect a practice that occurs wherever a host and a new language are coming to terms. An extension of this has been the development of apposite English compounds, some likely to be Australian English creations, such as blackfellow's buttons ("australites"), blackfellow's oven ("midden"), black-tracker, digging stick, fire stick, and puller ("didgeridoo player"). These are not nearly as colourful as the Aboriginal big sick ("leprosy"), close-up ("nearly"), dream time ("distant past"),finger money ("money for spending"), flour bag ("white haired," "old"), make a light ("see," "look for"), sit down ("stay," "live"), sorry cuts ("body cuts to show grief"), tumble down ("die," "kill"), walkabout ("wandering"), and white money ("silver coin"). My father described use of very poor English as blackfellow talk, indirectly and rather crudely identifying the presence of a social problem.

The preceding examples were chosen as terms that have been familiar to whites for many decades, and they express something of the closeness of the two peoples in bush settlements. The breakdown of this closeness can be detected when more personal contacts are examined, after the very early days, when no offence seems to have been taken. Aborigines were originally called Indians, then natives; the latter also described "native" whites, but a further sorting into black natives, native blacks, and white natives was not popular. Aborigines' words to describe themselves, like boori, koori,or murri, were not very enduring because the whites seem to have preferred nonspecific names, often smacking of pidgin and the pejorativeness associated with it. There were unpopular Americanisms like coon, darky, nigger, black, blackboy, blackfellow, and the local shortening, Abo. Boong was a popular, usually friendly name for New Guineans during World War II, but this friendliness is absent in its later use for Aborigine.


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English in Its Social Contexts: Essays in Historical Sociolinguistics


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