Language background

Bundjalung (also spelt Bandjalang or Banjalang) belongs to the Pama-Nyungan family of Australia languages. At the time of first contact with Europeans in the mid 1800s, there were up to 20 dialects of Bundjalung. ‘Bundjalung’ has been used as a general term for the whole language (covering all the different dialects) and also as a term to refer to certain individual dialects. However, each dialect has a specific name of its own. Dialects include: Wahlubal (also known as Western Bandjalang), Yugambeh, Birrihn, the Barryugil dialect, Bandjalang, Wudjebal, Wiyabal, Wuhyabal, Minyangbal, Gidhabal, Galibal and Ngarrahngbal. Many of these names point to some characteristic peculiar to that dialect. For example, Gidhabal means ‘those who say gidha (alright)’, while Wiyabal means ‘those who say wiya (you)’.  It is thought that the term ‘Bandjalung’ was originally used to describe the dialect spoken around Bangawalbin Creek and that this name was later used to cover all dialects.

Although Bundjalung people slowed the stealing of tribal lands by European settlers, the European invasion had a severe impact on population, settlement and inhabitation of tradition areas, and on cultural practices, including language use. The use of Bundjalung was actively suppressed, and English emerged as a common language. Despite the forces working against Bundjalung, some dialects were still actively and widely used as late as the 1950s.


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Supported through the Australian Government’s Indigenous Languages Support program and New Media program. Copyright © Muurrbay Aboriginal Language and Culture Cooperative

Image by Sharon Smith. For more information contact Muurrbay