Bundjalung Language

from Reference 13

The Bundjalung (Bandjalang) dialects, including Gidabal, fanned a particularly well defined language group in a clearly defined geographical area as shown in Language Map. As a group of dialects Bundjalung was well recorded, with the earliest grammar of one of the dialects being published over 90 years ago (Livingstone 1892); there are earlier word lists (CurrVo1.3,1887), and grammars of other dialects published in 1913 (Allen and Lane), 1942 (Smythe), 1967 (Cunningham), 1971 (Geytenbeek and Geytenbeek), 1978 (Crowley), and 1985 (Sharpe). Archaeological work and sacred sites have also been well documented in this area, and there are studies of the social organisation. An attempt to reconstruct migration and social contact patterns using a cross-disciplinary approach therefore seems worthwhile. Archaeological, language, geographical, ethnohistorical and ethnomusical data are looked at in this paper.

Langauge Map

The Bundjaiung, including those who identify as Gidabal, are a group who have maintained to this day a sense of identity. a knowledge of their traditional territories and borders some knowledge of the language (substantial for older people, items of vocabulary incorporated into English for younger people), and much of their mythology. With these in many cases is a healthy self-esteem for their own communities and ways of doing things. For example, a Baryulgil high school girl a few years back could reject a well meaning correction of her pronunciation by a school peer by saying '1 was reared up as saying X'.

Crowley (1978), in connection with his work on the Tabulam, Baryulgil and Rappville dialects of Bundjalung did considerable work collecting and comparing grammars, word lists, etc. of the Bundjalung dialects, and made some suggested groupings of dialects, estimating that there were originally (Le. immediately preceding white contact) somewhere between one and two dozen separate dialects (or in some cases languages) in the Bundjalung group (1978:144). He lists and describes briefly some 19 of these (1978: ch.6). While he made some grammatical and phonological comparisons, most prominently he used a list of common nouns that differed in the various dialects: the words for man woman boy eye hand sun, spear, and some other items.

In intermittent contact with and work on some of the dialects since 1966, I had often speculated on the avenues of contact between the different groups. In particular the late Joe Culham's description of his country round Beaudesert as manaldjahli2 or 'hard, baked ground' intrigued me, and I speculated on reasons for the name until in the late spring of 1977 I approached this area from the south instead of the .north, and noted the striking difference in climate each side of the New South WaleS-Queensland border: lush and green to the south, and dry and yellow to the north at the end of the dry time. This suggested some comparison with the land to the south of the border, though some sources suggest there was little such contact in this area (as opposed to near the coast). However it is also possible to consider the contrast as being with coastal territory.

The task of comparing the dialects and reconstructing probable lines of communication proved to be much more than could be encompassed in the scope of a paper such as this, based on the limited time I had to devote to the task. I therefore see this paper as exploratory, summarising some of the language and other data, and suggesting a possible field for intensive research by a scholar who could devote a stretch of uninterrupted time to it, and perhaps invoke computer help in correlating the many factors and variables. I have therefore gone to some pains to include in the references all sources which could be of use, whether directly used by me or not, with some annotation where I felt it helpful.

Calley (1959) speculated that the Bundjalung once occupied much more territory. and were driven back into less accessible fastholds by other encroaching tribes and cultural influences; he surmised that already schooled in resistance before the coming of the whites, they were more able to maintain their identity after this time, not only against the very different white culture but even against other Aboriginal groups. Calley pOinted out that uniquely in this area of New South Wales/Queensland, the Bundjalung had no section system, althouth he detected evidence of an incipient and uneasy attempt to amalgamate this system with their own. The two systems conflicted in marriage rules.

Linguistically, the difference among the Bundjalung dialects is not great, at least as far as our records will allow comparison. Bundjalung people often refer to the dialects as 'different languages'; this may be as much a social attitude as a linguistic one. At least, on classical assumptions of language change, our evidence points to a fairly small time depth for the current differences, of possibly lessĀ· than 500 years. Certainly the Bundjalung dialects are much more like each other grammatically, phonologically and lexically than English and German. The differences are comparable to those between English dialects. By contrast, adjacent languages, while sharing the occasional vocabulary item in the same form, and with some other words which are clearly cognate, differ quite obviously in the pronouns and common vocabulary, and in grammar and grammatical forms.