Why can’t I find the language I’m looking for?

The AustKin dropdown language list relies on the standardised AIATSIS spelling for each language. However a single Australian Aboriginal language may go by several alternative names or spellings. If you can’t see the language you are looking for in the list, or on the map, it may simply be spelled in a way that is unfamiliar to you. Consult the AIATSIS Language and Peoples Thesaurus.
If all else fails, type your language name into the Mura catalogue, see if a dictionary, wordlist or grammar appears in the results list, then click ‘Catalog record’ and then look in the Language/Group field. All languages in this field are listed according to their standard spelling.

What is the difference between a language and a dialect?

Linguists use the word dialect to describe a relationship between two languages that are closely related. But in simple terms, there is no such entity as a ‘dialect’ – there are only languages with varying degrees of relatedness. For example, English is a ‘language’, but the variety of English spoken in the UK is in a dialect relationship to the English spoken in Australia, America and New Zealand. This does not mean that it UK English is not a ‘language’!

The word ‘dialect’ has often been misused as a way of denigrating languages that are presumed to lack prestige. Sadly, Aboriginal languages have often been dismissed as ‘only dialects’, with the implication that they are not ‘real’ languages. In the AustKin database we refer to Australia’s 300 Aboriginal speech varieties as languages and recognise the widely accepted language families to which they belong.

How do I pronounce Aboriginal words?

Just as you would need to learn how to interpret French spelling rules before attempting a pronounce a French word, you will also need to learn the relevant spelling rules before you can read and pronounce Aboriginal words. This is made harder by the fact that Aboriginal languages include sounds and sound combinations that are not found in English. To make matters even more complicated, most Aboriginal languages did not have a standard spelling system until late in the twentieth century. The diversity of sound systems across Aboriginal languages and between language families means that we cannot provide a one-size-fits-all guide here, but excellent reference guides can be obtained from your local language centre.
Here are some examples of the kinds of resources you might find useful:

Where is my local language centre?

Language centres are excellent sources of information on local Aboriginal languages. You can see a full list of Australian language centres at the RNLD page here: http://www.rnld.org/languagecentres.

How do I find the word for ‘brother’ in my language?

There is enormous variation in the way the world’s languages divide up the social universe. In Australian Aboriginal languages there are no straightforward counterparts for English-language kinship terms such as ‘mother’, father’, ‘brother’, ‘aunt’, etc. Firstly, Aboriginal kinship systems have a so-called ‘classificatory’ dimension in which somebody may be regarded as your ‘brother’ even if you have no genealogical connection to them. In many Aboriginal languages, the word for ‘mother’ is the same as the word for ‘mother’s sister’, meaning that you can have more than one person who is regarded as your ‘mother’. In turn, children of these non-genealogical mothers are regarded as your siblings. In other words, a person who you might think of as your cousin in English might be your ‘brother’ in an Aboriginal language.

So instead of trying to find a word for ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ or ‘aunt’, you should start with the relationship you want to refer to and then see how this is expressed in the language. Select the language from the dropdown menu or click on it on the map to reach the language profile. This will bring up a kinship diagram in the form of a family tree, showing the most immediate relationships to a hypothetical individual. Terms for these relationships are listed within the diagram.

Can I use AustKin to find more about my family history?

AustKin is designed for research into kinship systems, and not individual family histories. The best Aboriginal Family History resource is LinkUp [Link], or you can try contacting your local Native Title representative body. In some cases, AustKin can be useful as a supplementary resource for interpreting genealogical evidence. For example, you may have an ancestor who turns up in historical records with the surname Jakamarra. This would probably indicate his ‘skin name’ from which you may be able to infer the skin name of his spouse and that of his children.

Can I use AustKin to determine whom I should marry?

No! Remember that the data in AustKin is a direct reflection of the original sources and should not be treated as an authority (see Disclaimer). Also, kinship systems and marriage rules can change relatively quickly to adapt to new circumstances. Contemporary practices may differ greatly from past conventions. The AustKin team understand the kinship systems are always changing and recognise the authority of communities and their elders in deliberating marriage rules.

How can I use AustKin as a teaching resource?

AustKin is was developed as a means of recording and visualising existing documentation on Aboriginal kinship. It was not designed as a teaching resource. It is not recommended that you rely on the results of AustKin queries to produce teaching materials unless you are in a position to evaluate the information. To learn how to evaluate kinship data we recommend consulting local language centres that may already have classroom-friendly materials available. We also recommend the book Australian Aboriginal Kinship by AustKin researcher Laurent Dousset [Link: Meet the team] as a readable introduction to the subject.