Indigenous and Aboriginal

Indigenous Language Series 6: Australian Kriol Languages

Indigenous languages are important for social, economic and political development, peaceful coexistence and particularly for reconciliation in our societies. Yet many of them are in danger of disappearing. It is for this reason that the United Nations declared 2019 the Year of Indigenous Languages to encourage urgent action to promote, revitalise and preserve endangered languages as part of the world’s cultural diversity.

This year, as part of our Indigenous language series, each month we will present one of the many Indigenous languages of the world.

Australian Kriol Languages

When Aboriginal Australia experienced social disruption and colonisation from European settlers, forms of speech have quickly developed that reflect this contact. These new forms of speech include Creoles and pidgins as well as forms-based closely on English, such as Aboriginal English.

Two of the widest spread Creoles are Torres Strait Creole also know as Yumplatok and Kriol. Kriol is spoken in the far north of the Northern Territory and Western Australia while Torres Strait Creole is spoken in the Torres Strait Islands and some parts of northern Queensland. Many Northern Territory and Western Australia Kriol speakers regard their variety of Kriol as very different from, if not mutually unintelligible with, the one spoken in the neighbouring state, and reject the suggestion that they are the same language.

Australian Kriol language map

Australian Kriol language map

Kriol is estimated to have upwards of 20,000 speakers and is mostly spoken in the Katherine region of the Northern Territory and the Kimberly region in Western Australia.

History

This language started developing in the early 20th century in the Roper River Mission in the north-eastern Northern Territory when the only language form available for communication amongst the wide variety of Indigenous peoples and the English speaking missionaries was a pidgin. By 1900, Northern Territory Pidgin English (NTPE) was widespread and well understood. It creolised first in the Roper River Mission (Ngukurr), where cattle stations were established and a township developed. Children began learning this form as their first language and thus it developed into a full and rich language in order to fulfil their communicative needs.

Although the relations between the missionaries and Aboriginal people were friendly, the missions were not responsible for the development of Kriol. In fact, they tried to introduce Standard English as the official language for the mission, which the Aboriginal children used in class and with the missionaries, but Kriol still flourished.

Kriol was not recognised as a language until the 1970s, as it was regarded as a dialect of English rather than a language in its own right.

Written Kriol

Kriol has an English base and may sound like English, but treating it as English will lead to serious miscommunication. Kriol has a very strong grammatical system of its own, with some of the grammar and meanings of traditional languages and many words from English.

Kriol like lots of creole languages does not keep the inconsistencies of its parent languages. For example, Kriol removes the irregularities found in the expression of past time in English and simply uses the marker ‘bin’ preceding the verb:
Minbala bin wok gada ola biliken.
‘The two of us walked with the billycans’ (Angelo et al 1998:195)

An example below how a script in Kimberley Kriol looks like and how important it is to speak the local lingo to get a message truly across. The following translations were done by 2M for Telecommunications Ombudsman.

Phone problems?Yoo gud broblum wid yor foan?
• is your bill not right?
• trouble getting connected?
• mobile not working?
• Yor bill not riet?
• Yoo karnt konnekt broblie?
• Yor moabiel not workin?
The Ombudsman can help with phone and internet problemsBig moabiel an internet boss will help yoo sordem out dat broblem. Thai korld Ombudsmun.
Speak to your phone or internet company first.

Then call us if you are still having problems on 1800 062 058 or visit www.tio.com.au
Tork la yor moabiel an internet kumbunie firs.

If nothing, then ring la this mob on 1800 062 058 or look for them la kompootu www.tio.com.au
You can also ask someone in your community to call the Ombudsman for you.Or yoo kan arskum sumbodie la yor kumyoonudie too ringup an tork la them.
Telecommunications
Industry Ombudsman
Big boss for foan and internet.

Present situation & future

With around 20,000 speakers of different varieties of Kriol, there is a relatively healthy base of speakers in Western Australian and Northern Territory. While Kriol is still highly stigmatised and many Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians believe it to be a ‘corrupt’, ‘broken’ or ‘distorted’ combination of English and/or various traditional languages. Linguists are working on Kriol dictionaries, producing Kriol literacy materials, running workshops etc., to help promote the importance and value of Kriol.