Finding the meaning of an Aboriginal word

A guide which steps you through the process of finding the English meaning of an Aboriginal word.

Fight with four kings Tommy McCrae


 Fight with four kings Tommy McCrae, H141224/2


This guide helps you to find the English meaning of an Aboriginal word. Click onto the tabs across the top of this page for more detailed information.

To begin, it first may be helpful to understand the scope of your search. There were and are, hundreds of Aboriginal dialects throughout Australia (Thieberger and McGregor, 1994). There is, however, no single dictionary, as there is in English, which covers all the Aboriginal words.

Many Aboriginal word dictionaries are organised differently to their English counterparts. They are often arranged according to locations, such as state, and within this, according to the tribe which used the word.

Thus, knowing where a word originated from or which tribe used the word will help you to narrow down your search.

If you cannot find a word, it may be that it is not in a dictionary. Also keep in mind that some Aboriginal languages have been passed on orally, rather than written down, so pronunciation and spelling may vary. To complicate things even further, an Aboriginal word may have different meanings across different dialects (Reed, 1977).

For words that can not be found, it might be helpful to approach the source of the word. For example, if the word is used as a street name or building name, then check with the body responsible for naming it.  

Answering an inquiry

State Library Victoria