Indigenous Language maps

South-east Queensland, Watson Papers OM73-20.

South-east Queensland, Watson Papers OM73-20.

A common query at the State Library relates to language areas or locations of where Queensland’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages were traditionally spoken. Within the collections,  State Library holds a range of cartographic resources such as tribal or language maps that are valuable sources for researchers interested in the Indigenous cultural heritage of Queensland. Many of the linguistic texts contain language maps, while specific items found in the Maps collection provide examples of linguists or community groups who have mapped out respective language or dialect areas.

Languages of Cape York, Alpher (1987).

Languages of Cape York, Alpher (1987).

It should be acknowledged that when researching Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander tribal/language group names and boundaries there is no one primary source that is definitive. Researchers are advised to consult a wide variety of information sources such as some of the sources and items listed below. This material should be complemented by accessing knowledge held by local Indigenous Elders, traditional custodians, community groups, Indigenous Language Centres, IKCs and other organisations.

Tribes of Rockhampton, Roth (1902).

Aborigines of Rockhampton, Roth (1902).

Traditionally, Aboriginal languages on mainland Australia were based on drainage systems and the associated catchment areas. While groups tended to stay within their own areas, there was a fair degree of interaction with neighbouring groups for trade, ceremonies and other social interactions. Consequently, Aboriginal people were multilingual and spoke adjacent languages. There were also many ‘shared’ or borrowed’ words across language groups.

Torres Strait Islands, Shnukal (1985).

Torres Strait Island groups, Shnukal (1985).

Within the Torres Strait the two distinct languages were based on island groups: the Eastern islands of Mer, Erub and Ugar speak Meriam Mir; the Western islands (Mabuiag, Badu, Moa) and Central islands (Iama, Warraber, Masig and Poruma) speak Kala Lagaw Ya while the Top Western islands (Boigu, Dauan and Saibai) speak Kalaw Kawaw Ya which is a dialect of Kala Lagaw Ya.

Yarrie Lingo resource, Education Queensland.

Yarrie Lingo resource, Education Queensland.

The traditional language landscape of Queensland changed dramatically with European settlement and the impact of English on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, leading to the development of pidgins, creoles and Aboriginal Englishes. With the onset of the Protection Act and the establishment of Missions, blended or hybrid languages also came into being.

Extract - Tindale Map.

Extract – Tindale Map.

During this period, anthropologists such as Tindale were exploring the range of languages and the extent to which they were spoken across Australia. Tindale’s first map of Aboriginal Australia was published in 1940 after his extensive visits to Aboriginal communities in the 1930’s. Tindale’s map is the basis for a number of contemporary maps, including the “The AIATSIS map of Indigenous Australia” published by AIATSIS. A print version of this map is available for purchase through the AIATSIS Shop.

To assist with language revival and research, State Library has developed a resource guide for Indigenous Language Maps. This guide identifies resources relating to mapping languages or depicting language maps and should be seen as a guide or starting point for discussions around Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages and where they were spoken.

State Library's Queensland Indigenous Languages Map.

State Library’s Queensland Indigenous Languages Map.

The primary purpose of State Library’s language maps and other material is to highlight the general location and diversity of Queensland’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages and support community language revival; it is neither designed nor suitable for Native Title research or claims. State Library acknowledges that the socio-cultural landscape is evolving in response to Native Title claims and associated processes and this will also exert influence over Indigenous language revival. In terms of this changing language landscape, further consultation should be undertaken with local community members and other groups, including Elders and Traditional Custodians to gain an insight into current contexts. Specific queries relating to Native Title should be directed to the representative Native Title body.

Desmond Crump

Indigenous Languages Coordinator, Queensland Memory

State Library of Queensland Indigenous Languages webpages

References and Further Reading

The following list is a selection of State Library collection items and websites that relate to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language maps and are useful starting points for schools, communities and Public Libraries.

Arrowsmith, J. Map showing the range of Southern dialects of Australia. MAPS 804 1844 00000 R

Arthur, W. & Morphy, F. (2005) Macquarie atlas of Indigenous Australia: culture and society through space and time. MAPREF 305.89915 2005

Helon, G. (1994) The Goreng Goreng tribe of South-East Queensland: its’ traditional tribal territory, clan divisions and proper namesMAPS 840 1998 02000 F

Hercus, L.; Hodges, F and Simpson, J. (2002) The land is a map: placenames of Indigenous origin in Australia. Q 919.4003 LAN

Horton, D. (1994) Aboriginal Australia. MAPS 804 1996 04700 C

Jupp, J. (1989) Australian languages: an introductory atlas. P 306.44 jup

Lawrie, M. The Margaret Lawrie Collection of Torres Straits Materials. TR2082

McGillvray, J. (1991) Map of Cape York, showing Aboriginal place names: Shells at Port Essington. (Microfilm). FILM 0708

Petersen, N. (1976) Tribes and boundaries in Australia. J 301.2994 TRI

Roth, W. (1975) Reports to the Commissioner of Police and others, on Queensland Aboriginal peoples 1898-1903. (Microfilm) Material drawn from Queensland ethnography: bulletin, nos. 11-18 / by Walter E. Roth. FILM 0714

Shnukal, A. (1988) Broken, an introduction to the Creole language of Torres Strait.  J 427 shn

Sutton, P. (ed) (1974) Languages of Cape York: papers presented to the Linguistic Symposium, Part B, held in conjunction with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies Biennial General Meeting, May,1974. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies: Canberra. G 499.15 1976

Sutton, P. (1995) Country: Aboriginal boundaries and land ownership in Australia. G 333.20994 1995

Tindale, N. B. (1974) Aboriginal tribes of Australia: their terrain, environmental controls, distribution, limits and proper names. Q 994.0049915 tin

Tindale, N. B. (1940) Map showing the distribution of the Aboriginal tribes of Australia. RBM 804 1940 06250 E

Watt, R. (1966) Aboriginal languages of Australia. M 804 1966 00012 B

Watson, F. J. Railways map of south-east Queensland showing the Aboriginal tribes in the region. OM73-20 F J Watson Papers

Wurm, S. (1981) Language atlas of the Pacific area. ATLASL 409 1981

Online Indigenous Language Maps

There is also a range of online maps / websites that can be useful for communities and language workers to explore languages and the extent of regions where they were spoken.