What is Aboriginal English? Articles Case Studies and Action Research Resources and Teaching Ideas Professional Development  

This page contains material to inform teaching. This includes both theoretical articles that outline the policy debates surrounding Aboriginal English, such as how literacy should be valued and understood in Australia, and practical articles that state what Aboriginal English is, or provide some practical examples or personal experience of its use and influence. Some of the articles are complete, some are extracts. All are intended to encourage further reading. Permission has been gained from the copyright holders to post all the material that can be downloaded from this page. Finally, a list of further reading possibilities and sources of further information is included at the bottom of the page.


English Language and Literacy Development and Home Language Support

Presentation to the ACTA/ATESOL 13th Biennial Summer School and National Conference by Professor Ian Malcolm, Professor of Applied Linguistics, Edith Cowan University.

Click to view webcast


First hand experiences of a learner from a diverse culture

Keynote Address, ACTA National Conference, January 2002
May L. O'BRIEN, Chairperson, Aboriginal Education and Training
Council, WA



Aboriginal English, A Cultural Study - by Jay Arthur, (Book Review), Bruce Moore, Australian Style, Language Australia, 1997

This article is a review of Jay Arthur's book, Aboriginal English, by Bruce Moore of the Australian National Dictionary Centre. This review details how the book functions as both a dictionary of Aboriginal English and a history.


Consequently, although the book gives a traditional lexicographic treatment to Aboriginal English words and phrases, the book is arranged thematically around the experiences that shaped the vocabulary of Aboriginal English. The book shows how the values of traditional Aboriginal society (especially spirituality and kinship relationships) were expressed in a new language, how this language dealt with the attacks on those values by white colonisers, and how more recently this language has become an important marker of Aboriginal cultural identity.

Aboriginal English: A Cultural Study, is an Oxford University Press publication and as at September 2003 is still in print and can be purchased through OUP at www.oup.com.au

Bruce Moore's review is reproduced with the permission of Language Australia. A full catalogue of Language Australia publications can be obtained from Language Australia Ltd, GPO Box 372F, Melbourne, Victoria, 3001, or through www.languageaustralia.com.au



Aboriginal English, Mark Williams, from The Nunga Code, Mark Williams (ed.), Education Department of South Australia, 1988.

This article is taken from the book The Nunga Code, and deals with the problems met by speakers of Aboriginal English in conventional educational systems. Mark Williams describes how speakers of Aboriginal English effectively use a different system of communication for education in Standard English, making their classroom experience similar to that of learners of English as a second language. In teaching terms, this article effectively shows the connection between the teaching of Standard English to Aboriginal English speakers and ESL teaching as it is usually understood. The article confirms the difficulties faced by students, and highlights specific measures aimed at assisting students who speak Aboriginal English to succeed in gaining full access to educational and social opportunities which demand a mastery of formal, Standard English.

This article is reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder, the Department of Education and Children's Services, South Australia.

Mark Williams is no longer working specifically in this area. However, the Aboriginal Education Unit of the Education Department of South Australia's website at www.decs.sa.gov.au/curric/pages/492/11254/ is an excellent resource. Contact details for the Unit are included on the site.

Within South Australia, the Unit can provide Department of Education and Children's Services sites with:

  • Professional development to support Aboriginal learners in schools and pre-schools as well as children in day care

  • Professional development to implement Aboriginal studies/perspectives for all learners Reconciliation strategies

  • Aboriginal community involvement in school and pre-school decision making

  • Support for Aboriginal Education Workers and Aboriginal Education Teachers

  • Mentoring and leadership development for Aboriginal students and staff

  • Support from the Aboriginal Education Reference Library


The Influence of Aboriginal English, Peter Wignell, Australian Style, Volume 5 No 2, Language Australia, June 1997.

This article first appeared in the journal Australian Style in June 1997. The article describes some of the content and social use of Aboriginal English, describing particular "catchy" idioms and social settings where Aboriginal English is used, collectively and inclusively. Consequently the article shows how Aboriginal English influences non-Aboriginal members of Australian society, showing the potential importance of the use as well as the recognition of Aboriginal English for all Australians.

Peter Wignell is a lecturer in Applied Linguistics at the Faculty of Education of the Northern Territory university, and is the Coordinator of the Graduate Diploma in Applied Linguistics. Peter has worked in teaching and research in systemic functional linguistics since 1986. From 1986 to 1988 he worked as a research assistant and tutor in linguistics at the University of Sydney. Subsequently he worked as a language teaching coordinator responsible for English support for overseas and NESB students at the University of New South Wales. In 1993 he joined the Northern Territory University on a permanent basis.

This article is posted with the permission of Language Australia. A full catalogue of Language Australia publications can be obtained from Language Australia Ltd, GPO Box 372F, Melbourne, Victoria, 3001, or through www.languageaustralia.com.au



Aboriginal English - Diana Eades

This article was published as PEN 93 by the Primary English Teaching Association. The article describes what Aboriginal English is - its phonology (accent and pronunciation), grammar, lexico-semantics (words and their meaning) and pragmatics (the way it is used) - and discusses its implications for both classrooms and the education system. In this way the article is an excellent introduction to Aboriginal English as a concept, explaining what "dialect" means in this context, moving through the key features of Aboriginal English to show how the dialect is spoken and used (including numerous examples), and concluding that respecting, valuing and understanding Aboriginal ways of using English is a significant step in respecting, valuing and understanding the identity and self-esteem of Aboriginal children.

Dr Diana Eades worked with speakers of Aboriginal English for more than twenty years as a specialist in cross-cultural communications and forensic linguistics, both at the University of New England and as a consultant sociolinguist. Dr Eades is now based at the University of Hawaii.

The PEN is reproduced courtesy of the Primary English Teaching Association, Sydney.

View a catalogue of PETA publications at www.peta.edu.au.



Englishes and literacies: Indigenous Australian contexts.

Presentation to the ACTA/QATESOL Conference, Brisbane, 6 July 2000, by Penny Tripcony, Manager, Oodgeroo Unit, Queensland University of Technology.


In recent years, in response to calls for improved competencies and english literacy skills within the current and future workforce, Australian governments have directed that overall literacy benchmarks be set by annual testing of school students, with a view to ascertain targets for remedial action. Where does this testing place those students whose home languages are either not english, nor the form of english recognised by education systems and subsequent employers?

It is often expected that particular attention should be given to students who were (or whose parents were) born in non-english-speaking countries or, in the case of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, those who live in remote communities. However, there continues to be little recognition of the language and cultural needs of the many Indigenous Australian students who attend urban and rural schools and who are speakers of the various forms of english which have come to be known as ‘Aboriginal english’.

This presentation, based on experiences from community education programs, schools, vocational education and tertiary systems, focuses on Indigenous Australians – who they are; and their use of english language in both oral and written forms. In addition, some pointers are offered for educators working with Indigenous Australian students, their parents and communities.



Some thoughts on the literacy issues in indigenous contexts, Dr M Nakata, Language Australia, 2002 (Extract).

Dr Martin Nakata's short work discusses the policy framework for education in Australia, its application to indigenous education, and how altering that theoretical framework may re-frame our view of literacy issues and priorities in indigenous contexts.

The extract posted here contains two chapters of the six chapter pamphlet. "'Cultural' Tensions" describes the cultural tensions in policy and illustrates the dilemma this produces in practice. Dr Nakata argues that too much emphasis on cultural difference has lead to indigenous children failing to be taught the skills necessary for success in non-indigenous contexts. He outlines that speakers of Aboriginal English do not have gaps in their conceptual understanding, but simply different ways of communicating certain ideas. Further, he describes how critical he considers English literacy to be to the future success of Aboriginal people:- as important to him as traditional pathways. The chapter "Re-Framing how we view literacy" emphasises that to consider the literacy situation of indigenous people as a simple movement between traditional and English language is to ignore the dynamics of reality. Dr Nakata then supplies a few thoughts on how theoretical learning and research can provide a valuable perspective on the issue of indigenous English literacy.

Associate Professor Martin Nakata a Torres Strait Islander and is the Director of the Aboriginal Research Institute at the University of South Australia.



One Literacy…or Double Power?, Joseph Lo Bianco, Language Australia, 2000 (Extract).

The extract posted here is the final two sections of Joseph Lo Bianco's pamphlet, entitled "What is One Literacy's Problem?" and "Double Power". Essentially, the two chapters contain the main thrust of Joseph Lo Bianco's argument that One Literacy is a simplification of literate practice that wrongly identifies only one possible path to success; as an English speaking monolingual (he also notes how ESL is one of the educational interventions most harmed by One Literacy). Discussing the factors and implications of this, and outlining the shortfall of this approach, Joseph Lo Bianco advocates Australian literacies, containing multiple codes, diverse modes, and plural meanings. It is in this respect that he uses Mandaway Yunupingu's idea that becoming an educated, literate person in and across two cultures gives Double Power.

Joseph Lo Bianco is a Professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Melbourne. A full biography can be found at www.edfac.unimelb.edu.au/LLAE/staff_profiles/Bianco.shtml

These two extracts are taken from publications of Language Australia, which has actively supported the publishing and dissemination of materials about Indigenous education. The complete versions of One Literacy... or Double Power (ISBN 1 876768 04 5, Cost: $6.60) and Some thoughts on the literacy issues in indigenous contexts (ISBN 1 876768 41 X, Cost: $11.00) are available through Language Australia Publications, along with other Indigenous education resources.

Contact details:
Language Australia,
GPO Box 372F, Melbourne, VICTORIA 3001
Phone: + 61 3 9612 2600
Fax: + 61 3 9612 2601

Or to access a flier about Language Australia's Indigenous education resources go to:
http://languageaustralia.com.au/publish/ and follow the link to Indigenous Ed.