« So where do you get the dosh from? - Peter K. Austin | Blog home | Renovations, Repairs and Repositories »

business learning training articles new learning business training opportunities finance learning training deposit money learning making training art loan learning training deposits make learning your training home good income learning outcome training issue medicine learning training drugs market learning money training trends self learning roof training repairing market learning training online secure skin learning training tools wedding learning training jewellery newspaper learning for training magazine geo learning training places business learning training design Car learning and training Jips production learning training business ladies learning cosmetics training sector sport learning and training fat burn vat learning insurance training price fitness learning training program furniture learning at training home which learning insurance training firms new learning devoloping training technology healthy learning training nutrition dress learning training up company learning training income insurance learning and training life dream learning training home create learning new training business individual learning loan training form cooking learning training ingredients which learning firms training is good choosing learning most training efficient business comment learning on training goods technology learning training business secret learning of training business company learning training redirects credits learning in training business guide learning for training business cheap learning insurance training tips selling learning training abroad protein learning training diets improve learning your training home security learning training importance

Mari Rhydwen is working with people developing resources for teaching Indigenous languages of New South Wales. She asks if speakers of traditional languages in Australia have engineered terms for talking about age in years and, if so, how they did it. It's quite possible that they have invented terms for other things (reading, school, money), but haven't felt the need to talk about people's ages in terms of years, except in English.

I could only think of age grade and status terms (child, woman with children etc) in traditional languages to describe someone's age, and of the use of 'Christmas' to mean 'year', but I couldn't recall an instance where someone described someone's age in terms of Christmasses.

Over to blog-readers for their ideas. Here's a start from Robert Hoogenaad:

There are all kinds of ways that Aboriginal people in Central Australia who are speakers of an Indigenous language have "engeneered", ie coined, ways of talking about Western concepts, including days of the week, months and counting, often by adapting the English terms to the language's phonology, but I know of nothing about ages reckoned in years - only as Jane says, by broad "age grade" (really social development and social status) terms. These do not even necessarily correlate with age ranges, except at the grossest level.

In other words, I do not know a translation for "How old are you?", nor for an answer, "I'm 8 years old." Though if you pressed certain people to come up with something (eg as a translation) they would no doubt do it: the problem is that another speaker of the language would not be able to understand it.

The word for 'sun' in Warlpiri, wanta, is used both in the sense of 'day' and of 'year', but I do not know of any evidence that it can be used to specify someone's age. Currently most people do not know their age (though they may know their date of birth), and given that the calculations are outside the skills of most, they are not likely to work it out easily. But as people are starting to celebrate birthdays for their very young children, maybe that is changing. But my bet is that they will use English for this purpose.


Hmmm... I just had a quick think about why it's hard to ask someone their age in an Aboriginal language. But then I realised that in some ways, it's a redundant question, because (a) you can make a good guess by looking at the person so why bother asking? and (b) chances are, you know the person's entire life history anyway.

And if you're inquiring about a child's age who isn't present, there's the easy system of holding your hand out palm down at the approximate height of the child, indicating their age.

Love it.

I have a large scar on my face from being bitten by a dog. When white people ask me how old I was, I approximate at 2 or 3 (cos I can't remember!) but in language when I'm asked how big I was, I just indicate my height at the time. Both answers are just as accurate and satisfying.

Yeah, well, that's my ramblings (maybe I should start blogging again!). And I've been no help to Mari. Sorry!

In Diyari, northern South Australia the expression kilpa waldrra is used to refer to and count years - it is composed of kilpa 'cold' and waldrra 'hot'. Apart from social development and social status terms Diyari also has a term karlipamara 'age mates' to refer to a pair of individuals who are the same age.

At Jane's prompting I am copying here the reply I sent to Hoogie in response to the email I initially sent him. 'Thanks very much for that detailed response. There is a great desire among some people working with NSW languages to invent new words. It really help me to give out informed advice, and to make decisions about what I will aim at in producing resource materials, if I know what decisions have been made in other areas where there are full-speakers. And, in the event, it is giving me support in presenting the case for maintaining linguistic integrity wherever possible.'
I'd like to thank others for responding to this blog too and invite more of you to respond. I should warn you that anything you write may be taken and reprinted on the Aboriginal languages curriculum support website and/or newsletter:-)8027

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Enter the code shown below before pressing post

The Authors

About the Blog

The Transient Building, symbolising the impermanence of language, houses both the Linguistics Department at Sydney University and PARADISEC, a digital archive for endangered Pacific languages and music.


Papua New Guinea FAQs from Eva Lindstrom Papua New Guinea (New Ireland): Eva Lindstrom's tips for fieldworkers

Australian Languages Answers to some frequently asked questions about Australian languages

Papua Web Information network on Papua, Indonesia (formerly Irian Jaya)

Hibernating blogs

Indigenous Language SPEAK

Langguj gel Australian linguistics and fieldwork blog

Interesting Blogs

Omniglot Writing systems and languages of the world

LingFormant Linguistics news

Language hat Linguistics news and commentary

Jabal al-Lughat Linguistics news and commentary on a range of languages

Living languages Blog with news items and discussion of endangered languages

OzPapersOnline Notices of recent work on the Indigenous languages of Australia

That Munanga linguist Community linguist blog

Anggarrgoon Claire Bowern's linguistics and fieldwork blog

Savage Minds A group blog on Anthropology

Fully (sic)

Language on the Move Intercultural communication and multilingualism

Talking Alaska: Reflections on the native languages of Alaska

Culture matters: applying anthropology Australian anthropology blog: postgraduates and staff

Long Road ethnography and anthropology blog - including about Australia

matjjin-nehen Blog on Australian linguistics, fieldwork, politics and the environment.

Language Log Group blog on language and linguistics


E-MELD The E-MELD School of Best Practices in Digital Language Documentation

Tema Modersmål Website in Swedish with links to sites on and in many languages

Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project: Language Documentation: What is it? Information on equipment, formats, and archiving, and examples of documentation

Indigenous Peoples Issues & Resources a worldwide network of organizations, academics, activists, indigenous groups, and others representing indigenous and tribal peoples

Technorati Profile

Technology-enhanced language revitalization Include ILAT (Indigenous Languages and Technology) discussion list.

Endangered languages of Indigenous Peoples of Siberia

Koryak Net Information on the people of Kamchatka

Linguistic fieldwork preparation: a guide for field linguists syllabi, funding, technology, ethics, readings, bibliography

On-line resources for endangered languages

Papua New Guinea Language Resources Phonologies, grammars, dictionaries, literacy, language maps for many PNG languages

Resource network for linguistic diversity Networking practitioners working to record,retrieve & reintroduce endangered languages


ACLA child language acquisition in three Australian Aboriginal communities

DELAMAN The Digital Endangered Languages and Musics Archives Network

PARADISEC The Pacific And Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures

Murriny-Patha Song Project Documenting the language and music of public songs and dances composed and performed by Murriny Patha-speaking people

PFED The Project for Free Electronic Dictionaries

DOBES Endangered language documentation and archiving, funded by the Volkswagen Foundation and sponsored by the Max Planck Institute, Nijmegen.

DELP Documenting endangered languages at the University of Sydney

Ethno EResearch Exploring methods and technology for streaming media and interlinear text