Aboriginal Languages in Shark Bay
About 250 different Aboriginal languages were spoken when Europeans first settled in Australia, including three in the Shark Bay region: Malgana, Nhanda and Yingkarta. Unfortunately the impact of European settlement means that, like many other Aboriginal languages, they are no longer used as the everyday medium of communication. However, Malgana is enjoying a revival in Shark Bay, giving local people a strong sense of identity and ensuring their culture continues to grow.
The three languages of Shark Bay
The three languages traditionally spoken in the Shark Bay region were all fully-developed languages, with rich vocabularies and complex grammar.
- Yingkarta - traditional language of Aboriginal people whose country stretches along the coast between the Gascoyne and Wooramel Rivers, and some way inland. Today the few people who speak Yingkarta live in Carnarvon, near the northern boundary of the Shark Bay World Heritage Area.
- Nhanda - the traditional language of Aboriginal people occupying the coastal strip from southern Shark Bay down to Kalbarri. Only a handful of people now speak the language and it is considered highly endangered.
- Malgana - The Malgana people are the traditional owners of the central Shark Bay area. The last known fluent speakers of Malgana died in the 1990s, but the language is enjoying a resurgence in the local community.
Malgana is now used in community projects, government information and interpretive materials and local ecotourism ventures. Vocabulary is also taught in the local school, an initiative that not only preserves and maintains the language, but also fosters greater understanding between Malgana and non-indigenous children. This revival has been achieved with the assistance of the Yamaji Language Centre in Geraldton. To find out more about the Centre’s work, contact the address below.
Malgana wangganyina (talking Malgana)
Since language is both a mirror and a vehicle for culture, it provides insight into Malgana cultural life. Here is a list of words and their English translations:
girl, young woman
lover, boyfriend/girlfriend, spouse
Shark Bay (pronounced Car-THAR-goo-doo)
Dirk Hartog Island
tip of Heirisson Prong
sea; salt water
acacia, wattle tree
sandalwood fruit and tree
small dragon lizard
small kangaroo species
larger kangaroo species
Adapted from: Malgana Wangganyina (Talking Malgana): an Illustrated Wordlist of the Malgana Language of Western Australia. Mackman, Doreen (ed). Geraldton: Yamaji Language Centre 2003. Copies can be purchased from:
The Yamaji Language Centre
22 Sanford Street (PO Box 433)
Geraldton WA 6531
Tel: 61 + 8 9964 3550
Fax: 61 + 8 9964 4690