What else can we learn from language?

Topic: First Contacts
Student activity

Students examine what is omitted from the dictionary and compare it to the Aboriginal Sydney language.

This is the student activity 1 of 6 of the Talkin’ like a convict learning activity.

Task No. 1

What else can we learn from language?

Teachers note: Download and print Resource 3: The Sydney Language Wordlist and Resource 1: Dictionary of Criminal Slang 

Did you know? There are eight separate words for MONEY in the flash language Dictionary – bit, blunt, bunce, dimmock, lour, rag, ribband and steven. The word MONEY occurs 50 times in the whole dictionary, including the definitions. The word PICKPOCKET occurs 8 times, STEAL occurs 15 times, THIEF occurs 33 times and ROB occurs 101 times! How many times do the words LOVE, GOODNESS, AFFECTION or KINDNESS appear? None!

Discuss: What do these interesting facts about flash language tell you about the priorities and lifestyle of the convicts who communicated in ‘flash’?

In Sydney, Judge David Collins recorded Aboriginal words in his book An Account of the English Colony of NSW Vol 1, published in 1798.

Look at some of his recorded words in Resource 3: The Sydney Language Wordlist.

Answer these questions:

  • What can we learn about the lives, lifestyles and priorities of the Aboriginal people of Sydney?
  • Are any Aboriginal words the same as the flash language words from the Resource 1: Dictionary of Criminal Slang? 
  • From looking at both word lists, do you think the convicts and the local Aboriginal people had anything in common?

Research what words they borrowed from each other and then incorporated into their own languages.

Did you know? It is said that there are over 500 words from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages from across our country that are used in the English language in Australia today!

Discuss this question:

  • How do you think the colonists’ English language (not just the flash language) may have had an impact on Aboriginal languages?

Research the Aboriginal language group in your school’s area. Connect with local Aboriginal organisations in your area.

See the full Aboriginal Sydney Language wordlist in the appendix (from p. 610) of David Collins’ book, An Account of the English Colony of NSW Vol 1, published in 1798, here.