Module 1 - What is Koorie English?

The term ‘Koorie’ is used to refer to Aboriginal people originating from ‘mobs’ in Victoria and parts of New South Wales.

Koorie English is a recognised dialect of English like Standard Australian English and is spoken by members of Koorie communities across Victoria. It originated as a result of colonisation and as a means for Aboriginal people to communicate with Europeans after their arrival, utilising the various Englishes spoken around them to convey Aboriginal concepts and ideas.

Koorie English is the first language for many Koorie children throughout Victoria and is an important part of contemporary Koorie identity and culture. It “is a dialect of English that contains cultural values, concepts and mores of Aboriginal culture, some traditional words, and non-verbal communication.” (Bamblett and Hall 2018)

Koorie English can be recognised by particular features in three key areas:

  • Linguistic features
  • Pragmatics (language in socio-cultural contexts)
  • Non-verbal communication.

1. Linguistic features

Morpho-syntax (grammar)

Koorie English has its own grammatical patterns.

  • The subject-verb-object sentence structure is not fixed.

Subject Verb Object

He has a big red car.

Object Subject Verb

Big red car he has

  • The present and past tense are not marked in the verb.
He works here.

Before, he lived here.
He work here.

Before, he live here.
Plural ‘s’
  • The plural ‘s' is optional where there is another plural marker in the sentence.
There are two dogs. There are two dog.
Lexico-Semantics (words and their meaning)
  • Words from Standard Australian English may have different conceptual meanings for Koorie English speakers.

Mob = a group of angry people

Family = immediate family

Deadly = dangerous/lethal

Mob = family/group of people

Family = all extended relatives related by kinship

Deadly = excellent, really good

Phonology (sounds)
  • Koorie English typically has no h sound at the beginning of words, but a h sound may be used when a h is not present
  • Aboriginal languages rarely have f, v or th sounds
    • f sounds become p or b sounds.
    • v sounds become b or p sounds.
    • th sounds become t or d sounds.

Henry's Hat.

He had an operation.


Enry's at.

E ad a hoperation.


2. Pragmatics (language in socio-cultural contexts)

  • Interactions are relational and based on on-going, reciprocal relationships.
  • Indirect language is used rather than direct language.
  • Observation is fundamental to learning and relating to others.


  • Direct questions are avoided when seeking personal or substantial information.
    Is he your boyfriend? (SAE) Ow you know im? (KE)


  • Humour is used to make people feel more comfortable and build relationships.

3. Non-verbal communication


  • Can be used to indicate direction or to gain someone’s attention.


  • A lack of eye-contact is not a sign of inattention, but a sign of respect. Eye-contact can also be used to signal someone’s attention.


  • Gestures may be used instead of a verbal response.


  • The way the listener positions themselves will tell the listener if they are willing to listen or not.
  • When an Elder is speaking, Koories will most likely hang their heads as a sign of respect.

Classroom practice advice

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people travel from many parts of Australia to be educated in Victoria and may speak different varieties of Aboriginal English.
  • Koorie English is not a ‘bad’ form of Standard Australian English.
  • Standard Australian English may be a second dialect for Koorie students.
  • Students may use different forms of Koorie English.
  • Recognising the features of Koorie English will assist teachers in accurately gauging student understanding of content, rather than their command of Standard Australian English.
  • Koorie English is predominantly a spoken form of expression, so the written forms will vary.
  • Not all Koorie people speak Koorie English in all situations/contexts, but most use Koorie English to some degree.
  • School may be the only social place where students speak Standard Australian English.


Bamblett E., & Hall, M. (2018). Koorie English Teacher Guidance Package. Thornbury, VIC: Neenann.