Speaking, Talking, Telling

Spoken Language and Text Corpora


Dalabon is spoken in central Arnhem Land by a dwindling population, now reduced to fewer than half a dozen fluent speakers, although there are many people of middle age or young adults who understand the language to varying extents. It belongs to the Gunwinyguan language family.

Its nearest relatives are Kunwinjku / Kune / Mayali (varieties often grouped together as Bininj Kunwok) and Rembarrnga, and other languages in this family include Jawoyn, Ngalakgan, Ngandi, Wubuy, Kunbarlang and Enindhilyakwa.

The traditional territory of Dalabon-speaking clans centred on and to the west of the upper reaches of the Wilton River, along the eastern and southern edges of the Arnhem Land escarpment. Although many Dalabon people still live on their country today, in communities such as Kolobidahdah, Yayminji, Weemol, Korbbolyu and Bulman, others live in communities on the territory of adjoining language groups, such as Barunga, Beswick (Wugularr), Manyallaluk (Eva Valley), Kunbarllanjnja (Oenpelli), Jabiru and Maningrida.

Many fluent Dalabon speakers spend or have spent periods of time in and around Katherine, where Mayali has tended to be the most-widely known and spoken Aboriginal language. The dispersion of Dalabon speakers has reduced the opportunity for younger members of the community to hear and participate in regular conversations in their ancestral language. Although many younger people speak some Dalabon, and are interested in learning more, it is giving way, as the main vehicle of everyday communication, to Kriol and English in the south, and Kunwinjku / Kuney and English in the north. We hope that by putting up these Dalabon stories online, recorded from a number of different Dalabon speakers in different locations, we will assist young Dalabon speakers and others who are interested in hearing their ancestral language, wherever they live. Permission to put these recordings online has in each case been obtained from the person or people who we have been told holds the most authority to authorise them to be put online and in most cases the elders we asked, and their families, were enthusiastic about the chance this gives to pass on their knowledge and voices. Anyone who has concerns about any recording posted here should contact us at Wolfgang.Barth@anu.edu.au so we can renegotiate the conditions or limit access.

Dalabon is also known as Dangbon, Ngalkbon or Buwan. The term Dangbon tends to be used by speakers of Kune or Mayali, Ngalkbon by speakers of Jawoyn, and Buwan by speakers of Rembarrnga. But the terms are also used by Dalabon speakers themselves on the basis of which other language group they most regularly have dealings with. There are a few differences between ‘Top End’ or northern Dalabon and ‘bottom end’ or southern Dalabon, which will sometimes be characterised in terms of the difference between Dangbon and Ngalkbon. There are also said to be differences depending on the moiety affiliation of clans speaking the same language, with Duwa clans speaking Dalabon-djurrkdjurrk (‘quick way Dalabon’), and Yirridjdja clans speaking Dalabon-muduk (‘slow way Dalabon’), but no different words correlating with this difference have yet been found, so it more likely reflects an overall prosodic style of speaking, rather than the more formalized differences found in the Yolngu languages to the east.

Each of the four language names can be broken down into the word bon ‘go’ plus, in three cases, the word for ‘mouth’ in the language using the name: in other words, “people in whose mouth (language) one says bon for ‘go’”. In Dalabon, dalû- means ‘mouth’ (occasionally you hear the name pronounced Dalûbon as an alternative to Dalabon). Dangbon and Ngalkbon are parallel formations based on the root for ‘mouth’ in Mayali or Kuney (which is kun-dang or dang-no) and Jawoyn, where the word for ‘mouth’ is ngan-ngalk (kun- and ngan- are noun class prefixes). Buwan, used on the Rembarrnga side, is the Rembarrnga pronunciation of bon: lots of words in Rembarrnga have changed o to uwa: kom, which is the root for ‘neck’ in Dalabon and Mayali, is kuwam in Rembarrnga.

Dalabon is bordered by the following languages:

• to its north and northwest by Mayali, Kuney and Kunwinjku (all closely related dialects sometimes now known collectively as Bininj Gun-wok)

• to its north-east and east by Rembarrnga,

• to its south-east by Ngalakgan

• to its east by Jawoyn


David Karlbuma Yayminji

This recording was made during a fieldtrip to Yayminji and surrounding areas in 1995 with Nick Evans, George Chaloupka, Pina Giuliani and Murray Garde, to record rock art, knowledge of traditional plants, and Dalabon and Kune language

Alice Boehm, My Life

Allice Boehm is telling the story of her life.


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Dalabon in ANNIS

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About Dalabon