Your free what's on guide to the top end

Language with a Local - Kriol

The city of Darwin, originally called Palmerston, was settled in 1869. During those early years of settlement, there were a lot of European, Chinese and Aboriginal people who needed to be able to communicate. The product of this mix of languages is Kriol.

From its initial creation over 100 years ago, Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory have continued to develop this language and, in some communities, it remains the main language used in every day communication.

Today, Kriol is spoken by an estimated 20,000 people over an area roughly the size of Spain. It is the second most used language in the NT after English. Kriol has a lot of different dialects depending on the region and, while it has a lot of English words in its vocabulary, uses the grammatical structure of Aboriginal languages in the region. 

Lots of YouTube videos, books – even public signs in rural communities – are produced in Kriol. For many Aboriginal people in the Top End, Kriol is one of their first languages. One such person is my 23-year-old sister, Chloe Ngelebe Ford.

“Kriol is an important part of our history and the history of Northern Australia. I simultaneously learnt Kriol, Marranunggu, Marrithiyel and English. I spoke all four languages with my family growing up in Darwin, Batchelor and out on our country,” she says. 

“My story is not unique. Many Indigenous children grow up in the Territory speaking multiple languages. The continuity of our languages, culture, history and our presence shows our strength and determination as First Nations peoples. Kriol, as a language, extends beyond communication. It is the evidence of a rich and diverse history.” 

Quick Guide to Kriol

Here – iya
Country – kantri
House – kemp
My name is – main neim

Emily Tyaemaen Ford is a Rak Mak Mak Marranunggu woman from Kurrindju, who speaks two languages - Rak Mak Mak Marranunggu and Rak Marrithiyel. She is on the City of Darwin Youth Advisory Committee and works in Indigenous research at Northern Institue.

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