Palawa kani is a
constructed language A constructed language (sometimes called a conlang) is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an apparent answer to ...
created by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre as a composite , based on reconstructed vocabulary from the limited accounts of the various languages once spoken by the eastern
Aboriginal Tasmanians The Aboriginal Tasmanians (Palawa kani Palawa kani is a constructed language created by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre as a composite Tasmanian language, based on reconstructed vocabulary from the limited accounts of the various languages ...
. The centre wishes to keep the language private until it is established in the community and claims copyright. The
United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP or DOTROIP) is a legally non-binding resolution passed by the United Nations The United Nations (UN) is an intergovernmental organization aiming to maintain international peac ...
(UNDRIP) outlines that indigenous people should have the right to control their own cultural knowledge, including languages. However, languages cannot get copyright under Australian or international law. In practice, the centre only allows unrestricted outside access to place names; dictionaries and other copyrightable resources for learning the language are only provided to the aboriginal community.archive 2005 policy, fetched 2016


Tasmanian languages The Tasmanian languages were the languages indigenous to the island of Tasmania Tasmania (), abbreviated as TAS, is an island An island (or isle) is an isolated piece of habitat that is surrounded by a dramatically differe ...

Tasmanian languages
were decimated after the
British colonisation of Tasmania The British colonisation of Tasmania took place between 1803 and 1830. Tasmania was a Great Britain, British colony from 1856 until 1901, at which time it joined five other colonies to form the Commonwealth of Australia. By the end of the colo ...
and the
Black War The Black War was the period of violent conflict between British colonists and Aboriginal Australians Aboriginal Australians are the various Indigenous peoples Indigenous peoples, also referred to as first peoples, first nations, a ...
. The last native speaker of any of the languages,
Fanny Cochrane Smith Fanny Cochrane Smith (December 1834 – 24 February 1905) was an Aboriginal Tasmanian, born in December 1834. She is considered to be the last fluent speaker of the Tasmanian languages#Lingua franca, Flinders island lingua franca, a Tasmanian la ...

Fanny Cochrane Smith
, died in 1905. In 1972, Robert M. W. Dixon and
Terry Crowley Terrence Michael Crowley (born February 16, 1947 in Staten Island, New York) is an American former professional baseball Baseball is a bat-and-ball games, bat-and-ball game played between two opposing teams who take turns batting (bas ...
investigated reconstructing the Tasmanian languages from existing records, in a project funded by the
Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), established as the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies (AIAS) in 1964, is an independent Australian Government The Australian Government, also kno ...
. This included interviewing two granddaughters of Fanny Cochrane Smith, who provided "five words, one sentence, and a short song". They were able to find "virtually no data on the grammar and no running texts" and stated "it is impossible to say very much of linguistic interest about the Tasmanian languages", and they did not proceed with the project. In the late twentieth century, as part of community efforts to retrieve as much of the original Tasmanian culture as possible, the
Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre Tasmania (; abbreviated as Tas, nicknamed Tassie, xpz, Lutruwita; Palawa kani: ''Lutruwita'') is an island States and territories of Australia, state of Australia. It is located to the south of the Mainland Australia, Australian mainland, ...
attempted to reconstruct a language for the indigenous community. Due to the scarcity of records, Palawa kani was constructed as a composite of several of the estimated dozen original Palawa languages.


The two primary sources of lexical and linguistic material are Brian Plomley's 1976 word lists and Crowley and Dixon's 1981 chapter on Tasmanian. These are supplemented by archival research. The source languages are those of the
Northeastern Tasmanian Northeastern Tasmanian is an aboriginal language family of Tasmania in the reconstruction of Claire Bowern.Claire Bowern, September 2012, "The riddle of Tasmanian languages", ''Proc. R. Soc. B'', 279, 4590–4595, Languages Bayesian phylogene ...
Eastern Tasmanian Eastern Tasmanian is an aboriginal language family of Tasmania in the reconstruction of Claire Bowern.Claire Bowern, September 2012, "The riddle of Tasmanian languages", ''Proc. R. Soc. B'', 279, 4590–4595, Languages Bayesian phylogenetic ...
language families, as these are ancestral to the modern Palawa population as well as being the best attested Tasmanian languages. Usually a single Tasmanian word is chosen for an English concept, but occasional duplicates occur, such as and , which come from different languages and both mean (Tasmanian) person. The words need to be reconstructed from the English
pronunciation spelling A pronunciation respelling is a regular phonetic respelling of a word that has a standard spelling but whose pronunciation according to that spelling may be ambiguous, which is used to indicate the pronunciation of that word. Pronunciation respel ...
s that they were recorded in. For example, in 1830 the local name for
Hobart Hobart () is the capital Capital most commonly refers to: * Capital letter Letter case (or just case) is the distinction between the letters that are in larger uppercase or capitals (or more formally ''majuscule'') and smaller lowerc ...

was recorded as and . Allowing for the distortions that occurred when linguistically naive Europeans tried recording Tasmanian words, the centre reconstructs the name as .

State of the language

Palawa kani was developed in the 1990s by the language program of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, including Theresa Sainty, Jenny Longey and June Sculthorpe. The centre wishes to maintain community ownership of the language until the community is familiar and competent with it.Adi Robertson
"Can you own a language?"
The Verge. 13 August 2014. Retrieved 3 October 2017
The language project is entirely community-based and the language is not taught in state schools but at various after-school events, organised camps and trips. There is obvious enthusiasm for the language, especially among younger people, and an increasing number of people are able to use the language to some extent, some to great fluency, though the centre requests that non-Aboriginals wanting to use the language first make a formal application to the centre. The centre rejects the classification of a "constructed language" for Palawa kani. It has, in 2012, unsuccessfully filed a request to remove the Wikipedia articles on this language. The animated television series ''
Little J & Big Cuz ''Little J & Big Cuz'' is an Australian animated television series first screened on the NITV network in 2017. The 13-part series is directed by Tony Thorne and produced by Ned Lander and developed with The Australian Council for Educational Resea ...
'' was the first television show to feature an episode entirely in Palawa kani, which was broadcast on the
NITV National Indigenous Television (NITV) is an Australian free-to-air Free-to-air (FTA) services are television Television (TV), sometimes shortened to tele or telly, is a telecommunication medium used for transmitting moving images in ...
network in 2017. Lutana Spotswood gave a eulogy in Palawa kani at the funeral of the Tasmanian
Premier Premier is a title for the head of government The head of government is either the highest or second-highest official in the Executive (government), executive branch of a sovereign state, a federated state, or a self-governing colony, aut ...
Jim Bacon James Alexander Bacon, AC (15 May 195020 June 2004) was an Australian politician who held the post of Premier of Tasmania from 1998 to 2004. Early life Bacon was born on 15 May 1950 in Melbourne Melbourne ( ; wyi, Naarm) is the List o ...
. In 2018, '' The Nightingale'' became the first major film to feature Palawa kani, with consultation from aboriginal Tasmanian leaders. Palawa kani is also used on a number of signs in
Protected areas of Tasmania Protected areas of Tasmania consist of protected area Protected areas or conservation areas are locations which receive protection because of their recognized natural, ecological or cultural values. There are several kinds of protected area ...
, for example ''kunanyi'' has been accepted as an official name for Mount Wellington, and what was formerly known as Asbestos Range National Park is now known as Narawntapu National Park.

Official place names

Palawa kani has been formally legitimated through the Tasmanian governmental Aboriginal and Dual Naming Policy of 2013, which "allows for an Aboriginal and an introduced name to be used together as the official name and for new landmarks to be named according to their Aboriginal heritage." These include kanamaluka /
Tamar River The Tamar River, officially kanamaluka / River Tamar, is a estuary An estuary is a partially enclosed Coast, coastal body of brackish water with one or more rivers or streams flowing into it, and with a free connection to the open sea. Estuar ...
and kunanyi / Mount Wellington. A number of other Palawa-kani place names exist, but are not (yet) in official use. Some are modern descriptive names rather than historically attested.


In the following table, the
IPA IPA commonly refers to: * India pale ale, a style of beer * International Phonetic Alphabet The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is an alphabetic system of phonetic notation based primarily on the Latin script Latin script, also ...
is first listed. The orthography is listed in italics if it differs from the IPA. The vowels are ''a'', ''i'', ''u'' and the diphthong /ei/ (''ay'') and /oi/ (''uy''). Consonant clusters include ''pr'', ''tr'' and ''kr''. Like most mainland languages, Tasmanian languages lacked
sibilant In phonetics Phonetics is a branch of that studies how humans produce and perceive sounds, or in the case of s, the equivalent aspects of sign. Phoneticians—linguists who specialize in phonetics—study the physical properties of speech. Th ...
s (which is apparent in the aboriginal pronunciation of English words like ''sugar'', where the 's' was replaced with a ''t'' in pidgin English), and this is reflected in Palawa kani. The pronunciation of Palawa kani may reflect those words preserved in the now English-speaking Palawa community, but does not reflect how the original Tasmanian words were likely to have been pronounced. Taylor (2006) states that "the persons who contributed to the project would appear to have uncritically accepted phonological features of the Australian Mainland languages as a guide to Palawa phonology without undertaking an adequate comparative analysis of the orthographies used by the European recorders", and gives four examples: *In transcriptions with consonant + 'y', the 'y' is taken to be the vowel ''i'' or ''ay'' despite Milligan's statement that it was a 'y'-like sound (~). In word-final position, 'y' did not indicate a vowel, as Palawa kani assumes, but rather forms a digraph for one of the consonants ''ty'' (), ''ny'', ''ly'', etc. *The sequence 'tr' is treated as a consonant cluster, when it was presumably a postalveolar affricate closer to English ''j'' () or ''ch'' (). *'r' transcribed before a consonant or at the end of a word is taken to indicate a long vowel or the kind of vowel quality found in modern Australian English words with such spellings, but the English-speaking transcribers of Tasmanian spoke
rhotic dialect Rhoticity in English is the pronunciation of the historical rhotic consonant In phonetics, rhotic consonants, or "R-like" sounds, are liquid consonants that are traditionally represented orthography, orthographically by symbols derived from ...
s of English, while others spoke Danish or French, and apparently the r's were to be pronounced. *All Palawa-kani words must end in a vowel, and it is assumed that in Tasmanian words transcribed without a final vowel, that vowel was overlooked. However, there is good reason to think that many Tasmanian words actually did end in a consonant. In this they differed from many Mainland languages.


The Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre has decided that Palawa kani should only be written in lowercase letters.


Apart from pronouns, Palawa-kani words are not inflected. Nouns do not have number, and verbs do not indicate person or tense, e.g. ''waranta takara milaythina nara takara'' 'we walk where (place) they walked'. Virtually no grammatical information has been preserved from the original Tasmanian languages. The only running 'text' is a sermon preached by George Robinson on Bruny Island in 1829, after being on the island for only eight weeks. His "Tasmanian" was actually English replaced word-for-word with Tasmanian words that had been stripped of their grammar, much as occurs in a contact
pidgin A pidgin , or pidgin language, is a grammatically simplified means of communication that develops between two or more groups that do not have a language in common: typically, its vocabulary and grammar are limited and often drawn from several lan ...

. Robinson is one of the principal primary sources for Palawa kani.


There are two sets of pronouns, ''mapali'' 'many' may be added to e.g. ''nara'' 'they'. ''mapali'' 'many' may be used to distinguish ''mana'' 'my' from ''mana-mapali'' 'our, your'. ''nika'' also means 'this', as in ''milaythina nika'' 'their lands / this land'.


The numerals are, These are conjoined for ''pamakati'' 11, ''payakati'' 12, etc. For the decades, -ka is added to the digit, for ''payaka'' 20, ''luwaka'' 30, etc. For the hundreds and thousands, -ki and -ku are added, for ''pamaki'' 100, ''maraki'' 500, ''pamaku'' 1000, ''taliku'' 9000, etc.

Sample text

This sample is a eulogy by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre Language Program first used at the 2004 anniversary of the Risdon Cove massacre of 1804. Other versions are available, including one with a sound recording.Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre
We mourn our Mumirimina families, murdered at Risdon Cove on 3rd May 1804"">"3rd May 1804 waranta tangara takariliya mumirimina, lungkana risdon cove-ta
We mourn our Mumirimina families, murdered at Risdon Cove on 3rd May 1804"


See also

Australian Aboriginal languages The Australian Aboriginal languages consist of around 290–363 languages belonging to an estimated 28 language families A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Si ...



* T. Crowley & R.M.W. Dixon (1981) 'Tasmanian'. In Dixon & Blake (eds.), ''Handbook of Australian Languages'', pp. 395–427. The Australian National University Press. * Plomley, N. J. B. (1976), ''A word-list of the Tasmanian languages'', N. J. B. Plomley and the Government of Tasmania * "Pakana Luwana Liyini" 2005 (CD), Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre Inc * Sainty, T., "Tasmanian places and Tasmanian Aboriginal language" 2005, ''Placenames Australia Newsletter of the Australian National Placenames Survey''

External links

Palawa-kani program at the Tasmanian Aboriginal CentreDewayne Everettsmith singing a Palawa-kani song
936 ABC Hobart, 15 June 2012 {{Aboriginal peoples in Tasmania Indigenous Australian languages in Tasmania Zonal constructed languages Constructed languages introduced in the 1990s Language revival Indigenous Australians in Tasmania