Kamilaroi/Gamilaraay Dictionary
How to use the dictionary


The Gamilaraay language
The Gamilaraay dictionary
1. Gamilaraay word

2. The type of word

3. Translation

4. Additional information
Sounds and spelling
1. Vowels

2. Consonants

3. Syllables and stress


Gamilaraay, also spelled Kamilaroi, is an Australian Aboriginal language which was spoken over a vast area of north-central New South Wales when Europeans began colonising Australia. Gamilaraay country extended from as far south as Murrurundi on the Great Dividing Range, to Tamworth, Narrabri, Moree, Boggabilla, Mungindi, Collarenebri, Walgett and Gunnedah.

The name Gamilaraay consists of two parts: gamil meaning 'no' and araay meaning 'having', that is 'the people who have gamil for no'. This method of naming people after their word for 'no' is widespread throughout New South Wales and Victoria; for example, the western neighbours of the Gamilaraay, the Yuwaalaraay, say waal for 'no'.

Gamilaraay is a rich language with a vocabulary of many thousands of words and quite a complicated grammar. However, this Web dictionary does not contain all the words of the language. Due to the impact of colonisation in northern New South Wales, Gamilaraay stopped being used daily in the first half of this century, and as a result much knoweldge has been lost.

But the dictionary does bring together much of the material collected by researchers and others over the past forty years. Some entries have been 'reconstituted' from old sources, by working out what sounds were intended by the (often inconsistent) written spellings. These words, whose proper pronunciation remains uncertain, are marked '*recon' in the dictionary.

Gamilaraay was spoken in several dialect forms, and different words were used in various places. For example, people living to the north on the Upper Barwon around Collarenebri and Boggabilla used waabi for 'mother-in-law', while those in the south on the Namoi around Narrabri and Coonabarabran used buyal.


Each entry in the dictionary consists of at least three parts:
  1. a Gamilaraay word
  2. the type of word (its grammar or part of speech), and
  3. its translation into English
For some entries there is additional information.

1. Gamilaraay word

A Gamilaraay word starts each dictionary entry. It is bold, on the left margin. Some words contain a hyphen (-), indicating where the word can be broken into parts. VERBS (words that have to do with doing and being) always have an ending (suffix) following a hyphen. There are four endings you find on verbs: -li, -y, -gi, and -rri. These are the endings that indicate the form used to talk about actions or events in the future ('will ...'). Examples are:

If you wish to change a verb, for example to order someone to do something, then you must take off the ending and add a different one. The ending you add depends on which class the verb belongs to. For example:

There are other endings to show other meanings, like present ('is doing ...'), or past ('did ...'), continuously doing, and so on. These are part of the gammar of Gamilaraay.

Some Gamilaraay words containing a hyphen are listed under other words. These are the compound words. Their first part is the root (the word they appear under) and the last part is a suffix which modifies the meaning of the root. There are many suffixes in Gamilaraay.

For example, you will find yuularaay 'full up, sated' listed under its root yuul :

yuul n
  • vegetable food
  • see also thii
  • yuul-araay n
    full up, sated, *literally 'having vegetable food'

The same suffix is seen in the language name Gamilaraay , as in:

gamil part
  • not, *eg. Gamil ngaya gamilaraay guwaalda 'I do not speak Gamilaraay', Gamil ngaya nginu buruma bumaay 'I did not hit your dog'
  • gamil-araay n
    language name, tribal name, *literally 'having not', eg. Gamilaraay nginda guwaalda 'You are speaking Gamilaraay'

2. The type of word

Following the Gamilaraay word is a code for the type of word, that is, what grammatical part of speech it is. It is important to know what type of word is to be used because this affects the endings that it will take and also where you can put it in the sentence. The types of words in Gamilaraay are:

All the verbs have v for their part of speech. Gamilaraay verbs are divided into two types:

The following sentences show the two types of verbs:

Marithu buruma bumali 'The man will hit the dog'
Mari yanay 'The man will go'
3. Translation

Next you will find one or more translations of the Gamilaraay word's meaning into English. The translations give the nearest word in English, but translations are never quite the same in meaning. To understand the meaning fully, you need to ask a Gamilaraay speaker.

Sometimes one Gamilaraay word corresponds to two or more English words. Multiple translations with unrelated meanings are are numbered (eg. 1, 2, 3); those that are related are labelled with letters (a, b, c etc.). Compare the following examples:

balaa n
  • 1. oak tree
  • 2. white

guraarr adj
  • a. long
  • b. tall

4. Additional Information

Following names for some birds and animals you will find a Latin term that scientists use. These scientific names come from some standard reference books ; a reference to the book and the page number follows each scientific name, for example:

gidjirrigaa n
  • budgerigar, Melopsittacus undulatus [Cp422]

Following the translation you will sometimes find extra information about the word or its meaning. There are several types:

  1. ethnographic notes, indicated by Ethn., which provide details about Gamilaraay culture, beliefs, the kinship system, uses of plants and animals etc.

  2. examples of word usage, indicated by eg., which give Gamilaraay sentences and their English translations illustrating how the word is used. These examples come from Stephen Wurm's recordings made in 1955.

  3. reconstituted forms, indicated by *recon, which are words found in old sources but which cannot be confirmed from modern recordings by trained researchers.

  4. other notes, indicated by *, which give other types of extra information. Information from Kay Kneale's book A meemee's memories is indicated by "KK". Words which the Gamilaraay took over from English to describe new things are indicated as "*loan from English".

  5. several plants, birds and animals are given their scientific names in italics, eg. Diplatia grandibractea

Here are some examples:

baan n
  • mistletoe, Ethn. KK says "used to treat sores; leaves boiled in a little water and infusion drunk or applied externally to infected wounds" (Kneale 1984:18) , *KK gloss "coolibah mistletoe (Diplatia grandibractea)"

gandjibal n
  • policeman, *loan from English 'constable'

gunithaa n
  • orphan, *also the town Gunnedah

gunthi n
  • house, *eg. Nhama gunthitha ngarrili 'He is sitting in the house'

There may also be some links, or cross-references to other words in the dictionary. These are labelled see also. You can click on these links to go to the entry for the word displayed:

ngurran n
  • wild dog
  • see also marayin, mirri, buruma

In the dictionary, you could click on marayin, mirri, or buruma, and the hypertext dictionary would take you to their entries.


Every language in the world has its own system of pronunciation. We can only learn to speak a language properly by listening to people who speak it.

We can also use writing (or spelling) to record approximately how to pronounce words. The spelling system used to write some languages, such as Italian, are clear and simple, but the spelling for English is quite complicated.

The spelling system used for the Gamilaraay Dictionary is simple and consistent; every sound is spelled just one way and every letter or string of letters is pronounced just one way.

1. Vowels

Gamilaraay has three simple vowels which are written a, i, and u. These letters are pronounced as they are for most European languages, not English:


There is another pronunciation of the letter a. After w, a stands for an "o" sound, as in:

Some Gamilaraay words have long vowel sounds, which are written with double letters:

2. Consonants

Most of the letters for Gamilaraay consonants are used in the same way as for English. However, some are different. Some pairs of letters are pronounced as a single sound, just as English use sh for the single sound at the beginning of ship, or th for the single sound at the beginning of thick.

Letters with the same sound as in English are:

  b  d  g  l  m  n  w  y 

To speakers of English, the Gamilaraay consonant sounds b, d, and g may sound like p, t, or k respectively, especially at the beginning of words. This is because the two languages have different sound systems. The Gamilaraay sounds are in reality half-way between the pairs of English sounds, so to English speakers Gamilaraay's b sometimes sounds like b and sometimes like p.

The following letters are used differently from English spelling:

  1. ng is the sound of ng in singing.
    Although ng has two letters, it represents one sound. It is the sound found in Gamilaraay words like garrangay 'black duck'. English also uses ng in the middle of words, often for the same sound as in Gamilaraay (eg. hanger). However, in words like finger, ng represents two sounds - in Gamilaraay we write these as ngg, as in yinggil 'lazy'.

    Notice that many Gamilaraay words begin with ng , like ngaya 'I' and nginda 'you'.

    In Gamilaraay the sound of n can come before g, so there are two sounds one after the other. To prevent confusion with the single sound ng, we write a full stop between the two letters to separate them (it looks like n.g). This is found in words like wan.guy 'pademelon wallaby'.

  2. nh sounds like n but is made with the tongue between the teeth.
    It is found in words like nhurraay 'black snake'.
  3. th is like t made with the tongue tip between the teeth.
    It sounds like English th in thick but is shorter and without the blowing sound. An example is thina 'foot'.
  4. dj sounds like English j in jam.
    An example is giidjaa 'black ant'.
  5. ny is a single sound pronounced like n in the English word onion (or the Spanish word señor).
    ny is one sound; it is not pronounced as n followed by y. An example is minya 'what'.
  6. there are two r sounds in Gamilaraay.
    One represents an American-sounding r and is spelled simply r. The other sounds rolled like a Greek or Scottish r and is spelled rr. Compare:
    • mara 'hand'
    • girran 'ashes'

    For some Gamilaraay speakers the double rr is very short and can sound like a short d. So, the Gamilaraay word warrul 'honey' sometimes sounds like the English word "woddle" (remembering that wa sounds like "wo"). Similarly, yinarr 'woman' sometimes sounds like "in-ud", and bandarr 'kangaroo' sometimes sounds like "bun-daad".
    In some words reconstituted from old sources it is impossible to tell which r-sound was really recorded (most non- Gamilaraay people did not realise that the language had two r's). In these cases, the word is spelled in the dictionary with a capital R, to show that we don't know whether the word was pronounced with r or rr. An example is buRunda 'black swan'.
  7. Gamilaraay's w and y are pronounced like English.
    The exceptions are that at the beginnings of words w may be left out before u, and y may be left out before i. Examples are wugan and ugan for 'wood' and yinarr and inarr for 'woman'.
    When y follows a or aa, it is pronounced together with them. So ay sounds like the ay in say (like an ei sound), while aay is longer like the sound in my or buy (Gamilaraay aay is like a long a followed by i). Examples are:
    • gaygay 'cat fish' sounds like "gei-gei"
    • thalay 'tongue' sounds like "thullei"
    • gaayli 'child' sounds like "gaailee"
    • walaay 'camp' sounds like "wolaai"
    • yaraay 'sun' sounds like "yaraai"

3. Syllables and stress

Vowels and consonants go together to make syllables. Words are made up of two, three, four or more syllables. For example, yira 'tooth' has two syllables: yi and ra, bumali 'to hit' has three syllables: bu, ma, and li.

The number of syllables affects the rhythm of a word's pronunciation.

In most languages, words are pronounced with greater stress or emphasis on some syllables than others. These stressed syllables sound louder and longer. For example, the English word 'woman' is pronounced with emphasis on the first syllable - it is WOman, not woMAN. Other words have the second syllable stressed, for example 'away' is aWAY not Away.

Gamilaraay also pronounces some syllables with more stress than others. Here are some rules for correctly pronouncing Gamilaraay words:

  1. if a word has long (or double) vowels then emphasis or stress goes on the long (double) vowels , as in:
    • baabili 'to sleep' is pronounced BAA-bili
    • yuulngin 'hungry' is pronounced YUUL- ngin
    • thalaa 'where' is pronounced tha-LAA
    • guliirr 'wife' is pronounced gu-LIIRR
    • guduu 'cod' is pronounced gu-DUU
  2. When a word has two long (double) vowels then the emphasis is equal on both, as in:
    • thiinaa 'honeycomb' is pronounced THII-NAA
    • giidjaa 'black ant' is pronounced GII-JAA
    • guniinii 'queen bee' is pronounced gu-NII- NII
  3. if a word does not have any long (or double) vowels then emphasis or stress goes on the first syllable:
    • mara 'hand' is pronounced MAra
    • bumali 'to hit' is pronounced BUmali
    • thulumay 'thunder' is pronounced THUlumay

The Gamilaraay rule for syllable stress is simply:

"stress always goes on long (double) vowels or else on the first syllable if there is no long (double) vowel in the word."

Gamilaraay puts a weaker stress on the other syllables. This is especially important for pronouncing long words correctly. The principle for putting weak stress in the correct place is:

"weak stress goes on short vowels that are two syllables to the left or right of a stressed syllable"
Here are some examples:
  1. thirrithirri 'willie wagtail'. This word has no long vowels, so main stress goes on the first syllable thi. Count forward two vowels to find that weak stress goes on the next thi syllable. The correct pronunciation is THI-rri-THI-rri.

  2. gaarrumali 'to steal'. This word has a long vowel aa so a main stress goes on the first syllable. Counting forward two vowels puts the weak stress on ma. The correct pronunciation is GAA-rru-MA-li.

  3. ngandabaa 'red snake'. The main stress goes on this word's long vowel aa at the end. Counting back two vowels takes us to the first syllable, so the correct pronunciation is NGAN-da-BAA.

  4. galinggalii 'intestine'. This word has a long vowel ii at the end which must have the main stress. Counting back two vowels gives us the syllable ling, so this word is pronounced ga-LING-ga-LII.
Using these few rules you can pronounce and spell Gamilaraay words correctly.