|Created by||Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre|
|Ethnicity||Not a specific ethnic group (most presumably, mixed-race descendants of Tasmanian Aborigines)|
|Sources||Eastern Tasmanian, Northeastern Tasmanian languages and Flinders island lingua franca|
|ISO 639-3||None (|
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 once spoken by the eastern Aboriginal Tasmanians. The centre wishes to keep the language private until it is established in the community and claims copyright. However, languages cannot get copyright under Australian or international law.
The Tasmanian languages were decimated after the British colonisation of Tasmania and the Black War. The last native speaker of any of the languages, Fanny Cochrane Smith, died in 1905.
In 1972, Robert M. W. Dixon and Terry Crowley investigated reconstructing the Tasmanian languages from existing records, in a project funded by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. 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 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 and Eastern Tasmanian 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 palawa and pakana, which come from different languages and both mean (Tasmanian) person.
The words need to be reconstructed from the English pronunciation spellings that they were recorded in. For example, in 1830 the local name for Hobart was recorded as nib.ber.loon.ne and niberlooner. Allowing for the distortions that occurred when linguistically naive Europeans tried recording Tasmanian words, the centre reconstructs the name as nipaluna.
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. 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 animated television series Little J & Big Cuz was the first television show to feature an episode entirely in Palawa kani, which was broadcast on the NITV network in 2017. Lutana Spotswood gave a eulogy in Palawa kani at the funeral of the Tasmanian Premier Jim Bacon. 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, 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.
Main article: Tasmania § Toponomy
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 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.
The vowels are a i u and the diphthong ay ('ei') and uy ('oi').
Consonant clusters include pr, tr and kr.
Like most mainland languages, Tasmanian languages lacked sibilants (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:
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. 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.
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.
|ya pulingina milaythina mana-mapali-tu||Greetings to all of you here on our land|
|mumirimina laykara milaythina mulaka tara||It was here that the Mumirima people hunted kangaroo all over their lands|
|raytji mulaka mumirimina||It was here that the white men hunted the Mumirimina|
|mumirimina-mapali krakapaka laykara||Many Mumirimina died as they ran|
|krakapaka milaythina nika-ta||Died here on their lands|
|waranta takara milaythina nara takara||We walk where they once walked|
|waranta putiya nayri||And their absence saddens us|
|nara laymi krakapaka waranta-tu manta waranta tunapri nara.||But they will never be dead for us as long as we remember them.|
Other versions are available, including one with a sound recording.