Australia’s Original Languages is a collation of over 50 years of Bob’s research. Bob said there was no evidence to show if the Indigenous languages originated from one or several different languages.
“The book talks about how the Indigenous languages are related across the continent,” he said. “The Indigenous languages have similar sound systems, consonants and vowels that would have been picked up during meetings, dances and marriages.
“However, the languages diverge so much that you can’t say that they belong to one family of languages. Each language has several different dialects. For example, there is one language spoken from Cardwell to Innisfail called Dyirbal but there were 10 different dialects.”
Throughout his career, Bob has worked closely with Indigenous Elders researching their unique culture, language and dialects. Most of his research has focused around studying Indigenous languages in north-east Queensland including: Dyirbal, Yidiny, Warrgamay, Nyawaygi and Mbabaram.
“I went to Murray Upper, near Tully and introduced myself to the people there and they adopted me into their kinship system and took me into their home and decided to teach me the language,” he said. “Most memorably, I have worked with the last speaker of Mbabaram over the range beyond Mareeba.”
Within the book, Bob explains how language relates to complex Indigenous kinship systems. A kinship system determines how people relate to each other and their roles, duties and responsibilities in the community, the land and ceremonial business.
“I found that the original nations around Cairns have a special speech tone, which is used for talking to someone who is a mother-in-law, father-in-law, son-in-law or daughter-in-law — you can't speak to them in a normal style, you have to use specific words for them.”