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1. The Bayala Databases



‘Baya’ is the Sydney Aboriginal language (BB) word for ‘speak’. With the RECIProcal and/or REFLexive suffix ‘-la’ it becomes ‘speak reciprocally’, or ‘converse’. These databases in a sense ‘converse’ with the user, in that they are intended to interact with him or her. They were begun sometime before 1999. They started out as a simple word list with associated meanings as in a basic foreign-language dictionary. They are the work of Jeremy Macdonald Steele and in 2005 were submitted as part of a Macquarie master’s thesis on the Sydney Aboriginal language. This thesis may be freely downloaded at <>.




The purpose of the databases is to try to find out as much about the Indigneous languages covered as possible. Take for instance the word ‘naabawinya’ used in association with another It derives from the record made by WIlliam Dawes:

Aboriginal Languages of Australia - Bayala Database

Dawes wrote it as “Nābaou-ínia”, and this on respelling in its simplest form becomes ‘nabawinya’ (without double letters or hyphens. The databases enable words such as this to be displayed revealing their constituent parts—here stem: na; future tense marker: ba; and two pronouns: wi: ‘I’ and nya: ‘thee’. All four parts of this word can then be separately searched for, and compared with other instances in other words across all the languages covered. They reveal that in south-east Queensland, na still means ‘see’, but in Perth na is an exclamation of surprise: Oh! Ah!


The Bayala databases began in a Macintosh user world, with the application Filemaker.  Filemaker’s increasing sophistication enabled these databases gradually to do more. The development was undertaken by someone with no knowledge at the outset and without instruction other than that provided by the database itself. A particular advance made by Filemaker was to become ‘relational’, to make it possible to look into another database. At the end of 2011, this is how the Bayala Databases are:

Aboriginal Languages of Australia - Bayala Database

Fig. 1.1 Summary of links within the Bayala databases

The graphic illustrates the interrelationships operating for any of the main databases.

At 2011 these included:

Language lists;






  • CURR

  • ANTHROPSOC (Antsoc)





Reference compilations

COASTAL (North, South, coastal parts of Curr and Antsoc)

INLAND (Wiradhuri, Kamilaroi and inland parts of Curr and Antsoc)












There are now tens of thousands of lines, or ‘records’ in the various Bayala databases. Here is a source for one of them. It is a word for ‘water’ as recorded in the ‘Anon’ notebook kept by the early governors, including Governor Phillip of the First Fleet. 

Aboriginal Languages of Australia - Bayala Database

Fig. 1.2 "Ba-do" badu = "Water" water  : Anon (c) [c:26:1] [BB]

The caption to this record shows the following:

“Ba-do”: the original recording in the Australian language

badu: the same, after respelling according to a consistent system

“Water”: the original translation

water: the modern translation

Anon (c): the source

[c:26:1]: notebook, page number, and line number

[BB]: the abbreviation for the language (here ‘Biyal Biyal’, the term used in these databases for ‘the classical language of Sydney’

The summary line used as a caption to the above illusttration is a complex piece of typing, yet it was in fact done with a single key combination of ‘command-shift-z’. This effect was achieved through another software application, QuicKeys.

In the summary list above, note that double quotation marks indicate that the entry captures the original as closely as reasonably possible.

Here is another example, for the future tense of the verb ‘to see’:

Aboriginal Languages of Australia - Bayala Database

Fig. 1.3 "Naabaoú" na-ba-wu = "I shall or will see etc." see will I: Dawes (a) [a:1:13] [BB]

"Naabámi" na-ba-mi = "Thou [wilt see]" see will thou: Dawes (a) [a:1:14] [BB]

Analysis of the first line, by components, as with ‘badu’:

“Naanaoú”: original record

na-ba-wu: respelt (with hyphens)

"I shall or will see etc.": original translation

see will I: modern translation

Dawes (a): source (Dawes’s Notebook ‘a’)

[a:1:14]: notebook, page, line

[BB]: language abbreviation


This is recorded in the ALLSYD database as follows:

Aboriginal Languages of Australia - Bayala Database - Further Layouts
Aboriginal Languages of Australia - Bayala Database

Fig. 1.4  As this reproduction is too small to read, the key segments are shown in larger size:

Aboriginal Languages of Australia - Bayala Database

Fig.1.5. Source information for “Naabaoú” and “Naabámi”​

Aboriginal Languages of Australia - Bayala Database

Fig.1.6. Respelling and analysis of “Naabaoú” and “Naabámi”

Aboriginal Languages of Australia - Bayala Database

Fig.1.7. Date and translation of “Naabaoú” and “Naabámi”

The colours have little significance. They were applied to distinguish one column from another. There are a large number of columns. Not all columns are used for every entry or record. The colours are applied consistently across all databases. For example, grey is used for original records, a darker shade for the Australian language, lighter for English.Brown is used for respelling; yellow for the standardised English, with shades of yellow for subsidiary parts of the standardised translation.

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