Gunai language

The Gunai language (/ˈɡʌn/ GUN-eye, also spelt Gunnai, Ganai, Gaanay, Kurnai, Kurnay /ˈkɜːrn/ KUR-nye) is an Australian aboriginal dialect cluster of the Gunai people in Gippsland in south-east Victoria. Bidhawal (Birrdhawal) was either a divergent dialect or a closely related language.[4]


Gunai means 'man'. The language had no traditional name, but each of its dialects was referred to separately.

In a 1996 report to the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages, Clark refers to five Gunai dialects: Brabralung, Braiakalung, Brataualung, Krauatungalung and Tatungalung.[5]

  • Braiakalung (Bra = Man, ak = west, lung = belonging to) located around Sale through to the mountains.
  • Brataualung (men belonging to this place which have fire; Bra = men, Taua or towera = fire, lung = belonging to) located in South Gippsland.
  • Krauatungalung (Kraut = east, lung = belonging to) located eastwards to the Snowy River.
  • Tatungalung (tat = sea, lung = belonging to) located in the coast area between Lake King and Lake Wellington.[6]

Gunai dialects have been confused with Muk-thang/Bidhawal; there appear to be two distinct languages here, but it's not clear which variety belongs to which.[4][7]


Like other Victorian languages, Gunai allowed initial ⟨l⟩ in its words. However, it also allowed initial ⟨rr⟩, and well as the clusters ⟨gr⟩ (⟨kr⟩) and ⟨br⟩ (⟨pr⟩). This is quite unusual for an Australian language, and the same pattern was found in the Tasmanian languages across Bass Strait.


Labial Dental Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar
Stop p/b / t/d ʈ/ɖ c/ɟ k/ɡ
Nasal m n ɳ ɲ ŋ
Rhotic r
Lateral l
Approximant w ɻ j



Front Central Back
High i u
Mid e o
Low a


Since the early 1990s, the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages (VACL) organisation, established the Yirruk-Tinnor Gunnai/Kŭrnai language program which focused on reviving and reclaiming the Gunnai language of Gippsland. Doris Paton, Coordinator of the Program and Lynnette Solomon-Dent, Language worker and consultant are involved in the program. They have been responsible for developing a number of resource materials to support and educate further knowledge of the Gunnai language and Culture. Lynnette Solomon-Dent co-wrote with Christina Eira the VACL Linguist, the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) Aboriginal Languages, cultures and reclamation in Victorian schools: standards P-10 and protocols and were involved in the VCE Revival and Reclamation Study. These teaching documents and resources are collectively used to educate school aged children P-10, VCE, higher learning institutions and the Aboriginal community members, to further their knowledge and allow community members to continue to educate future generations.[10]

Placenames possibly derived from the Gunai language

A number of placenames in Gunai country feature the ending -munjie, meaning "place".

Placename Origin
Boolarra Thought to mean "plenty".[11]
Briagolong From the name of the Braiakulung clan.
Buchan From Bukkan-munjie, meaning "place of the bag".
Croajingolong National Park From the name of the Krauatungulung clan.
Moe From the term Mouay meaning "swamp", in reference to the large swamp present before being drained by early European settlers.
Morwell Allegedly the anglicised form of the Gunai words more willie meaning woolly possum.[12] However, other sources debate this, as the Gunai word for possum was wadthan, as opposed to wille or wollert in Kulin languages further west.[13]
Traralgon Origin uncertain. It is popularly believed to be derived from words tarra meaning "river" and algon meaning "little fish". However, these words are not reflected in modern linguists' knowledge of the Gunai language, where, for example, the word for river is wun wun or wurn wurn.[14]
Some sources give spoonbill,[15] others a type of duck.[16]
Yallourn Possibly from a term for "brown fire".[17]
Yarram Possibly from a term Yarraam Yarraam meaning "plenty of water".
Yinnar Thought to be from the word for "woman".[18]



  1. ^ "Census 2016, Language spoken at home by Sex (SA2+)". ABS. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  2. ^ Dixon, R. M. W. (2002). Australian Languages: Their Nature and Development. Cambridge University Press. p. xxxv.
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Ganaic". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. ^ a b c S68 Gunnai (cover term) at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies  (see the info box for additional links)
  5. ^ Ian D. Clark, Aboriginal Language Areas In Victoria, A Report to the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages, 14 July 2006. Accessed November 24, 2008
  6. ^ Dent, Lynnette (1993). Koorie Studies; Koorie and Non-Korrie teaching and learning together. Victoria: The Centre for Language & Learning. p. 17.
  7. ^ S68 Muk-Thang at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  8. ^ Gardner, P. D. (1996). The language of the Kurnai tribes of Gippsland : with notes on grammar and pronunciation. pp. 9–10.
  9. ^ Fesl, Eve (1985). Ganai : a study of the Aboriginal languages of Gippsland based on 19th century materials. pp. 80–92.
  10. ^ "Welcome to VACL". Retrieved 15 May 2011.
  11. ^ Boolarra town history
  12. ^ THE NAME OF MORWELL. (9 December 1940). Gippsland Times (Vic. : 1861 - 1954), p. 8. Retrieved 14 October 2013, from
  13. ^ Indigenous and Minority Placenames of Victoria
  14. ^ Gardner, PD. 1992, Names of East Gippsland; their origins, meanings and history, Ngaruk Press, Ensay
  15. ^ Profile areas Wy Yung, Lucknow, East Bairnsdale
  16. ^ Wy Yung - Victorian Places
  17. ^ Yallourn - Victorian Places
  18. ^ Mickelethwaite Curr, Edward (1886). "The Australian Race: its origin, languages, customs, place of landing in Australia and the routes by which it spread itself over the continent", p.320. J. Ferres.