Aussie Yarns - Dave Goddard

Stories about Australia

Month: December 2015

Presentation and Pidgin

I am heartened by many responses to this page, and thank people for taking the time to respond. Several have commented on grammar and spelling and are saying some of the stories have many mistakes.

While I don’t claim perfection in terms of presentation, I have been back through most pages and find little in the way of mispelling,  words omitted, or poor phrasing. So I am wondering if some of those comments don’t stem from not understanding the tone of the novels and short stories and my constant use of pidgin English.

So let’s see if this explanation helps. I use pidgin English as much as I do in my stories because the great majority of the stories involve Aboriginal people. In remote sites in Australia, those people generally still speak their own languages. For example, in East Arnhem Land, it is called Yolgnu Matha (Yolgnu is the name of the people and Matha means ‘speak’). In Alice Springs, the people and the language are called Arrernte. But almost everywhere, Aboriginal people also speak a form of Aboriginal English or pidgin. Note, however, that there’s no standard form of pidgin. Each language group may have variations from every other group.

A linguist may say this differently or more eruditely, but for me, there are two differences between standard English and pidgin English:

  • syntax which is the arrangement of words and phrases
  • some substitution of sounds

An example of syntax is in the way of meeting Aboriginal people. I was taught to ask, Who your mob? Where you bin prom? (Which is your language group and where is your country?) And there is the general use of the word been which sounds like bin. For example, dat pella, ‘im bin your brudda, ay? Is that man your brother?)

In Hiding Place, the following conversation takes place between Garrick Edwards, a cattle-station owner and Mick Wilson who is going to work for Garrick on one of his cattle stations, 200 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs. Garrick is explaining pidgin to Mick.

“Don’t the Aborigines around here speak English?” Mick asked with a confused expression.

Garrick looked at him strangely. “Most speak kriol or pidgin. Kriol mixes English and their language, while pidgin is a form of Aboriginal English: like shorthand English. But all of them still speak their own language fluently.”

Mick scratched his head as Garrick’s expression became one of amusement.

“Here’s some pidgin, Mick,” and Garrick spoke rapidly. “‘Who been dat pella? Where him been prom? You subby him? Him been talk punny way, ay? Him been kardiya bloke’.”

“What?” Mick shook his head quickly.

“I said, ‘Who is that man? Where is he from? Do you know him? Doesn’t he talk in a strange way? He’s a stranger in this place’.”

The other difference is sound substitution. As a general rule, there are three main substitutions:

  • the sound ‘f’ is replaced by the sound ‘p’, so football becomes pootball (Ay, we play pootball?), from becomes prom, (where you bin prom?)
  • the sound ‘v’ is therefore replaced by the sound ‘b’, so volleyball becomes bolleyball, (Ay, we play bolleyball dis day?) or very becomes berry (Dat bin berry good one)
  • the sound ‘th’ usually is said as ‘d’ or a ‘t’ (dat womans she know everyting)

I have also noticed two other things. As in the previous sentence, there is a tendency is some groups to use the plural for some singular words. There are also two words which seem to be common in every language group I have visited. One of them is ask which is always pronounced arks and the other is the word goona which, politely, can be translated as faeces, (Ay, dat pella go for goona.)

It’s a long-winded way of explaining, but I think some of the feedback regarding spelling, syntax and grammar in the Short Stories may be due to my use of pidgin. If not, feel free to write and tell me more precisely the things that seem incorrect.


I have updated the section in the Aussie Yarns website on Short Stories. They are now individual stories and a number of them contain photos. Every endeavour has been made to contact photographers where they can be identified and traced. If someone sees a photo that they have taken, please contact me at and we can discuss what you would like to happen. I also warn that one photo contain images of persons who are probably deceased (the story entitled “Assimilation”) so if that causes concern, please avoid the story.

I am pleased to be able to have updated in this way, however. The photos seem to help illustrate the themes I am trying to convey in the short stories. I trust you enjoy them.

Answering a Question 1

I received this question this morning and thought the answer might be useful to other people, too.

First off I want to say excellent blog! I had a quick question which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind. I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your mind before writing. I have had a difficult time clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out. I do enjoy writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are wasted just trying to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or hints? Many thanks!

Your question is a good one. I’ll answer by starting from a different part of my life. While being a novelist, I am also a consultant in change management. That involves formal research work for which I am well-qualified. (I will talk more about that on my next blog, because the formal research background was actually a barrier to writing fiction, which I am still dealing with. But back to the question.) When I was studying at university doing a Ph.D, I complained to my supervisor that I seemed to spend more time walking in the backyard of my house thinking than I did writing my thesis. He told me, “walking and thinking is part of your process of writing your thesis. It helps clarify and identify themes and ideas. Some people do it differently. I always did it by sitting in front of my computer and writing random thoughts about a topic as they came into my head. I wrote a lot of rubbish but I also wrote a few valuable gems. You are grounding (centering) yourself by walking and thinking.”

Perhaps you could think about a “difficult time clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out” in the same way: that it’s part of the process and not a waste of time. You could see it as centering yourself and perhaps try what my supervisor said as well: sit and write random thoughts until you feel focussed, save them, and get on with writing. Another analogy is with sport. All athletes warm up before undertaking a sprint or a high jump or a triple jump. Perhaps try to see your activity in the same way. Hope that helps.