Getting it wrong

Over 60 per cent of the Guugu Yimidhirr words that Banks and Parkinson collected in 1770 are still spoken today.

The visitors accurately recorded the meaning of some of the words, but they did make mistakes. This was probably the result of misunderstanding gestures or imitations.

In one instance, Banks and Parkinson recorded the word for fire as ‘meanang’. But the closest Guugu Yimidhirr word is ‘minha’, meaning ‘edible meat’. You can imagine the crew and Guugu Yimidhirr people sitting around the fire cooking meat, thinking that they are pointing to the fire but accidentally pointing to the meat.