Dictionary of Sydney

The Dictionary of Sydney was archived in 2021.

Spelling Aboriginal Names in English

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Unvoiced consonants

In all currently spoken Aboriginal languages, the sounds for 'k' and 'g' are not distinguished as meaningful – they are made with the teeth, tongue and lips in exactly the same position, the only difference is the vocal chords are flapped for what English speakers hear as a hard 'g'.

The same applies with 't' and 'd' and with 'p' and 'b'. These are known as 'paired', unvoiced voiced consonants. Since the 1930s, linguists working out the standard spelling for Aboriginal words have had to choose one or the other, as they have done for Pitjantjatjara. The most common choice is the unvoiced consonant, that is, 'k', 't' and 'p' – this means the 'g' is still available to use for nasal sounds like 'ng', but the meaning is still the same.


That said, some Aboriginal languages have accents that use the voiced or unvoiced consonant more than the other. So to an English speaker, the 'g' sound seems more like 'k' when it is spoken by people from the NSW south coast but more like 'g' when people from the north coast – like Lismore – say it.

Over time, many local Aboriginal people in the nineteenth century tried to work out how best to spell their own names when written in English. In Gogi's case, Jonathon Goggey or his father had tried to take account of this by having a standard way to write their name – which suggests their pronunciation was more north coast of New South Wales with a hard 'g'. So while 'Cogy' and 'Kogy' might both have been written down by early Europeans, neither of them reflects actual pronunciation.