Bruce Lee in Noongar.

Barry McGuire writes for the Guardian:

As Noongar kids in the Western Australian wheatbelt town of Kellerberrin, we grew up with blue-eyed comic book superheroes and black-and-white TV shows about cowboys and Indians. […] Then Bruce Lee came along. He was a hero different to all the other heroes. I first saw Bruce Lee, brave, powerful and lightning-fast, when his 1971 debut film The Big Boss came to the Kellerberrin drive-in. […]

A few short decades later, I’m proud to be part of a project in which Bruce Lee fights for justice and speaks to us in our own language here on Noongar Boodjar in south-western Australia. Lee’s 1972 movie Fist of Fury is being redubbed for a new audience as Fist of Fury Noongar Daa, an all-Noongar version to be screened at the 2021 Perth festival. It’s set in 1910 and I speak Noongar instead of Cantonese as a friend of Bruce Lee’s character Chen Zhen who fights to avenge the death of his master and for China’s honour against foreign colonial aggressors. […]

The Perth festival artistic associate, Kylie Bracknell, adapted and directed Hecate, the all-Noongar Macbeth at the 2020 festival as part of the 10-year Noongar Shakespeare Project to promote Noongar language to the world. […] With Fist of Fury Noongar Daa, many of the Noongar artists from Hecate have turned from The Bard to The Bruce for the 2021 Perth festival.

Fist of Fury Noongar Daa was inspired by Navajo Star Wars, a 2013 Navajo-dub of the original Star Wars film. Working with huge cultural figures like Bruce Lee and Shakespeare as well as Star Wars is an effective way to make people sit up and pay attention to what you’re doing. This is a language reclamation project nestled inside an Australian-first dub in a language spoken by only 2% of the entire Noongar population. […] Through Fist of Fury Noongar Daa, our language is now living in a different area of life but it is the same vibration. When I saw the first footage in our language, I giggled so much. It took me back to sitting at the Kellerberrin drive-in, but thinking, “Hey, this time this is my language and I understand it.”

I love projects like this. Thanks, Bathrobe!


  1. David Eddyshaw says

    huge cultural figures like Bruce Lee and Shakespeare

    Party game!

    Aristotle and Jerry Lewis!
    Mary Shelley and Cher!
    Bruce Willis and Dostoevsky! (Actually, no: I can see that one …)

  2. I want to see Bruce Willis as Dostoevsky in a movie of The House of the Dead.

  3. Of course, I have no objections to translating Shakespeare or Bruce Lee movies into other languages. However, I do bristle at any version of Macbeth that not just includes but actually focuses on the spurious character of Hecate.


    “Just you wait” in Even language

  5. There is a great push in trying to use Noongar / Nyungar place names and to revive the language, which i think is fantastic. I’ve even attended a language course in the local TAFE, which was quite interesting.

    There are shows in TV and signage all over the place in Noongar. Some people are calling it the Noongar ascendancy.

    While I am all for efforts of trying to revive native languages, I fear that a lot of Noongar has been lost. There is a bit preserved in a dozen or so (maybe half a dozen) colonial era and early 20 c. sources, but not nearly as much as you’d like if you’re trying to revive a language.

    The revived language grammar looks very similar to English, as is the phonology.

  6. Rodger C says

    I do bristle at any version of Macbeth that not just includes but actually focuses on the spurious character of Hecate.

    You’ve got to admit she’s good theater. I once saw a TV production of Verdi’s Macbeth in which she was a huge effigy with a triple face.

  7. Jen in Edinburgh says

    any version of Macbeth that not just includes but actually focuses on the spurious character of Hecate

    Including Shakespeare’s?

    There’s a real story of Mac Bethad mac Findlaích out there, of course, but that’s not what most people would mean by a ‘version of MacBeth’.

  8. Curtin University has a free edX Noongar class online. I only checked out the first or second lesson, so did not get much into the grammar, but I could see how tense/aspect distinctions and the number of cases could easily get “Englishified”. @zyxt do you know of any examples comparing between a more “traditional” Noongar grammar and the revived grammar?

  9. J.W. Brewer says

    How is “Noongar” pronounced (either by its own speakers or by those who speak only AustEng) and does that shed any light on the phonotactical issue being discussed in the other thread?

  10. David Eddyshaw says

    Judging by this

    the oo in the standard orthography represents (short) /ʊ/ (which seems to be a common choice in Australian practical orthographies.)

  11. @Jen in Edinburgh: Hecate in the play Macbeth is almost certainly an interpolation by Thomas Middleton.

  12. @DC

    Thanks for the link. I’ll be sure to look into it.

    Traditional grammar for example makes use of cases, the dual number and verb final word order. In the examples of the revived language i’ve been exposed to those features are lacking.

    @JW Brewer

    It’s pronounced with an initial N. I suspect this is due to English influence, because all colonial references have an initial NY, except for one dialect which has an initial Y.

  13. John Cowan says

    but that’s not what most people would mean by a ‘version of MacBeth’

    Well, “Merugud Uilix maicc Leirtis” isn’t exactly the Odyssey either, though it could perhaps be described as the oldest piece of Odyssey fanfic.

  14. January First-of-May says

    the oldest piece of Odyssey fanfic

    …I immediately thought of several older texts (in particular, the Aeneid itself, though it turns out there are even older ones), but of course they’re far better described as Iliad fanfic. I was indeed unable to find any specifically Odyssey fanfic older than this (ca. 1200 apparently).

  15. Book 24 of The Odyssey itself is probably a sanctified fanfic.

  16. The discrepancy in spelling is quite odd: “Nyungar (/ˈnjʊŋɡər/; also Noongar) is an Australian Aboriginal language or dialect continuum, still spoken by members of the Noongar community, who live in the southwest corner of Western Australia.” You’d think there would be consistency in official terminology, even if usage varies. Also, what are the /g/ and final /r/ doing in /ˈnjʊŋɡər/? The Noongar article has /ˈnʊŋɑː/ (and says “also spelt Noongah, Nyungar, Nyoongar, Nyoongah, Nyungah, Nyugah, Yunga”).

  17. January First-of-May says

    …just realized that Noongar (however spelled) is surely the “Nyunga” of “Pama-Nyungan”.

  18. Good catch!

    The name “Pama–Nyungan” is derived from the names of the two most widely separated groups, the Pama languages of the northeast and the Nyungan languages of the southwest. The words pama and nyunga mean “man” in their respective languages.

    That might eventually have occurred to me…

  19. @languagehat

    The closest we have to an official spelling is in the dictionary that David Eddyshaw linked to.

    The pronunciation with a G, shwa and final R is an (?American) English pronunciation. In Western Australian English there is no shwa or final R. Instead it is just [a]

    Regarding the G: according to the Macquarie Dictionary there is only NG, no G.

    {I had to use capital letters in the absence of IPA on my keyboard.}

  20. The pronunciation with a G, shwa and final R is an (?American) English pronunciation. In Western Australian English there is no shwa or final R. Instead it is just [a]

    That’s what I suspected. Someone should change it; it is, after all, an Australian name.

  21. Reporting back on Noongar:

    I did the edX course that pc linked above. (Thanks pc)

    The course was called Noongar Language and Culture. Definitely a lot of culture and not a lot of language. Though you do learn about 200 words.

    Re culture: There is also a reference to more Shakespeare in Noongar: Yirra Yaakins’ production of Shakespeare’s Sonnets in Noongar as well as a whole module on Noongar and the arts: Wongka, doodjarak wer nyumbi (Story, song and dance)

    Re language: Here are my course notes on the pronunciation (apologies if the formatting is out of whack):

    a Kambarang (Kambarang season) as in ‘cat’
    [ˈkaɱbɹaŋ, ˈkaɱbaɹaŋ]
    aa kaa-kaa (kookaburra) as in ‘car’
    e djena/djen (foot) as in ‘ten’
    [ˈdʒena, dʒen]
    i bidit (ants) as in ‘hit’
    [ˈbidit̠] t is alveolar or postalveolar
    o nop (boy) as in ‘stop’
    oo koolbardi (magpies) as in ‘book’
    [ˈkulbaɹdi, ˈkulbaɹɖi]

    B bindi-bindi (butterfly) as in ‘bin’
    Bw bwoka (kangaroo cloak) as in ‘bw’
    D darp (knife) as in ‘dark’
    Dj djen (foot) as in ‘judge’
    Dw dwert (dog) as in ‘twitch’
    [dwɜɹt, dwɜt]
    K kar (spider) as in ‘skill’
    Kw kwila (shark) as in ‘quiet’
    L kwillena (dophin) as in ‘quill’
    [ˈkwilǝna, ˈkwilena]
    -ly bilya (river) as in ‘million’
    [ˈbilja, ˈbiːlja]
    M maaman (men) or maam (man) as in ‘man’
    [ˈmaːmǝn, maːm]
    N noort (fly) as in ‘nil’
    [noɹt, noːɹt]
    Ng Ngany (me, I/I am) as in ‘sing’
    Ny nyininy (sitting) as in ‘onion’
    -p nop (boy) as in ‘spin’
    rn ngarna (ours) as in ‘barn’ said rolling the r like a pirate
    [ˈŋaɹna, ˈŋaːna]
    -rd karda (racehorse goanna) as in ‘card’ said rolling the r like a pirate
    -rt moort (family) as in ‘cart’ said rolling the r like a pirate
    [moːɹt̠, moːʈ] t is alveolar or postalveolar
    -rl worl (sky) as in ‘whirl’ said rolling the r like a pirate
    [woːɫ, woːɭ]
    -rn yoornaa (bobtail) as in ‘torn’
    -t kaat (head/hill) as in ‘hot’
    [kaːt̠] t is alveolar or postalveolar
    -tj wetj (emu) as in ‘chair’
    [weitʃ, wæitʃ]
    w waardiny (searching) as in ‘well’
    y yongka (kangaroo) as in ‘yell’

    The course is light on grammar. Other sources I consulted seem conflicted on whether or not it is an ergative language like the ones surrounding it. The sentences in the course are pretty simple, sometimes lacking the accusative case, and sometimes with the accusative. The other case used is locative or prepositional. SOV word order prevails.

  22. Thanks, that’s very useful! I presume the second all-caps heading should read CONSONANT NOONGAR WORD EXAMPLE SOUNDS LIKE IN ENGLISH. Other questions I have:

    oo koolbardi (magpies) as in ‘book’
    [ˈkulbaɹdi, ˈkulbaɹɖi]

    D darp (knife) as in ‘dark’

    There seems to be an inconsistency in the use of -r-; my impression is that in other orthographies single -r- indicates long vowel (as in darp [daːp]) and double -rr- is used for an actual consonant (so I would expect [ˈkulbaɹdi] to be spelled koolbarrdi). Although ngarna [ˈŋaɹna, ˈŋaːna] suggests it can be either in the same word, which is confusing.

    Bw bwoka (kangaroo cloak) as in ‘bw’

    Should that be [ˈbwoka]? What level of representation to the brackets indicate?

    Ny nyininy (sitting) as in ‘onion’

    Presumably the bracketed form should be [ˈɲiniɲ].

  23. @languagehat

    The table should have 3 columns.:
    I’m not sure how to get the formatting to work.

    Yes, I’ve noticed the inconsistencies in the use of the letter R. The theory is that R always represents [ɹ], while RN, RD, RL, RT are retroflex sounds [ɳ], [ɖ], [ɭ], [ʈ]. Now, I’m not a phonetician, so the transcripts are how I heard the audio recordings of the words.

    In the audio recordings, there could be some ‘r’ colouring to the vowel that precedes the retroflex consonant, hence my transcription [ˈkulbaɹɖi]. I can’t account for the pronunciation [ˈkulbaɹdi], except that it might be a spelling pronunciation.

    In the word “darp” I suspect that it really should be spelled “daap”. I suspect that the “darp” spelling might reflect the Australian English spelling. I posed some of these questions to the professors running the course, but still waiting for a reply.

    Noongar spelling was supposed to have been settled by a conference of the elders some 20 years ago. But at the start of the course, there is a warning that because there is no standard dialect, a word might be spelled in different ways, based on the different dialectal pronunciations.

    Each audio recording of the word consists of two pronunciations, one at normal speed, and the other syllable by syllable, so ngarna is [ˈŋaɹna] at normal speed, and [ˈŋaːna] syllable-by-syllable.

    For bwoka, I was expecting a labialised pronunciation [ˈbʷoka] but instead heard [ˈboka]

    For nyininy, I was expecting a palatal at the end [ˈɲiniɲ] but instead heard [ˈɲinin]. Some words ending in -iny are pronounced with [iɲ] and some with [in].

    I tried using a narrow representation so as to help me get the pronunciation right.

    But I did notice a variety of realisations in the audio recordings. e.g. the name of the season that falls in April and May is spelled djeran and pronounced in one audio recording as [dʒǝˈɹæn] (atypical in my view because of the non-initial stress), and as [ˈdʒeɹǝn] in another recording. Now this could be because of dialectal differences, but it could also be spelling pronunciations: There were not many Noongar speakers 20 years ago. The numbers have grown since then, and I suspect that most have learnt it at school rather than from native speakers.

  24. Thanks! All that confusion would put me off, I’m afraid. Hard enough to learn languages when the writing system is clear and consistent…

  25. Don’t let me discourage you from learning a new language.

    It may very well be that the confusion is from my ignorance 🙁

    Besides, there seems to be a lot of money to be had at the moment in translating stuff into indigenous languages.

  26. Noongar loanwords in English

    Some Noongar words have entered English in the local speech of Western Australia. eg.
    marron – type of crustacean, prawn
    gidgee – speargun

    Maybe the most widespread is the name Kylie, which means “boomerang” in Noongar.

  27. David Marjanović says

    Is the male version Kyle backformed, then? :-/

  28. I think Kyle is a repurposed surname. It goes back far too long:

    His father was William Kyle Rote born in 1928.

    I would guess Junior was more famous for winning the Superstars TV all-around athletics competition three times against a range of professionals from more traditional American sports.

  29. Yes, Kyle is a Scottish surname, from this.

  30. John Cowan says

    Besides, there seems to be a lot of money to be had at the moment in translating stuff into indigenous languages.

    Joseph Wright to JRRT (possibly translated from Classical West Riding): “Go in for Celtic, lad, there’s money in it.” Tolkien also gives us this conversation:

    “What do you take Oxford for, lad?”

    “A university, a place of learning.”

    “Nay, lad, it’s a factory! And what’s it making? I’ll tell you. It’s making fees. Get that in your head, and you’ll begin to understand what goes on.”

    Tolkien at first rejected this as disgustingly cynical; later he described it as the truth but not the whole truth.

  31. Re translations: The bar is not high. In this booklet, eg. the word welcome [wandʒu] is spelled wandjoo on page 2 and wanju on page 3:

    But it is fascinating witnessing a language revival project. Some 20 years ago there were perhaps no more than 200 speakers left and that might be a generous estimate.

  32. Just learned from a Talk the Talk podcast: the Noongar word wadjela is a direct borrowing from English whitefella, with replacement of the /f/ sound because (like most Australian languages) Noongar has no /f/, nor any other fricatives.

    But wait, if there are no fricatives then why is Wikipedia (and some other references) telling me that the “dj” spelling represents /d͡ʒ/ , an affricate? The dictionary mentioned above says: “dj: not in standard English, but almost as in dew”. I’m guessing that means it should be a palatal stop, and telling English speakers it’s like j as in judge is as close as they can easily get.

    zyxt mentioned gidgee, a loanword in the other direction, which probably has that same phoneme. In the Noongar Dictionary it’s spelled as ketj, kitj ‘spear (glass headed spear)’. (There’s no voicing contrast.)

  33. David Marjanović says

    Palatal stops – some dorsal, some laminal – are very widespread in Australia.

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