Language of the Week: Week Two - Birria

Welcome to Week Two of the A-Z of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages!

This week's language of the week is Birria, a language spoken in Western Queensland, particularly in the area around Cooper Creek, Jundah and Whitula Creek. Birria is also known as Pirriya and is closely related to Kungkari with many shared words. The Birria language region includes the landscape within the local government boundaries of the Barcoo Shire Council.

According to Austlang, there are no known speakers of Birria; however, there are community language revival activities within the region. Oates in a 1975 linguistic survey of Australia was unable to identify known speakers and highlighted the limited vocabulary available.

Town of Jundah (1902) JOL Negative number: 60600.

Gavan Breen in his work on Western Queensland languages, includes wordlists from Birria. There is also an historical wordlist from Whitula Creek, collected in the 1870's by J Heagney, a pastoralist. The Heagney wordlist was published in Curr's "The Australian Race ..." publication - this list is somewhat unreliable and has been analysed by Breen in his work Salvage Studies of Western Queensland Aboriginal Languages.  The Birria words documented include everyday words such as animals, plants, people and country as well as several phrases or simple sentences. 

Vocabulary of the Birria Language (Curr, 1874)

On the State Library Spoken exhibition webpages, view a digital story from Central West Queensland featuring community members from neighbouring languages to Birria sharing their language journeys.


Join State Library for next week's Language of the Week - Dalleburra from North-West Queensland!


Desmond Crump

Indigenous Languages Coordinator, State Library of Queensland

State Library of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages Webpages

State Library of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages Map


Spoken: Celebrating Queensland languages exhibition

Spoken Virtual Tour

Jarjum Stories exhibition

Minya Birran: What next for Indigenous Languages?


References and Further Reading

State Library collections have some material relating to Birria; however, these are part of texts or items referring to Aboriginal languages of Western Queensland, particularly work undertaken by Gavan Breen.

Relevant items in the collections include the following:

Breen, J.G. (1990) Salvage Studies of Western Queensland Aboriginal Languages. Pacific Linguistics Series B – No. 105. Australian National University: Canberra. J499.15 BRE

Curr, E. M. (1887) The Australian Race: its origins, languages, customs, place of landing in Australia and the routes by which it spread itself over that continent. John Ferres Government Printer: Melbourne. RBF 572.994 cur

Kennedy, E. B., Turner, A. A. and Blubber Head Press (1983) Kennedy, the Barcoo and beyond, 1847: the journals of Edmund Besley Court Kennedy and Alfred Allatson Turner with new information on Kennedy's life. Blubber Head Press: Hobart. J 919.4042 BEA

Mitchell, T. L. (1969) Journal of an expedition into the interior of tropical Australia: in search of a route from Sydney to the Gulf of Carpentaria.  J 919.404 MIT

Oates, W. J. and Oates, L. (1970) A revised linguistic survey of Australia. Q 499.15 OAT

Queensland Place Names Board (n.d.) Aboriginal place names, words and meanings collected at ‘Terrick Terrick’, Blackall, Central Queensland about 1886. Queensland Place Names Board: Brisbane. VF 919.43003 que

Tindale, N. B. (1974) Aboriginal tribes of Australia: their terrain, environmental controls, distribution, limits and proper namesQ 994.0049915 tin


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There is no acknowledgement or recognition of the expertise and significant contribution my grandfather’s audio recordings which later became written material by linguists. The words, questions and sentences asked in the recordings are noted and written in documents such as the Birri Learning Guide etc.

I have petitioned North Queensland Regional Aboriginal Corporation Language Centre (NQRACLC) to formerly acknowledge and recognise my beloved grandfather Reg Dodd Snr (1906-1991) as the Primary Source for his native Birri knowledge and language (Collinsville area spoken Eastern Central Queensland). He as the primary guardian and interpreter of his cultural heritage and traditional knowledge.


·         In November 1971 Mr Dodd was recorded and noted speaking his native Birri Language by Tony Beale for Professor of Linguistics and Author Robert M. W. Dixon. Later these comprehensive notes became the Birri Learning Guide. Tony Beale 1974 “Birri-Gabba’ The handbook of Australian Languages.
·         In November 1993, Angela Terrill wrote her subthesis “Biri A Salvage Study of a Queensland Language” to the Department of Linguistics of the Australian National University for her Degree of Bachelor of Arts (Honours) where she states “Reg Dodd, recorded by Beale, is the most reliable source… the Birri dialect data is by far the most comprehensive of all the dialects… Reg Dodd had extensive nominal and pronominal paradigms, and a large variety of verbal affixes and it is for this reason that most of the examples are from him.” 

·         Terrill the author of ‘Biri’ book published in January 1998 states “The best informant is probably Reg Dodd, a speaker of the Biri dialect; he has a rich morphology, which he utilises fully and with variety… This means that the morphological and syntactic analysis to follow (chapters 3, 4 and 5) is based almost entirely on Reg Dodd's knowledge”.

I possess the audio recordings and have researched, noted and documented these recordings including my grandfather’s teachings into written Birri Language material (children’s books), resources and songs. I have Oral Permission from my Uncle Norman Dodd (84 years old) and Aunty Kathryn Dodd-Farrawell direct descendants of my grandfather.

I believe there would be NO Birri Language without my grandfather’s significant contribution and expertise.

Also I contacted austlang informing them of the circumstances.

Hello Jill - thanks for your comments; this post refers to the Birria/Pirriya language of Western Queensland [AUSTLANG Language Code L36]; your Grandfather is referenced under Birri/Biri language [Austlang Language Code E56]. Thanks, Des.