Index cards relating to language research

Archive Collections / Dr Norman Barnett Tindale / Index cards relating to language research
Date Range1921  -  1991
Quantity   109   items: 49 type 3.1 boxes, 60 metal file drawers
CollectionDr Norman Barnett Tindale
ArrangedAlphabetical (order imposed by archives)
Series IdentifierAA338/07

This series comprises two sets of index cards. The first, stored in shoeboxes, was brought to the museum from California after Tindale's death in 1993. The second, housed in green metal drawers, remained at the museum after Tindale's retirement in the 1960s.

338/7/1/1 to 338/7/1/50 - Shoeboxes

These cards relate to a number of research concerns, including:

  • general vocabulary collection (roughly 25% of items);

  • South East of South Australia place name research for the Geographical Names Board (roughly 25% of items); and


  • the use of vocabulary to map distributional patterns of cultural and natural phenomena across Australia (roughly 50% of items).



Tindale compiled the index cards from data he gathered in the field as well as from published literature and maps. These data were transcribed onto 7.6 x 12.6 cm index cards, and filed under tribe or subject headings. The information contained varies from card to card, depending on the particular research concern. A typical card contains a headword, a gloss, a tribe, a location and a reference. In many cases, cards contain further information about the functions of an item of material culture, mythological associations of a place name or information concerning tribal distribution, for example. If a word is drawn from the literature, it usually appears as a headword transcribed in Tindale's favoured orthographic system (IPA). It is important to appreciate, however, that this does not necessarily mean that Tindale heard the word pronounced and is thus providing a more accurate transcription.

The cards only rarely follow alphabetical order, and in which case they usually follow a particular system. For example, 'b's are filed with 'p's, 'd's with 't's and 'g's with 'k's. Tindale also used a colour coding system for many of his South East of South Australia (SE of SA) cards. Coding enabled him to move cards from one section (language) to another for comparative purposes and to assist retrieval.

Place name work led to a further peculiarity: within a single shoebox there may be two sections for a particular language: one consisting of place names and the other of general vocabulary items. This arrangement assisted Tindale in his attempts to establish English glosses and Aboriginal etymologies for place names found in the literature, on maps and in his manuscript materials. Many of the SE of SA place names are traceable to the pages of his 'Journal of Researches in the South East of S Australia' and 'Murray River Notes', and often indicate the identity of the informant (see Journals AA 338/1/33/1-3 and AA 338/1/31/1-2). The Atlas of South Australia, 1986 is an important published source for Tindale's place names.

Many of the cards contain references to information recorded on a map. See also map series AA 338/24 South East of South Australia - Hundreds and Counties.

The major portion of the shoebox files are devoted to Tindale's interest in using vocabulary to map the distributional patterns of cultural and natural phenomena across the continent (with the apparent exception of Tasmania). His research activities included tracing the distribution pattern of words for an animal (e.g., 'dingo'), a resource (e.g., 'water'), and an item of material culture (e.g., 'boomerang') (see Maps AA 338/22).

A number of cards may be classified as 'odd/working notes', and include notes on orthographic systems, informants, bibliographic references, for example. Also note that cards, such as those relating to material culture, occasionally include illustrations.


AA 338/7/2/1 to AA 338/7/2/60 - Green metal drawers

The green metal filing drawers remained at the museum after Tindale left for America in the 1960s.They contain vocabularies gathered from published literature sources and Tindale's fieldwork in many locations across Australia, and include vocabularies for particular languages as well as parallel and regional vocabularies.

Included Items