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When referring to an Australian context, as opposed to Aboriginal Canadians, or indigenous people worlwide, should "Aborigine" (and "Aboriginal") be capitalised?

I tried googling, but the hits I found were usually from government or advocacy websites about aborigines, and may reflect political biases rather than expert English knowledge, rather than websites about the English language.

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What expert English knowledge would be relevant to determining how a word labelling a group of people should be written? Such matters are determined by the conventions agreed by a well-functioning society -- termed political biases by those who disagree. – Fortiter Aug 2 '13 at 13:39
Have you looked at how the terms are written on Australian (especially Australian Government) websites? – TrevorD Aug 2 '13 at 14:41
@Fortiter I would like to point you towards the second half of this site's name, Usage, which very much includes all these political and social aspects that govern language usage. – Avner Shahar-Kashtan Aug 4 '13 at 5:35

2 Answers 2

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Yes. In the Australian context “Aborigine” and “Aboriginal Australian” should appear capitalized because they are acting as proper nouns referring to specific group. When being used to refer to indigenous people in general they would not be capitalized. For example if you were to write:

This is a fine piece of aborigine art.

you would be talking about a piece of art created by the original inhabitants of their respective region. But if you were you to write:

This is a fine piece of Aborigine art.

You would be talking about an artwork from the Aboriginal Australian culture.

Thus one could write:

The aboriginal people of Australia are the Aborigine.

And, if—for some reason—you were to write:

This is a fine piece of Aborigines art.

You would be referring to the Roman myth.

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Note that some people would consider your examples of usage as offensive. (See as an example.) Preferred use would be 'The aboriginal people of Australia are the Aboriginal people.' The distinction is that they are people, not something other than people. Similarly it would be considered by some to be offensive to talk of 'Aborigine art'. More usual would be 'This is a fine piece of Aboriginal art.' – Richard A Mar 13 '14 at 22:10

Oh my goodness, the person above has no knowledge of how to use the term correctly! You could get into big trouble for being so racially insensitive. An Australian here:

Aboriginal is the singular. Aborigines is the collective nown.

So the correct term is 'Aboriginal Art' not 'Aborigine Art'. Though it is grammatically correct, you could say this is 'an Aborigine's piece of art' but you would never refer to a person in such an objectified manner in practice.

The most important thing to be aware of is that the indigenous peoples of Australia are made up of HUNDREDS of tribes, each with their own diverse customs, culture and language. Therefore it is more appropriate often to refer to the tribe itself, rather than the generic collective label.

Eg. Wurundjeri elder, William Barak...

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This article clarifies the usage nicely: – CLB Sep 8 at 6:06

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