Umpila language

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Northeastern Paman
Native toAustralia
RegionCape York Peninsula, Queensland
EthnicityUmpila, Pakadji, Kaantju, Uutaalnganu (Kawadji)
Native speakers
12 (2005)[1]
Umpila Sign Language
Language codes
ISO 639-3Variously:
kbe – Kanju
kuy – Kuuku-Yaʼu
ump – Umpila
AIATSIS[1]Y45 Umpila, Y211 Uutaalnganu, Y169 Kuuku Iʼyu

Umpila is an Aboriginal Australian language, or dialect cluster, of the Cape York Peninsula. It is spoken by about 100 Aboriginals, many of them elderly.[3]

Geographic distribution[edit]

The land territory associated with the Umpila language group is located along the northeastern coast of Cape York Peninsula and stretches from the northern end of Temple Bay south to the Massey Creek region at the top of Princess Charlotte Bay, and west of the Great Dividing Range towards the township of Coen. Most of the remaining Umpila and Kuuku Ya'u speakers reside in Lockhart River Aboriginal Community, which is located at Lloyd Bay, roughly at the boundary between Umpila and Kuuku Ya'u lands.


The chief varieties of Umpila, variously considered dialects or distinct languages, are:

  • Umpila proper
  • Kanju (Kandju, Kaantyu, Gandju, Gandanju, Kamdhue, Kandyu, Kanyu, Karnu), also Jabuda, Neogulada, Yaldiye-Ho
  • Kuuku-Yaʼu (Yaʼo, Koko-Jaʼo, Kokoyao), also Bagadji (Pakadji)
  • Kuuku Yani (extinct)
  • Uutaalnganu (extinct)
  • Kuuku Iʼyu (extinct)


Umpila consonant inventory [4]

Bilabial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Stop p th t j k '
Nasals m nh n ny ng
Lateral l
Rhotic rr
Semivowels y w

Umpila vowel inventory[4]

Front Back
High i iː u uː
Low a aː


Typologically, Umpila is an agglutinative, suffixing, dependent-marking language, with a preference for Subject-Object-Verb constituent order. Grammatical relations are indicated by a split ergative case system: nominal inflections are ergative/absolutive, pronominals are nominative/accusative. Features of note include: historical dropping of initial consonants, complex verbal reduplication expressing progressivity and habitual aspect, 'optional' ergative marking.[5]

Sign language[edit]

The Umpila have (or had) a well-developed signed form of their language.[6] It is one of the primary components of Far North Queensland Indigenous Sign Language.

See also[edit]


  • Chase, A. K. 1979. Cultural Continuity: Land and Resources among East Cape York Aborigines. In Stevens, N. C. and Bailey, A. (eds). Contemporary Cape York Peninsula. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.
  • Chase, A. 1980. Which way now? Tradition, continuity and change in a north Queensland Aboriginal Community. Unpublished PhD thesis. Brisbane: University of Queensland.
  • Chase, Athol. 1984. Belonging to Country: Territory, Identity and Environment in Cape York Peninsula, Northern Australia. In L.R. Hiatt (ed) Aboriginal Landowners: Contemporary issues in the determination of traditional Aboriginal land ownership. Sydney: Sydney University Press.
  • Rigsby, B. and Chase, A. 1998. The Sandbeach People and Dugong Hunters of Eastern Cape York Peninsula: property in Land and Sea Country. Rigsby, B and Peterson, N. (eds) Customary Marine Tenure in Australia. Sydney. Oceania 48:192-218.
  • Thompson, D. 1988. Lockhart River ‘Sand Beach’ Language: An Outline of Kuuku Ya'u and Umpila. Darwin: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
  • Thomson, D. F. 1933. The Hero Cult, Initiation Totemism on Cape York. Royal Anthropological Institute Journal 63: 453-537.
  • Thomson, D. F. 1934. Notes on a Hero Cult from the Gulf of Carpentaria, North Queensland. Royal Anthropological Institute Journal 64: 217-262.


  1. ^ a b Y45 Umpila at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies  (see the info box for additional links)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Umpilaic". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ "Umpila". Retrieved 4 August 2015.
  4. ^ a b O’Grady, G.N. “Wadjuk and Umpila: A Long-Short Approach to Pama-Nyungan.” In Studies in Comparative Pama-Nyungan, edited by G.N. O’Grady and D.T. Tyron. Pacific Linguistics Series C 111, 1990.
  5. ^ "Umpila — Language and Cognition — Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics". Retrieved 4 August 2015.
  6. ^ Kendon, A. (1988) Sign Languages of Aboriginal Australia: Cultural, Semiotic and Communicative Perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press