Jingulu language

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Native toAustralia
RegionBarkly Tableland, Northern Territory
Native speakers
23 (2016 census)[1]
  • Jingulu
Djingili Sign Language
Language codes
ISO 639-3jig
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Jingulu (Djingili) is an Australian language spoken by the Jingili in the Northern Territory of Australia, historically around the township of Elliot. It is an endangered language with only between 10 and 15 speakers in 1997,[4] the youngest being in the fifties. An additional 20 people had some command of it. However, it was not used in daily communication which instead was conducted in either English or Kriol.[5]



Jingulu has 3 vowels:[6]

Front Central Back
Close i /i/ u /u/
Open a /a/

The close vowel /i/ may be realized as [i], [ɨ] or [e]; the close vowel /u/ most commonly as [u], but also [o] and [ɔ]; and the open vowel /a/ as [a], [ʌ], [æ] and [ə].[6]

Vowel length is contrastive, resulting in the long vowels /aː/, /iː/ and /uː/. In orthography, /aː/ appears as ⟨aa⟩, while the other two appear with a homorganic consonant, ⟨iyi⟩ and ⟨uwu⟩, respectively.[6]

Vowel harmony[edit]

An important feature of Jingulu's phonology is vowel harmony. Jingulu exhibits a regressive vowel harmony, which means that the vowels of nominal or verbal roots may be subject to change triggered by suffixes that contain a close vowel and that are directly adjacent to the root. The vowel harmony affects open vowels in the roots, which become close. Due to Jingulu's small inventory of vowels, it will always be the open vowel /a/ that is subject to change, always becoming /i/.[7]

ngaja + -mindi-yi = ngijimindiyi
see + 1dl.inc-fut = "we will see"
ngarrabaj + -wurru-nu = ngirribijiwurrunu
tell + 3pl-past = "they told (it to him)"

However, if vowel harmony is triggered and the root contains a close vowel, none of the open vowels to the left of the close vowel will be subject to change.

warlaku + -rni = warlakurni
male dog + fem = female dog
ankila + -rni = ankilirni
cross cousin + fem = female cross cousin[7]


Jingulu has 17 consonants:[8]

Peripheral Laminal Apical
Bilabial Velar Palatal Alveolar Retroflex
Plosive b /b/ k /ɡ/ j /ɟ/ d /d/ rd /ɖ /
Nasal m /m/ ng /ŋ/ ny /ɲ/ n /n/ rn /ɳ /
Trill rr /r/
Approximant w /w/ y /j/ r /ɻ /
ly /ʎ/ l /l/ rl /ɭ /

There is only little evidence showing that the retroflex consonants are contrastive. Most speakers of Jingulu do not make a distinction between the retroflex consonants and their alveolar equivalents. Often they merely serve as allophones. However, there are a number of minimal pairs where there indeed is a distinction, for instance dirnd- "shoot" and dind- "grind"; mininmi "Acacia victoriae" and mirnirnmi "fire drill"; and walu "forehead" and warlu "burn scar."[9]

The glides, /w/ and /j/, may be dropped word-initially, which is also true for /ŋ/. The latter may also be replaced by a glide.[10]

widij- "to tie" may be realized as /widij-/ or /idij-/
yidaangka "in a few days" may be realized as /jidaːŋka/ or /idaːŋka/
ngirrm- "to make" may be realized as /ŋirm-/, /irm-/ or /jirm-/
nguny- "to give" may be realized as /ŋuɲ-/, /uɲ-/ or /wuɲ-/




All nominals in Jingulu belong to a certain gender or class of which there are four: masculine, feminine, neuter and vegetable. The vegetable class is the smallest of the classes with fewest nominals. Next comes the feminine class, and then the neuter and the masculine classes.

The characteristic endings of nominals belonging to the vegetable class are -imi and -ibi. Most nominals of this class are long, thin, pointed or sharp objects. For instance, a lot of vegetables, body parts, instruments and weather phenomena. Examples include wardbardbumi "bush passionfruit," mankijbi "back of neck" and kingmi "rainbow."

The characteristic endings for feminine nominals are -ini, -irni, -idi and -irdi. Most nominals of this class are female animates, different kinds of axes, the sun, as well as for most smaller songbirds, and many unusual animals. Examples include nambiliju "female body," dardawurni "axe" and lirrikbirni "cockatoo."

The characteristic ending for masculine nominals is -a, although a lot of masculine nominals also end in a consonant. Most nominals of this class are animates, although it also contains a number of flat or rounded inanimates. Examples include jambilija "male body," kiyinarra "vagina" and yarrulan "youth."

Finally, the characteristic ending for neuter nominals is -u. This class contains nominals that do not fall into any of the previous classes, and especially words for abstract concepts and entities. Examples include yurrku "nectar," ngabarangkurru "blood" and karala "ground."[11]


Jingulu has three kinds of demonstratives: referential, anaphoric and cataphoric. In Jingulu, the referential demonstratives, of which there are about five sets, refer to objects that may be distal or proximal, and may be translated as "this" or "that." The anaphoric demonstratives, of which there is one set, refer to something that is already known by the speaker and listener at the time of speaking, and may be translated as "this (you know)" or "that (you know)." Finally, the cataphoric demonstrative, of which there is only one, refers to something that is not yet known by both the speaker and listener and is to be introduced, and may be translated as "this (which you are to know about)" or "that (which you are to know about)."

As the demonstratives are considered nominals, most of them belong to one of the four nominal classes.[12]


There are five sets of referential demonstratives: jama and jimi; nyam-; ngin- and nyin-; ngunu; and ngunungku. The first three sets are all by default distal, but may be made proximal by the use of the suffix -(r)niki. None of the last two sets may take the proximal marker, as ngunu is always considered distal, and ngunungku is generally considered proximal, normally translated as "this way."[13]

jama belongs to the masculine class, and jimi to the neuter class. However, jama may refer to nominals of all classes, and jimi may also refer to nominals of the vegetable class.[14]

Jimi-ni jurruma-mi burrbuji-kaji!
dem(n)-foc wipe_out-irr finnish-intens
"Get rid of all that!"
Jama-baji-ni buyu-wurru-ju."
dem(m)-pl-foc smoke-3pl-pres
"Those people are smoking."
Jimi-niki-ni karriyaku imbiy-urru-ju marrinju.
dem(n)-prox-foc different speak-3pl-pres language
"This is a different language they speak (here)."[15]

The demonstrative nyam- takes either the suffix -a, -arni- or -bala depending on whether it refers to a nominal of the masculine, feminine, or neuter or vegetable class. Likewise, the demonstratives ngin- and nyin- take the suffix -da, -a or -i depending on whether it refers to a nominal of the masculine, feminine or neuter class, and become ngima and nyima when referring to a nominal of the vegetable class. While a nyam- demonstrative takes the proximal marker, it becomes nyamarniki no matter class.[16]

Irriminjulu ngini-rniki buba ngirrma-nga-yi bardakurra.
kindling dem(n)-prox fire make-1sg-fut good(m)
"This kindling will make a good fire."
Wanyik-urlu nyina-bulu ladaji-wunyu-ju arduku.
girl-dl dem(f)-dl dry-3dl-pres slow
"The two girls are slowly drying out."[17]

The demonstrative ngunu belongs to the neuter class, but may also refer to nominals of the vegetable class. ngunungku may refer to nominals of all classes.

Ngunu dij bila-mi nyanyalu!
dem(n) break-irr branch
"Break that branch!"
Jangkuwardka-ngarri-yi ngunungku kalirrungu-ngka.
climb_up-1sg-fut dem hill-all
"I will climb the mountain this way."[18]

There is one set of anaphoric demonstratives: kuna and kuya. These are only used rarely, and are often replaced by referential demonstratives. The former refers to nominals of the masculine class, and the latter to nominals of the neuter class. However, the former may also refer to nominals of other classes, and the latter to nominals of the vegetable class as well.

Nginda wurru-ku kuna-ngka biningkurru-ngka.
dem(m) 3pl-went dem(anaph)-all lake-all
"They went to that lake (you know the one)."
Kuyu-mbili-rni mankiya-nga-yi.
dem(anaph)-loc-foc sit-1sg-fut
"I'll go sit in that place (that you know)."[19]

The only cataphoric demonstrative is jiyi and refers to nominals of all classes.

Nyamba-nama nyambala karriyaku-nama kaburrkaburrji jiyi-rni ijijurnminji-mi.
what-tmp dem(n) different(n)-tmp brown(n) dem(cataph)-foc butcherbird-foc
"Now there's a different one that is brown, that's the butcherbird."[20]


Jingulu is syntactically classified as a Non-configurational language. The predicate (both argument and verb) of a clause will lack encyclopedic information.[21]

Text example[edit]

Sign language[edit]

The Jingulu have (or had) a well-developed signed form of their language.[23]



  1. ^ "Census 2016, Language spoken at home by Sex (SA2+)". stat.data.abs.gov.au. ABS. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Jingulu". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ C22 Jingulu at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  4. ^ Ethnologue
  5. ^ Pensalfini 1997, p. 23
  6. ^ a b c Pensalfini 1997, pp. 53–54
  7. ^ a b Pensalfini 1997, p. 97
  8. ^ Pensalfini 1997, p. 56
  9. ^ Pensalfini 1997, pp. 58–59
  10. ^ Pensalfini 1997, pp. 63–64
  11. ^ Pensalfini 1997, pp. 253–256
  12. ^ Pensalfini 1997, pp. 226, 232–233
  13. ^ Pensalfini 1997, pp. 226–227, 230
  14. ^ Pensalfini 1997, p. 227
  15. ^ Pensalfini 1997, p. 226
  16. ^ Pensalfini 1997, pp. 227–228
  17. ^ Pensalfini 1997, p. 229
  18. ^ Pensalfini 1997, p. 230
  19. ^ Pensalfini 1997, p. 232
  20. ^ Pensalfini 1997, p. 233
  21. ^ Pensalfini, Rob (2004). "Towards a Typology of Configurationality". Natural Language & Linguistic Theory. 22 (2): 359–408. CiteSeerX doi:10.1023/B:NALA.0000015794.02583.00.
  22. ^ Pensalfini 1997, p. 399
  23. ^ Kendon, A. (1988) Sign Languages of Aboriginal Australia: Cultural, Semiotic and Communicative Perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press



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