Kunjen language

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Native toAustralia
RegionCape York Peninsula, Queensland
EthnicityNgundjan (Ogh-Undjan), Uw Oykangand, Olkola
Native speakers
2 (2005)[1]
  • Uw Oykangand
  • Uw Olkola
  • Ogh-Undjan
  • Kawarrang
  • Athina
Language codes
ISO 639-3Either:
kjn – Oykangand
olk – Olkol
AIATSIS[1]Y83 Kunjen (cover term), Y188 Kokiny, Y237 Athina
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Kunjen, or Uw, is a Paman language spoken on the Cape York Peninsula of Queensland, Australia, by the Uw Oykangand people, Olkola, and related peoples. It is closely related to Kuuk Thaayorre, and perhaps Kuuk Yak.

Two of its dialects, Uw Olkola (Olgolo) and Uw Oykangand (Koko Wanggara), are very close, being mutually intelligible and sharing 97% of their core vocabulary.[3] Another two, Ogh-Undjan and Kawarrangg, are also close, but somewhat more distant from the first pair. Kokinj (Kokiny) is a subdialect of Ogh-Undjan. A fifth variety, Athima, is poorly attested.

Below is a table showing the mutual intelligibility in vocabulary between the Kunjen dialects, based on a list of 100 basic words.[4]

Uw Oykangand 97% 44% 38%
Uw Olkola 43% 38%
Ogh-Undjan 82%

A small dictionary of Kunjen has been compiled by Philip Hamilton.[5] A great majority of words begin with a vowel (>96%), similar to the situation in distantly-related Arrernte. Exceptions include kinship terms and loanwords. Syllable onsets are thought to be present in all languages, so their absence in native lexicon is highly notable.

Respect register[edit]

As in many other Australian languages, such as Dyirbal, Kunjen also has a respect register, which is a polite way of speaking with a potential mother-in-law and is called Olkel-Ilmbanhthi. Most of the vocabulary is replaced, while affixes and function words are kept.[6]

The sentence below is in normal Uw Oykangand:

Alka-nhdh idu-rr ay
spear-instr spear-pst I
"I speared it with a spear"

The equivalent in Olkel-Ilmbanhthi is:

Udnga-nhdh yanganyunyja-rr ay
spear-instr spear-pst I
"I speared it with a spear"



Kunjen has 5 vowels:

Front Back
Unrounded Rounded
Close i u
Mid e o
Open a

There is a lexical vowel harmony constraint in Kunjen: Close and mid vowels do not co-occur in a word.


Kunjen has 27 consonants:

Peripheral Laminal Apical
Bilabial Velar Palatal Dental Alveolar Retroflex
Plosive voiceless p /p/ k /k/ ch /c/ th /t̪/ t /t/
Voiced b /b/ g /g/ j /ɟ/ dh /d̪/ d /d/
Nasal Plain m /m/ ng /ŋ/ ny /ɲ/ nh /n̪/ n /n/
Prestopped bm /ᵇm/ gng /ᶢŋ/ jny /ᶡɲ/ dnh /ᵈ̪n̪/ dn /ᵈn/
Trill rr /r/
Approximant Central w /w/ y /j/ r /ɻ/
Lateral ly /ʎ/ lh /l̪/ l /l/

In popular culture[edit]

The Uw Olkola word for the freshwater crocodile, ogakor, was used as the name of a tribe on the second season of the American reality television series, Survivor in 2001.[7]


  1. ^ a b Y83 Kunjen (cover term) 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). "Southwestern Alaya-Athima". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Description of the languages Uw Olkola and Uw Oykangand
  4. ^ Sommer, Bruce A. (January 1970). "An Australian Language Without CV Syllables". International Journal of American Linguistics. 36: 57–58. doi:10.1086/465090.
  5. ^ Uw Oykangand and Uw Olkola wordlist
  6. ^ Evans, Nicholas (2006). "Warramurrungunji Undone: Australian Languages in the 51st Millennium". In Brenzinger, Matthias (ed.). Language Diversity Endangered. pp. 354–355.
  7. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20121017115831/http://www.oocities.org/athens/delphi/2970/f_croc.htm