Nunggubuyu language

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RegionNumbulwar, Northern Territory
EthnicityNunggubuyu people
Native speakers
276 (2016 census)[1]
perhaps 400 semi-speakers and second language speakers
Language codes
ISO 639-3nuy
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Nunggubuyu or Wubuy is an Australian Aboriginal language, the traditional language of the Nunggubuyu people. It is the primary traditional language spoken in the community of Numbulwar in the Northern Territory.[4] The language is classified as severely endangered by UNESCO,[5] with only 272 speakers according to the 2016 census.[6] Most children in Numbulwar can understand Nunggubuyu when spoken to, but cannot speak it themselves, having to reply in Kriol. To counter this, starting in 1990, the community has been embarking on a revitalisation programme for the language by bringing in elders to teach it to children at the local school.[7]


The classification of Nunggubuyu is "problematic". Heath (1997) postulates that Nunggubuyu is most closely related to Ngandi and Anindilyakwa. However, Evans (2003) believes that the similarities are shared retentions rather than shared innovations, and that Nunggubuyu is closest to the eastern Gunwinyguan languages.[8]



Peripheral Laminal Apical
Bilabial Velar Palatal Dental Alveolar Retroflex
Nasal m ŋ ɲ n ɳ
Stop p k c t ʈ
Tap ɾ
Lateral l ɭ
Approximant w j ɻ

/n̪/ is rare. /ɾ/ may optionally be pronounced as a trill when it occurs word-initial position, which is rare.[9]


Front Back
High i iː u uː
Low a aː


Nunggubuyu uses a quinary number system.[10]

1 (15) anjbadj
2 (25) wulawa
3 (35) wulanjbadj
4 (45) wulawulal
5 (105) marangandjbugidj
6 (115) maralibalinala mari anjbadj
7 (125) maralibalinala mari wulawa
8 (135) maralibalinala mari wulanjbadj
9 (145) maralibalinala mari wulawulal
10 (205) wurumulumara ngandjabugidj
15 (305) wurumulumbulanbadj
20 (405) wurumulumbulalwulal


  1. ^ ABS. "Census 2016, Language spoken at home by Sex (SA2+)". Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 2017-10-29.
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Wubuy". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Nunggubuyu at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  4. ^ Numbulwar Numburindi Community Government Council (2007). "Numbulwar's Profile & Information". Retrieved 2007-11-11. The major language spoken in Numbulwar is Noongabuyu (Noon-ga-boy-you) along with creole. English is generally regarded as a third language in the community.
  5. ^ "UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in danger". UNESCO. Retrieved 2017-08-27.
  6. ^ "2016 Census QuickStats: Anindilyakwa (Groote)". Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 2017-08-27.
  7. ^ Davidson, Helen (2016-09-06). "We talk in Wubuy but children reply in Kriol – Numbulwar school on a language rescue mission". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-08-27.
  8. ^ Nicholas Evans, 2003, Bininj Gun-wok: a pan-dialectal grammar of Mayali, Kunwinjku and Kune, vol. 1
  9. ^ Heath (1984): p. 12.
  10. ^ Capell, A. "A New Approach to Australian Linguistics", Oceania linguistic monographs 1 (1956), Sydney: University of Sydney, p. 68. Cited in John Harris, "Facts and Fallacies of Aboriginal Number Systems Archived 2007-08-31 at the Wayback Machine", SIL work paper series B, volume 8 (1982), p. 161.


  • Heath, Jeffrey (1984). Functional Grammar of Nunggubuyu. Canberra: AIAS. ISBN 0-85575-157-6.
  • Ladefoged, Peter (2005). Vowels and Consonants (Second ed.). Blackwell.

External links[edit]

  • [1] Nunggubuyu language books available in the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages