Wagaya language

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RegionNorthern Territory
EthnicityWagaya, Yindjilandji
Extinct(date missing)
  • Wagaya
  • Yindjilandji
  • Bularnu (Dhidhanu, Baringkirri)
Language codes
ISO 639-3Either:
wga – Wagaya
yil – Yindjilandji
Glottologngar1291  Ngarru / Wagaya-Yindjilandji[1]
bula1255  Bularnu[2]
AIATSIS[3]C16 Wakaya, G12.1 Bularnu, G14 Indjilandji

Wagaya (Wakaya) is an extinct Australian Aboriginal language of Queensland. Yindjilandji (Indjilandji) may have been a separate language.[4]


Pama-Nyungan, Warluwaric, Australian, Pama-Nyungan, Wagaya-Warluwaric, Warluwara-Thawa, Ngarna, Southern Ngarna, Ngarru

Endangeredlanguages.com also classifies Wakaya as just Pama-Nyungan and Warluwaric, but Ethnologue.com classifies the language as Pama-Nyungan and more specifically Wagaya-Warluwaric and WarluwaraThawa. While Glottolog also classifies Wakaya as Pama-Nyungan for the most-encompassing family classification, the site classifies the language under Ngarna, specifically Southern Ngarna and under Ngarru.


Wakaya consonants [5]
Bilabial Velar Alveolar Retroflex Dental Lamino-alveolar
Stop p k t rt th j
Nasal m ng n rn nh ny
Lateral l rl lh ly
Flap rr
Glide w r y

Wakaya vowels [5]

Front Back
High i, i: u, u:
Central e
Low a

Bularnu consonants [6]
Bilabial Velar Interdental Lamino-alveolar Apico-alveolar Retroflex
Voiced stop b g dh dy d rd
Voiceless stop p k th ty t rt
Nasal m ng nh ny n rn
Lateral lh ly l rl
Tap rr
Glide w y r

Bularnu vowels [6]

Front Central Back
High i, i: u, u:
Low a, a:


There are reports of around 10 Native speakers worldwide as of 1983, but the language is currently extinct.[7]

"The post contact history of the Warumungu people is an unvarnished tale of the subordinaton of an Aboriginal society and its welfare to European interests... European settlement meant forced dispossession. This was not a once and for all process, but continued with the Warumungu being shunted around, right up to the 1960's, to accommodate various pastoral and mining interests."[8]

Tennant Creek is the urban centre of Warumungu country. During the 1970s, the era of Federal government Self-Determination policy, Aboriginal people began to move or return to Tennant Creek from cattle stations and Warrabri Aboriginal settlement. In the face of opposition at their attempts to settle in the town, from authorities and European towns people, Aboriginal people began to establish organisations to gain representation, infrastructure and services for their community. Over the next decade a housing authority Warramunga Pabulu Housing Association (later Julali-kari Council), a health service Anyininginyi Congress and an office of the Central Land Council was opened. Today, Aboriginal people of the region have rights to country surrounding the town, claimed and recognised under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. The original Land Claim was lodged in 1978, for a decade the Warumungu fought for the return of their traditional lands. The ruling was made in 1988 and the hand back of the claim areas began soon after.[9]

At the Telegraph Station to the south at Barrow Creek, conflict between the local Kaytetye and Europeans broke out in the 1870s and lead to punitive expeditions, in which many Kaytetye, Warumungu, Anmatjerre, and Alyawarre and Warlpiri were killed. Conflict, largely over cattle, and resultant frontier violence occurred in many places in Central Australia in the first 50 years of settlement, causing the displacement of Aboriginal people. In the early 1900s Alyawarre and Wakaya fled violence at Hatcher's Creek and moved to Alexandria Station and other stations on the Barkly Tablelands. Many moved later to Lake Nash. Eastern Warlpiri people fled after the Coniston massacre in 1928, many onto Warumungu country.[9]

By the 1890s it is estimated that 100 people were living at camps around the Tennant Creek Telegraph Station, some receiving rations, some worked for the station. Many came to the site during the 1891-93 droughts, to the perennial waterholes along the creek, which Warumungu people traditionally used in drought years. An area of dry country to the east of the Telegraph Station was gazetted as a Warumungu Reserve in 1892, to be revoked in 1934 to allow mining in the area.[9]

In the 1930s gold was discovered, starting a gold rush, which brought hopefuls from across the country. Aboriginal people worked on the mines, many of which were located on what had been the Warumungu Reserve. Tennant Creek town was established in 1934, at a site 7 miles to the south of the Telegraph Station. It was off limits to Aboriginal people until the 1960s. Warumungu and Alyawarre people also worked at mines in the Davenport Murchinson Ranges, after wolfram discovered at Hatcher's Creek in 1913. Many Aboriginal people spent substantial periods of their lives there and on neighbouring Kurandi Station, where, in 1977 Aboriginal workers went on strike and staged a walk off.[9]

The life histories of most people include their experiences living on cattle stations, which eventually surrounded the original site of European settlement. Vast tracts of Warumungu country had been granted as pastoral leases and were stocked from the 1880s onwards. Running cattle on these lands was incompatible with Aboriginal hunting and gathering practices and people were forced to settle on stations or the reserve. Many men worked as stockmen, drovers, butchers and gardeners, while women carried out domestic work in the station houses. Payment was generally in rations only and conditions were generally very poor.[9]

Geographic distribution[edit]

While endangeredlanguages.com reports 10 speakers of this language as of 1983, ethnologue.com explicitly states that the language is extinct.

Broadly speaking, the traditional language of Wakaya country is to the north east and east of Tennant Creek, Alyawarre is to the east and south east, Kaytetye is to the South, and Warlpiri to the west.[7]


Latitude: -20.33 Longitude: 137.62


Reconstructed pre-Warumungu form with reconstructions for neighboring Pama-Nyungan languages.png

On the right is an example of the many comparisons of Wakaya grammar to other Australian languages within the same family.[10]

The Wambaya language is a neighbor of the Wakaya group and thus there are many similarities in the grammar and word structures between the two languages. A Grammar of Wambaya was written by Dr. Rachel Nordlinger in hope of helping younger Wambaya speakers learn something of their language or at least have access to there language when it is no longer being spoken around them since there were only 8 to 10 fluent speakers of the language left around the late 1990s.[11]

There are many references to Wakaya's linguistic characteristics such as its vocabulary and grammar structure and how they compare to other Australian languages within the same family group in Australian Languages: Classification and the comparative method.[12]

“The Ngumpin-YAPA Subgroup” is an article by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and The University of Queensland which provides shared innovations within the Ngumpin-Yapa languages such as phonological, morphological, and lexical changes. There are several common elements between the NGY and Warluwarric groups (which Wakaya is a sub-group of) and so this article presents some linguistic characteristics such as vocabulary and spelling comparisons of the Wakaya language.[13]

External links[edit]

  • Paradisec has two collections of Gavin Breen's materials that include Yindjilandji materials, including (GB31 and GB34)


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Ngarru". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Bularnu". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ C16 Wakaya at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies  (see the info box for additional links)
  4. ^ Dixon, R. M. W. (2002). Australian Languages: Their Nature and Development. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521473781.
  5. ^ a b Breen, Gavan (1974). Wakaya grammar.
  6. ^ a b Breen, Gavan (1988). Bularnu grammar and vocabulary machine-readable files. Canberra.
  7. ^ a b Bowern, Claire. 2011. "How Many Languages Were Spoken in Australia?", Anggarrgoon: Australian languages on the web, 23 December 2011 (corrected 6 February 2012)
  8. ^ Maurice, M. Warumungu Land Claim. Report No.31. Report by the Aboriginal Land Commissioner, Mr Justice Maurice, to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and to the Administrator of the Northern Territory. Australian Government Publishing Service. Canberra, 1988
  9. ^ a b c d e The University of Melbourne School of Language and Linguistics (n.d.). Tennant Creek. Retrieved from http://languages-linguistics.unimelb.edu.au/research/past-acla1-regions
  10. ^ Koch, H. J., Bowern, C., Evans, B., & Miceli, L. (2008). Morphology and language history: In honour of Harold Koch. Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
  11. ^ Nordlinger, R. (1998). A grammar of Wambaya: Northern Territory (Australia). Canberra: Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, the Australian National University.
  12. ^ Bowern, C., & Koch, H. J. (2004). Australian languages: Classification and the comparative method. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Pub.
  13. ^ Mcconvell, P., & Laughren, M. (2004). The Ngumpin-Yapa subgroup.Classification and the Comparative Method Australian Languages Current Issues in Linguistic Theory, 151-177. doi:10.1075/cilt.249.11mcc