Yanyuwa (IPA: [jaṉuwa]), is the language of the Yanyuwa people of the Sir Edward Pellew Group of Islands in the Gulf of Carpentaria outside Borroloola (Yanyuwa: burrulula) in the Northern Territory, Australia.
|39 (2016 census)|
Yanyuwa is the patch of yellow on the northern coast, between the orange and the green.
Yanyuwa, like many other Australian Aboriginal languages, is a highly agglutinative language with ergative-absolutive alignment, whose grammar is pervaded by a set of 16 noun classes whose agreements are complicated and numerous.
Yanyuwa is a critically endangered language. The anthropologist John Bradley has worked with the Yanyuwa people for three decades and is also a speaker of Yanyuwa. He has produced a large dictionary and grammar of the language, along with a cultural atlas in collaboration with a core group of senior men and women.
|Nasal||m ⟨m⟩||ŋ̟ ⟨nyng⟩||ŋ̠ ⟨ng⟩||ṉ ⟨ny⟩||n̪ ⟨nh⟩||n ⟨n⟩||ɳ ⟨rn⟩|
|Prenasalised stop||ᵐb ⟨mb⟩||ᵑɡ̟ ⟨nyk⟩||ᵑɡ̠ ⟨ngk⟩||ⁿḏ ⟨nj⟩||ⁿd̪ ⟨nth⟩||ⁿd ⟨nd⟩||ᶯɖ ⟨rnd⟩|
|Stop||b ⟨b⟩||ɡ̟ ⟨yk⟩||ɡ̠ ⟨k⟩||ḏ ⟨j⟩||d̪ ⟨th⟩||d ⟨d⟩||ɖ ⟨rd⟩|
|Lateral||ḻ ⟨ly⟩||l̪ ⟨lh⟩||l ⟨l⟩||ɭ ⟨rl⟩|
|Rhotic||r ⟨rr⟩||ɻ ⟨r⟩|
|Semivowel||w ⟨w⟩||j ⟨y⟩|
|High||i ⟨i⟩||u ⟨u⟩|
Yanyuwa has 16 noun classes, distinguished by prefixes. In some cases, different prefixes are used, depending on whether the speaker is a male or a female.
|rra-/a-1||female (human centred)||rra-bardibardi||"old lady"|
|nya-w ∅-m||male (human centred)||nya-malbuw malbum||"old man"|
|rra-/a-1||feminine||a-karnkarnka||"white bellied sea eagle"|
|ma-||food (non-meat)||ma-ngakuya||"cycad fruit"|
|possessive pronominal prefixes||body parts||nanda-wulaya||"her head"|
|niwa-wulayaw na-wulayam||"his head"|
|∅-||familiar kinship||kajaja||"father, dad"|
|various pronominal prefixes||formal kinship for close kin||angatharra-wangu||"my wife"|
|various pronominal prefixes||formal kinship-grandparent level||karna-marrini||"my daughter's child"|
|various pronominal prefixes/suffixes||formal kinship-avoidance||rra-kayibanthayindalu||"your daughter in law"|
|rri- (dual) and li- (plural)||human group||li-maramaranja||"dugong hunters of excellence"|
|rra-/a-1, nya-w ∅-m||personal names||rra-Marrngawi, nya-Lajumbaw Lajumbam|
|rra-/a-1 / ∅-||ceremony names||rra-Kunabibi, Yilayi, rra-Milkathatha|
|∅-||place names||Kandanbarrawujbi, Burrulula, Wathangka|
Yanyuwa is unusual among languages of the world in that it has separate dialects for men and for women at the morphological level. The only time that men use the women's dialect is if they are quoting someone of the opposite sex and vice versa. An example of this speech is provided below:
(w) nya-buyi nya-ardu kiwa-wingka waykaliya wulangindu kanyilu-kala nyikunya-baba.
(m) buyi ardu ka-wingka waykaliya wulangindu kila-kala nyiku-baba.
The little boy went down to the river and saw his brother.
The BBC reported in 2018 that there were 3 fluent female speakers worldwide.
In Yanyuwa, certain words have synonyms used to replace the everyday term in certain cultural situations.
Avoidance speech is speech style used when talking to or near certain relatives: one's siblings and cousins of the opposite sex, one's brother-in-law, sister-in-law, father-in-law and mother-in-law, and one's nieces and nephews if their father (for male speakers) or their mother (for female speakers) has died. Occasionally, avoidance speech takes the form of different affixes to usual speech, but generally, it is simply a change in vocabulary.
For example, a digging stick is usually referred to as na-wabija, but when talking to one of the above relatives, the word used is na-wulungkayangu.
An example of avoidance speech is given below:
Avoidance: Ja-wuynykurninji ki-bujibujilu runungkawu ma-wulyarri.
Normal: Ja-wingkayi ki-buyukalu wubanthawu ma-ngarra.
He is going to the fire to cook food.
Another set of vocabulary is used during ceremonies and other ritual occasions. Many of the words used in ritual speech are sacred and kept secret.
For example, a dingo is usually referred to as wardali, but during ritual occasions, the word used is yarrarriwira. That is one ritual term which is known to the general public, as are some other terms for flora and fauna.
When on the Sir Edward Pellew Group of Islands, which is part of Yanyuwa territory, another set of vocabulary may be used to replace the terms used when on the mainland. There is more variance about the usage of island speech than the other speech styles.
For example, on the mainland, fishing is referred to as wardjangkayarra, but on the islands, the word used is akarimantharra.
Dixon (2002), who rejects the validity of Pama–Nyungan, accepts that Yanyuwa is demonstrably related to Warluwara and languages closely related to it.
Yanyuwa-speakers have actively engaged in making a number of films, and more recently have begun a project to animate important stories and songlines. These include three important films, all of which have extensive narratives in Yanyuwa, with subtitles: