Northern and Central Australia (NCA)
Geographic location: Queensland, Northern Territory, Western Australia
Number of Languages: 153
Number of Genetic Units: 62
Genetic Index: .405
Mean Level of Endangerment: 1.94 (very high)
Mean Documentation Status: moderate
Threat Level: severe

Description:

Aboriginal Australia holds some of the world’s most endangered languages. Many languages in the south and east of this Hotspot have been lost already, and more will soon follow. Aboriginal groups are small and scattered because of a history of conflict between white settlers and aboriginal groups. Many aboriginal groups did not survive this contact, while many others only barely survived and struggle to maintain language and culture.

We may meet speakers of Meriam on Murray Island, a small volcanic island north of mainland Australia, during our August, 2007 expedition to Australia. There are between 300 and 400 speakers of Meriam today, and there are efforts to preserve the language. Meriam is unrelated to other Australian languages, and is instead related to New Guinean languages. Meriam speakers have had a huge impact on other aboriginal groups, though. In 1982, six Meriam men filed a claim to own their own lands, which at the time belonged to the queen of England. It took ten years for them to win their case, but in 1992 Australia began to recognize aboriginal people as officially owning their tribal land.

Read about our Australia expedition plans on our expedition page.

Genetic Units found in Hotspot (62):

  1. Amaragic
  2. Bunaban
  3. Bringen-Wagaydy
  4. Malagmalag
  5. Murrinh-Patha
  6. Djamindjungan
  7. Djeragan
  8. Garawan
  9. Giimbiyu
  10. Burarran
  11. Djauanic
  12. Enindhilyagwa
  13. Gagudjuan
  14. Gunwinggic
  15. Mangarayic
  16. Maran
  17. Ngalkbun
  18. Rembarngic
  19. Wagiman
  20. Warayan
  21. Yangmanic
  22. Laragiyan
  23. Limilngan-Wulna
  24. Nyulnyulan
  25. Dyirbalic
  26. Guugu Yimidhirr
  27. Kala Lagaw Ya
  28. Lamulamic
  29. Lardil
  30. Maric
  31. Paman
  32. Central Paman
  33. Coastal Paman
  34. Flinders
  35. Lamalamic
  36. Mayabic
  37. Mbariman
  38. Middle Paman
  39. Northeast Paman
  40. Norman
  41. Northern Paman
  42. Rarmul
  43. Southern Paman
  44. Umbindhamic
  45. Western Paman
  46. Yir-Yoront
  47. Coastal Ngayarda
  48. Marngu
  49. Ngarga
  50. Ngumbin
  51. Tangic
  52. Waramungic
  53. Yalandyic
  54. Yanyuwan
  55. Yidinic
  56. Yuulngu
  57. Wagaya-Warluwaric
  58. Trans-Fly
  59. Umbugarla-Ngumbur
  60. West Barkly
  61. Wororan
  62. Yiwaidjan

Hotspots Formula:

List of Languages:

  1. Alawa
  2. Alngith
  3. Amarag
  4. Ami
  5. Anindilyakwa
  6. Areba
  7. Atampaya
  8. Ayabadhu
  9. Bardi
  10. Barrow Point
  11. Bunaba
  12. Burarra
  13. Dayi
  14. Dhangu
  15. Dhuwal
  16. Djambarrpuyngu
  17. Djamindjung
  18. Djangun
  19. Djauan
  20. Djawi
  21. Djeebana
  22. Djinang
  23. Djinba
  24. Djingili
  25. Dyaabugay
  26. Dyaberdyaber
  27. Dyirbal
  28. Dyugun
  29. Erre
  30. Flinders Island
  31. Gadjerawang
  32. Gagadu
  33. Gambera
  34. Ganggalida
  35. Garawa
  36. Garig-Ilgar
  37. Gooniyandi
  38. Gurdjar
  39. Gudanji
  40. Gugadj
  41. Gugu Badhun
  42. Gugubera
  43. Guguyimidjir
  44. Gumatj
  45. Gunwinggu
  46. Gupapuyngu
  47. Guragone
  48. Gurinji
  49. Iwaidja
  50. Jarnango
  51. Jaru
  52. Kala Lagaw Ya
  53. Kamu
  54. Kanju
  55. Karadjeri
  56. Kayardild
  57. Kitja
  58. Kuku-Mu’inh
  59. Kuku-Muminh
  60. Kuku-Mangk
  61. Kuku-Ugbanh
  62. Kuku-Uwanh
  63. Kuku-Yalanji
  64. Kunbarlang
  65. Kunggara
  66. Kunjen
  67. Kuthant
  68. Kuuku-Ya’u
  69. Kurrama
  70. Kwini
  71. Lamu-Lamu
  72. Laragia
  73. Lardil
  74. Limilngan
  75. Maranungu
  76. Madngele
  77. Manda
  78. Mangarayi
  79. Mara
  80. Mangerr
  81. Margu
  82. Maridan
  83. Maridjabin
  84. Marimanindji
  85. Maringarr
  86. Marithiel
  87. Mariyedi
  88. Marti Ke
  89. Maung
  90. Mayaguduna
  91. Mbariman-Gudhinma
  92. Meriam
  93. Miriwung
  94. Miwa
  95. Mudburra
  96. Mullukmulluk
  97. Muluridyi
  98. Murrinh-Patha
  99. Nakara
  100. Ngalakan
  101. Ngalkbun
  102. Nangikurrunggurr
  103. Ngarinman
  104. Ngarinyin
  105. Ngawun
  106. Ngurmbur
  107. Nimanbur
  108. Nungali
  109. Nunggubuyu
  110. Nyangga
  111. Nyawaygi
  112. Nyigina
  113. Nyulnyul
  114. Pakanha
  115. Rembarunga
  116. Ritarungo
  117. Thayore
  118. Thaypan
  119. Tyaraity
  120. Umbindhamu
  121. Umbugarla
  122. Umbuygamu
  123. Uradhi
  124. Urningangg
  125. Wadjiginy
  126. Wageman
  127. Walmatjarri
  128. Wambaya
  129. Wamin
  130. Waray
  131. Wardaman
  132. Warlmanpa
  133. Warrgamay
  134. Warrwa
  135. Warumungu
  136. Warungu
  137. Wikalkan
  138. Wik-Epa
  139. Wik-Iiyanh
  140. Wik-Keyangan
  141. Wik-Me’anha
  142. Wik-Mungkan
  143. Wik-Ngathana
  144. Wikngenchera
  145. Wilawila
  146. Worora
  147. Wulna
  148. Wunambul
  149. Yanyuwa
  150. Yawuru
  151. Yidiny
  152. Yindjilandj
  153. Yir Yoront

Endangered Languages include:

  • Dayi (< 200 speakers, Yolngu)
  • Garig-Ilgar (< 10 speakers, Yiwaidjan)
  • Gooniyandi (< 100 speakers, Bunaban)
  • Gurdanji (< 5 speakers, West Barkly)
  • Jaru (< 300 speakers, Ngumbin)
  • Kwini (< 50 speakers, Wororan)
  • Madngele (around 20 speakers, Daly)
  • Mati Ke (< 10 speakers, Bringen-Waygady)
  • Meriam (< 400 speakers, Trans-New Guinea)
  • Nyikina (< 50 speakers, Nyulnyulan)
  • Ritharngu (< 300 speakers, Pama-Nyungan Yuulngu)

Some Features of Languages in Hotspot include:

  • Elaborate case systems
  • Lots of lateral sounds, but few fricatives
  • Complex verbal morphology
  • Widespread multilingualism
  • Word-initial ng-
  • Special Speech styles

Trivia:

  • Barrkmulbardme means ‘hopping male Black Wallaroo’ in Kune (1,511 speakers)

  • Kalq-ngart means a ‘barb for a spear made from a stingray spine’ in Yir-Yoront (15 speakers)

  • Minh-pirri means ‘a deceased cousin’s sibling on one’s mother’s side’ in Yir-Yoront (15 speakers)

  • Thurrm means ‘a fence of brush across a wallaby’s path’ in Yir-Yoront (15 speakers)

  • Arrerneakwelelheme means 'she is supposedly sitting down' in Eastern Arrente (2,000 speakers), and is a combination of the verb arrern (to place), suffixes elh (an action done to oneself) and eme (present tense), and the word akwele (supposedly).

Media:

Pop Cheedy

'Pop' Cheedy, a Yindjibarndi musician. From http://www.roebourne.wa.edu.au/culture/singing.htm

Australia language map

Language map of Australia. Click to download as a pdf. From Wurm, S. A. 1972. Languages of Australia and Tasmania. The Hague: Mouton.

Sources:

Hercus, L., F. Hodges and J. Simpson, eds. 2002. The Land is a Map: Placenames of Indigenous Origin in Australia. Canberra: Pandanus Books.

National Indigenous Languages Directory: http://www.fatsil.org/links/nild.htm

Torres Strait Languages: http://www.fatsil.org/LOTM/nov01.htm

Alpher, Barry. 1991. Yir-Yoront Lexicon: Sketch & Dictionary of an Australian Language. Mouton de Gruyter.