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Yan-nhaŋu Language Documentation

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Language Yan-nhaŋu
Depositor Claire Bowern
Affiliation Yale University
Location Australia
Collection ID 0004
Grant ID FTG0010
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

This collection consists of audio and video recordings of speakers of Yan-nhaŋu, spoken in Northern Territory, Australia, resulting from fieldwork conducted between January and December 2007.


Group represented

Mäḻarra, Gamalaŋga and Gorryindi (Märiŋa) groups at Milingimbi, Arnhem Land


Language information

Yan-Nhangu is a language of North-Eastern Arnhem Land, in Australia’s Northern Territory. It is a member of the Yolngu subgroup of Pama-Nyungan. Yan-Nhangu is moribund, with only six confirmed fluent speakers and a number of part-speakers. The language is not being passed on to younger generations, who are instead learning and using other Yolngu varieties, such as Gupapuyngu and Djambarrpuyngu, and English.

Yan-Nhangu is a member of the Pama-Nyungan family of Australian languages. It belongs to the Yolngu subgroup and forms its own primary branch within it (Wood 1978:58, Heath 1980). The linguistic situation of North-Eastern Arnhem Land is very complex, since traditionally there has been a high degree of multilingualism.

Yolngu society is made up of a number of ‘clans’, each of which ‘owns’ a communalect. Wood (1978:59) gives seven communalect names for the Nhangu(‘mirri) language group, with Yan-Nhangu (‘this language’) being one of these. However it is not entirely clear whether Yan-Nhangu is used in this sense ( as a communalect name) or as a broader language designation, since many of the terms are rather fluid. The languages traditionally spoken in areas adjacent to Yan­Nhangu traditional lands are the non-Pama-Nyungan language Burarra and the Djinang, Djinba and Gupapuyngu varieties of Yolngu.

Speakers of Yan-Nhangu live at Maningrida and Milingimbi Aboriginal communities, close to Yan­Nhangu Y olngu traditional lands. Maningrida and Milingimbi are very linguistically diverse communities, with at least ten Indigenous languages spoken, as well as English and English-based contact varieties. The Indigenous languages of the area come from several different families (Pama­Nyungan, Gunwinyguan and Arnhem) and the languages are typologically very diverse. Y olngu languages are isolated from the rest of the Pama-Nyungan family by the Gulf of Carpentaria to the east, and non-Pama-Nyungan languages to the south. The area is one of intense language contact, both between Australian languages and visitor languages such as the Austronesian language Macassar. For example, Yan-Nhangu is reported to have implosive consonants (Alpher 1977), a highly unusual feature in Australian languages (but common in Macassar).


Special characteristics

There is some gender-restricted material in this collection.


Collection contents

The collection comprises over 140 audio and video files, as well as some translations into English and Djambarrpuyŋu.

Genres include conversation, translation, elicitation and narration.


Acknowledgement and citation

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:

Bowern, Claire. 2016. Yan-nhaŋu Language Documentation. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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