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Paman languages: Umpila, Kuuku Ya’u, Kaanju


Language Umpila (ISO639-3:ump), Kuuku Ya’u, Kaanju
Depositor Clair Hill
Affiliation University of Leuven
Location Australia
Collection ID 0059
Grant ID MDP0133
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

The aim of this project is to document five highly endangered Paman languages of Cape York Peninsula (Australia): Kugu Muminh, Kuku Thaypan, Umbuygamu, Umpila, and Wik Ngathan. The project is a team effort of five people with prior research experience on these languages, who want to pool knowledge and resources to document them as thoroughly as possible with the last generation of speakers. Our central goal is to produce an extensive representative corpus of texts, which will form a valuable resource for the communities involved, and will serve as the basis for further descriptive and community-oriented work.


Special characteristics

The five languages are of typological interest within the Australian context. They have unusual phonological systems for Australian languages, with historical dropping of initial consonants (Kuku Thaypan, Umbuygamu, Umpila), development of fricative phonemes (Kuku Thaypan, Umbuygamu), voice contrasts for stops (Kugu Muminh, Umbuygamu), and larger vowel inventories (Kugu Muminh, Kuku Thaypan, Umbuygamu, Wik Ngathan). Morphologically, some of the languages display a tendency towards head-marking of grammatical relations, with the development of cross-referencing pronouns encliticized to the verb, as in Umbuygamu and Wik Ngathan. Syntactically, a number of CYP languages show ‘optional ergative’ marking of nominals, with use of the ergative case marker determined not only by the syntactic role of the NP, but also by principles of information structure, as in Umpila and Umbuygamu.


Collection history

The aim of this project is to document five highly endangered Paman languages of Cape York Peninsula (Australia): Kugu Muminh, Kuku Thaypan, Umbuygamu, Umpila and Wik Ngathan. None of these languages have been documented in great detail before, none of them are being learned by children, and all of them have small speech communities with mainly elderly speakers, often less than a dozen. The small size of the speech communities implies not only that documentation work is very urgent, but also that a project focusing on one single language would be unfeasible in this area, both from a documentation perspective and from a community perspective. This is why the researcher has chosen to carry out a documentation project that covers several languages, continuing a regional tradition of team members conducting smaller, focused documentation projects with one particular speech community, while pooling knowledge and resources for the scientific and practical aspects of the work.


Other information

In the course of their previous work (see for more details), team members have built up strong ties with the last speakers of the project languages, and with the communities more generally. Both the older generation of speakers and the younger generation of ‘language rememberers’ have been very supportive of the team members’ work, and have consented to, and often even requested, new initiatives for further work like the present application. Accordingly,this project crucially involved input from the communities, at two levels. The first, obviously, was in the selection of material that was recorded, both in the choice of texts to be recorded, and in decisions on access conditions. The second level of involvement concerned decisions about the type of community-oriented materials that were developed in the project, and in training younger computer-literate community members in handling digital media to ensure future access and distribution in the community.


Acknowledgement and citation

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

Hill, Clair. 2012. Paman languages: Umpila, Kuuku Ya’u, Kaanju. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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