search catalogue

A pan-dialectal documentation of Wik-Ngathan and Wik-Ngatharr: Cape York Peninsula, Australia


Language Wik-Ngathan (ISO639-3:wig), Wik-Ngatharr (ISO639-3:wig)
Depositor Louise Ashmore
Affiliation SOAS University of London
Location Australia
Collection ID 0192
Grant ID FTG0139, IGS0105
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

Wik-Ngathan and Wik-Ngatharr/Wik-Alken are Paman language varieties spoken on the west coast of Cape York Peninsula (CYP), Australia. Speaker numbers have significantly declined as the younger generation shift to the lingua franca of the area, Wik- Mungkan, and English. This documentation project involves working with speakers of Wik- Ngathan and Wik-Ngatharr to collect a range of transcribed and time-aligned audio and video language data. The documentation materials will form the basis for community-oriented resources and further descriptive work, including a detailed analysis of the demonstrative system in the languages.


Group represented

The majority of Wik-Ngatharr and Wik-Ngathan speakers reside at Aurukun, a community established on the west coast of CYP as a Presbyterian mission in 1906 and now home to approximately 1200 people. All fluent Wik-Ngatharr speakers are reported as bilingual in Wik-Mungkan and Wik-Ngatharr and use a variety of Aboriginal English. The growth of Wik-Mungkan as the lingua franca of the region and its prominence in school literacy programmes has resulted in Wik-Mungkan becoming the first language of children, although there is a reported reduction in children’s vocabulary and language shift to English (pc, Barbara Sayers, 2006)

Languages in the Wik region have been undergoing some serious changes and despite an extensive archive dating from the 1930s onwards little is currently known about the extent of variation in Wik languages (except Sutton, 1978), how younger generations are using them and the rate of language shift and endangerment. Combined population numbers for Wik-Ngatharr and Wik-Ngathan were reported as approximately 200 in 1972 with all fluent speakers aged over the age of 30 (Sutton, 1978: 166) and young adults and children reported as having a passive knowledge of the language. Though the current situation is not clear regarding speaker numbers, Wik-Ngatharr and Wik-Ngathan are considered highly endangered, with related language varieties, Wik-Me’anh, severely endangered and Wik-Ep moribund. Documenting Wik-Ngatharr while there are still fluent speakers to be exact about internal variation in the language and while there is still potential for comprehensive documentation is therefore particularly urgent.


Language information

Wik-Ngatharr is a Pama-Nyungan language of the Paman subgroup and is the northernmost of the coastal Wik languages spoken in Cape York Peninsula, Australia. The term Wik languages refers to a subgroup of Paman languages and dialects classified as Middle Paman based on lexico-statistical work carried out by Hale (1966). Using additional data Sutton (1978: 180) presents a preliminary statement of genetic relationships in Wik dialects showing Wik-Ngathan and sister dialect Wik-Ngatharr to be dialects of a separate language that is genetically split from the remaining Wik languages. Though they share similar lexicon there are significant dialect and intra-dialectal variation (Sutton, 1991).


Collection history

This project aims to compile a corpus of audio-visual recordings of the largely undescribed Wik-Ngatharr dialect. This will involve the collation and analysis of existing archival materials and fieldwork at Aurukun to document the synchronic use of Wik-Ngatharr across a range of staged and natural speech events, with appropriate metadata and contextual cultural information added. The project will supplement the ongoing research begun in 1976 by Professor Peter Sutton on Wik-Ngathan to develop further understanding of the extent and forms of variation in this group of Wik-languages and how variation is enacted in the sociolinguistic and cultural practices of speakers. The corpus will provide the basis for further descriptive work and community-oriented research.

Consultation and negotiations with the community will be made across all phases of documentation. This includes drafting agreements for data collection, handling, storage, access and dissemination as well as negotiating required outcomes of the project to meet the needs of the community for language learning and cultural heritage resources and to comply with documentation practice and ethical research guidelines.


Acknowledgement and citation

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

Ashmore, Louise. 2016. A pan-dialectal documentation of Wik-Ngathan and Wik-Ngatharr: Cape York Peninsula, Australia. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

Powered by Preservica
© Copyright 2024