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LOTM 03 | Language, Yimithirr, Guugu, Hope, Vale, North, Speakers, Community | FATSILC, Fed. Aboriginal Torres Strait Island Languages and Culture

LOTM - Jul 1997 - Alberta Hornsby PDF Print E-mail

This is the third of a series of articles on Indigenous languages which will be published on the internet and in the FATSIL Newsletter Voice of the Land.

Guugu Yimithirr
Cape York and Gulf Indigenous Languages Program

Hello. My name is Alberta Hornsby (nee Gibson). I live at HopeVale in North Qld. My job over the past four years has been to co-ordinate the administration of ATSILIP grant in the Cape York and Gulf Region. I have seen the growth of language projects, with 21 languages being retrieved and maintained.

These languages are:
  Kuku Yalanji - Wujal Wujal
  Kuku Thaipan - Laura
  Guugu Yimithirr - Hope Vale
  Lama Lama, Kaanju, Oolkoli, Wik Munkan and Ayapathu - Coen
  "Sand Beach" (composite Kuku Ya'u and Umpila) - Lockhart River
  Injinoo "Ikya", Angamuthi, Atambaya - Injinoo
  Morobalama - Umagico (completed project)
  Koko Berra, Yir-yorrant, Kunjen - Kowanyama
  Lardil and Kaadilt - Mornington Island
  Wanyi, Garrawa and Gangallida - Doomadgee

The results of colonisation are evident in the number of languages that are scattered across this region, far from their homelands.

The Peninsula Region of Far North Queensland has 40% of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students in the State, so it was a natural thought that our children in the school system would be the most appropriate starting point in maintaining our languages.

At this stage, we have not even reached the tip of the iceberg. Until then, committed community people continue to teach language and culture in their schools. There is still much work to be done in helping communities identify appropriate people, resources etc. to enable the best possible methods of language maintenance.


Guugu Yimithirr

This month I would like to introduce the Guugu Yimithirr or Koko Yimidirr language to you. Prior to invasion by miners, cattlemen, pearlers and fishers, "Guugu", meaning speech, voice or word and "Yimithirr" meaning "this way" was spoken along the coastline from the Annon River in the south to the Jennie River in the north, and west to Battle Camp. However, the language was understood beyond this area.

The descendants of these speakers now live at Hope Vale, which is about 46kms north of Cooktown. The original mission was founded by German Lutheran missionaries. They learnt and wrote down Guugu Yimithirr. A Lutheran missionary Schwartz, (called "Muni" by Bama at Cape Bedford) saw the importance of learning and maintaining Guugu Yimithirr, for communication purposes rather than teaching German or English.

Bama-ngay (Aborigines) were proficient writers and readers of the written language.

There are two distinct divisions of the language, thalun-thirr (seaside) and Warrgurgaar (outside). Captain Cook also collated a wordlist of Guugu Yimithirr language in 1770. The following wordlist is taken from Hawkesworth edition of the voyages, published in London, 1773. Vol iii pp 242-3.


English  Cook's Name  Roths  Present Day 
Hair   morye  moari  muuri
 Eyes  meul  mil  miil
 Lips  yembe  yirimbi  yimbi
 Nose  bonjoo  bunu bunhu
 Tongue unjar   ngandar  nganhthaar 


A survey has not been done, however, I have estimated that there are fewer than 30 speakers between 50-70 years old; fewer than 60 speakers between 30-50 and fewer than 30 speakers under 30.

Although in the past the devaluation of our Elders and language has had a disempowering effect within our community, we are all working to reinforce the value and importance of language and culture at Hope Vale in the ongoing management of our community affairs.

Nhawaa Yiyi ngumbaarngay.
Yiyi yarrga Nat Michael, nyulu miirriil ngungu nguumbarr, Thugaarrngan. Ngawaa wantharra Natngan burriiwi guthirra balga.

"Look at this picture. This young man, Nat Michael is showing his sand picture. Look how Nat made two emus."


For further information contact; Alberta Hornsby
Hope Vale Community Learning Centre
Hope Vale. Queensland 4871
PH/FAX Guugu Yimithirr Warra Ltd. 070 609209