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Nhawaa Yiyi ngumbaarngay.
Nhawaa Yiyi ngumbaarngay.
Indigenous Languages Program
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.
 
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.
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.

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

This article can be found at the following web address: http://www.aiatsis.gov.au/LOTM/aug97.htm