Archives pour la catégorie LANGUAGES


Dalabon belongs to the Gunwinyguan family (among the non-Pama-Nyungan Australian languages), and like all the languages in this family, it is highly polysynthetic and agglutinative. Dalabon speakers live in the communities of Weemol, Bulman, Beswick/Wugularr and Barunga, located in south-western dalabon_captionArnhem Land, to the east of the town of Katherine, in the Northern Territory (Australia).

Dalabon is severely endangered. It is difficult to evaluate the number of speakers, because some passive speakers remain silent for cultural/interactional reasons. There are probably fewer than a dozen fluent speakers, with diverse levels of mastery. Dalabon is no longer a language of significant interactions on a day-to-day basis. Even when two relatively fluent Dalabon speakers talk together, they normally use Kriol. However, Dalabon is still used occasionally in some households, for instance when addressing requests.

While speakers of Dalabon are few, several of them are highly motivated to document their language. Some have collaborated with linguists for a long time, and are very willing to continue to do so. One of them, Maggie Tukumba, is the coauthor of a dictionary (Evans et al. 2004). While there exists no grammar of Dalabon, a number of articles have been published. I have been involved with the Dalabon community since 1998, through language projects and other activities, and focused on Dalabon for my PhD Dissertation.

Some literature on Dalabon
Bordluk, Daisy, Nikipini Dalak, Maggie Tukumba, Lily Bennett, Rita Tingey Bordro, Margaret Katherine, Sarah Cutfield, Manuel Pamkal & Glenn Wightman. 2013. Dalabon plants and animals. Aboriginal biocultural knowledge from southern Arnhem Land, north Australia. Darwin: Centre for Indigenous natural and cultural resource management, Northern Territory University and Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory.

Cutfield, Sarah. 2011. Demonstratives in Dalabon. A language of south-western Arnhem Land. PhD Dissertation. Melbourne: Monash University.
Evans, Nicholas. 2007. Standing up your mind. In Mengistu Amberber (ed.), The language of memory in a cross-linguistic perspective, 67–95. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Evans, Nicholas, Dunstan Brown & Greville Corbett. 2001. Dalabon pronominal prefixes and the typology of syncretism: A network morphology analysis. In Booij Geert & Jaap Van Marle (eds.), Yearbook of morphology 2000, 103–172. Dordrecht/Boston/London: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Evans, Nicholas & Francesca Merlan. 2003. Dalabon verb conjugation. In Nicholas Evans (ed.), The non-Pama-Nyungan Languages of Northern Australia: Comparative studies of the continent’s most linguistically complex region, vol. 552, 268–283. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
Evans, Nicholas, Francesca Merlan & Maggie Tukumba. 2004. A First Dictionary of Dalabon. Maningrida: Maningrida Arts and Culture, Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation.

Ponsonnet, Maïa. 2014a. Dalabon emotion glossary (second draft, June 2014).
Ponsonnet, Maïa. 2014b. The language of emotions: The case of Dalabon (Australia). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Ross, Belinda Britt. 2011. Prosody and grammar in Dalabon and Kayardild. PhD Dissertation. Merlbourne: The University of Melbourne.

Bininj Gun-wok, Jawoyn, Rembarrnga

Bininj Gun-wok (a dialect chain), Jawoyn, and Rembarrnga are three other languages of the Gunwinyguan family, the same family as Dalabon. These languages are also spoken in Arnhem Land and around the town of Katherine (Northern Territory, Australia). Guninyguan languages resemble eaGunwinyguan_captionsch other with respect to phonology, morphosyntax and vocabulary, like French, Spanish and Italian for instance resemble each other. Within the family, languages in the Bininj Gun-wok dialect chain and Dalabon are genetically very close. Rembarrnga and Dalabon also display a high degree of resemblance, in spite of being more distant genetically.

In pre-colonial times, these four languages were spoken in neighboring regions, among groups of people who used to interact together socially. They shared the same beliefs and mythical stories, carried out rituals together, intermarried, and simply lived together. Many people spoke several of these four languages, sometimes all of them. Therefore, these language groups formed a cultural unit.

Jawoyn and Rembarrnga are extremelly endangered, like Dalabon. Bininj Gun-wok dialects, on the other hand, are still spoken by about 1,500 people, and learnt by children, in several Aboriginal communities of northern Arnhem Land. In more recent times, Bininj Gun-wok, Dalabon, Jawoyn, and Rembarrnga were the four main languages in co-presence when the creole called Barunga Kriol was adopted in Aboriginal communities in this region. Therefore, it is likely that each of these four languages had some influence on Barunga Kriol.

Since 1998, while working on Dalabon, I have also spent a lot of time with speakers of these other three other Gunwinyguan languages. Just like Dalabon speakers, some of them are very keen to work with linguists in order to document their language. In 2014, I collected data on emotions in Bininj Gun-wok and Rembarrnga. In the years to come, I plan to analyze the linguistic encoding of emotions in Bininj Gun-wok, Jawoyn, and Rembarrnga, so as to compare these languages with Dalabon, and understand how grammatical and cultural variation impacts on the way people talk about emotions.

Some literature on Bininj Gun-wok,
Jawoyn, Rembarrnga, and the Gunwinyguan family
Evans, Nicholas. 1992. “Wanjh! Bonj! Nja!”: Sequential organization and social deixis in Mayali interjections. Journal of Pragmatics 18(2-3). 101–118.
Evans, Nicholas. 2003a. Bininj Gun-Wok: A pan-dialectal grammar of Mayali, Kunwinjku and Kune. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
Evans, Nicholas. 2003b. The non-Pama-Nyungan Languages of Northern Australia: Comparative studies of the continent’s most linguistically complex region. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
Garde, Murray. 2010. Bininj Gunwok Talk about Health: Medical Terms and Vocabulary for Health Professionals. Jabiru: Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation.
Merlan, Francesca. 1989. Jawoyn relationship terms: Interactional dimensions of Australian kin classification. Anthropological Linguistics1 31(3-4).
Merlan, Francesca & Pascale Jacq. 2005a. Jawoyn-English Dictionary and English Finder List. Katherine: Diwurruwurru-Jaru Aboriginal Corporation.
Merlan, Francesca & Pascale Jacq. 2005b. Jawoyn Topic Dictionary (Thesaurus). Katherine: Diwurruwurru-Jaru Aboriginal Corporation.
Saulwick, Adam. 2003a. A First Dictionary of Rembarrnga. Maningrida: Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation, Maningrida Arts and Culture.
Saulwick, Adam. 2003b. Aspects of the verb in Rembarrnga, a polysynthetic language of northern Australia: Grammatical description, texts and dictionary. PhD Dissertation. Melbourne: University of Melbourne.

Barunga Kriol

The language of daily interaction in the communities of south-western Arnhem Land, where speakers of Bininj Gun-wok, Dalabon, Jawoyn and Rembarrga speakers reside is a variety of Kriol (an Australian creole) called Barunga Kriol. Kriol is an English-based creole that developed, starting in the early 20th century, throughout the Top End of the Northern Territory (coastal areas excepted) and across, up to the Kimberleys. It is spoken by up to 30,000 Indigenous people nowadays (Lee and Obata 2010) throughout a vast portion of Central Northern Australia. Speakers of Barunga Kriol now identify it as a proper language and as an identity marker they are proud of.

Since 2014, I have been working on Barunga Kriol, focusing on the language of emotions in particular. One of the purposes of my research is to measure and explain the resemblance between Barunga Kriol and its substrates – Bininj Gun-wok, Dalabon, Jawoyn, and Rembarrnga – with respect to the language of emotions.

Some literature on Kriol and Barunga Kriol
Dickson, Gregory F. 2015. Marra and Kriol: The loss and maintenance of knowledge across a language shift boundary. Linguistics, SCHL, CAP. Canberra: The Australian National University.
Munro, Jen. 2004. Substrate language influence in Kriol: The application of transfer constraints to language contact in Northern Australia. Linguistics. Armidale: University of New England.
Nicholls, Sophie. 2009. Referring expressions and referential practice in Roper Kriol. Armidale: University of New England.
Ponsonnet, Maïa. 2011. “Brainwash from English”? Barunga Kriol speakers’ views on their own language. Anthropological Linguistics 52(2). 24.
Ponsonnet, Maïa. 2012. Body-parts in Barunga Kriol and Dalabon: Matches and mismatches. In Maïa Ponsonnet, Loan Dao & Margit Bowler (eds.), Proceedings of the 42nd Australian Linguistic Society Conference – 2011, 351–387. Canberra: ANU Research Repository.
Ponsonnet, Maïa. 2016. Reflexive, reciprocal and emphatic functions in Barunga Kriol. In Meakins F. and O’Shanessy C. eds., Loss and renewal. Australian languages since contact, 297-332. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Rhydwen, Mari. 1995. Kriol is the color of Thursday. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 113. 113–119.
Schultze-Berndt, Eva, Felicity Meakins & Denise Angelo. 2013. Kriol. In Susan M Michaelis, Matthew Maurer, Martin Haspelmath & Magnus Huber (eds.), The atlas of pidgin and creole language structures (APiCS), 241–251. Oxford: Oxford University Press.