Guguyimidjir/Guugu Yimithirr

We’re up to the first week mark in the A to Z of Endangered Languages series, so it’s time for the letter G – and for this we have the language Guguyimidjir!


Guguyimidjir (also known as Guugu Yimithirr) is an Australian Aboriginal language spoken by 780 people in the community of Hopevale, Queensland. UNESCO classifies the language as vulnerable, with Ethnologue adding that children seem to still understand the language, though there is a shift towards them speaking Aboriginal English.

There are many interesting aspects to the Guguyimidjir language; for instance, in 1770, it became the first Australian Aboriginal language to be written down, and it is the language that the word “kangaroo” originates from – but by far one of the most-studied parts of the language is the fact that, like the picture says, cardinal directions are used for spatial reasoning.

What this means is, instead of using the egocentric method – that is, something being to the left or right of the speaker (or listener), the people who speak Guguyimidjir use the cardinal directions – north, south, east, west – even when they are speaking about something in relation to another person. There are other languages that do this as well, but this occurrence in Guguyimidjir has been extensively studied.

With the language only being classified as vulnerable, and efforts to teach it and promote it, particularly in Hopevale, it seems likely that it could still survive for a while yet.

Sources/Further Reading

Ethnologue: Guguyimidjir
Language Village: tumblinguistics – Guugu Yimithirr
Wikipedia: Guugu Yimithirr language
Haviland, John B.: Guugu Yimithirr Cardinal Directions
Levinson, S. C.: Language and Cognition – The cognitive consequences of spatial description in Guugu Yimithirr
Expect Labs: How Language Shapes Reality – Exploring Guugu Yimithirr
The New York Times: Does Your Language Shape How You Think?
Cape York Institute: Recognition for the Revitalisation of Culture through Language

And here’s a list of the languages I’ll be looking at in the next week:

Saturday 9th August: H – Huilliche
Monday 11th August: I – Irántxe
Tuesday 12th August: J – Jerung
Wednesday 13th August: K – Kalmyk
Thursday 14th August: L – Ladin
Friday 15th August: M – Manchu

One comment

  1. Reblogged this on Epenthesis and commented:
    Today The Linguistics Corner takes into consideration a language that uses a particular spatial deixis. Let’s take a look.

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