WAGIMAN.

Wagiman (or Wageman) is a nearly extinct language of northern Australia; the Wagiman online dictionary is a nicely done site that provides lexical and other information. The Introduction says:

Wagiman is an Australian Aboriginal language spoken in Australia’s Northern Territory. At the moment there are about ten people who speak Wagiman, mostly old people. Wagiman belongs to what linguists call the non-Pama-Nyungan language family. Within that family, it appears to fall into the Gunwinyguan language group, but it is not closely related to any other Aboriginal languages.
There are several dialects of Wagiman, with the most prominent distinction being between matjjin no-roh-ma ‘light language’ and matjjin gu-nawutj-jan ‘heavy language’. Helen Liddy and Lenny Liddy speak light language, and Lulu Martin, Paddy Huddlestone and Clara McMahon speak heavy language. There is not all that much difference, and no Wagiman speakers have any trouble understanding one another.

Ten speakers and “several” dialects! Now, that’s what I call stubborn diversity. (Via Plep.)

Comments

  1. Cryptic Ned says:

    I would like to submit a suggestion that when the people who speak a language all bear names that come from the linguistic heritage of another language – and these names have not been established against their will – then the people’s language is at best moribund.
    “Paddy Huddlestone”?

  2. Well, I think a language with ten speakers can be safely called moribund anyway.

  3. Not necessarily, Ned. Aboriginal names are not to be used lightly, so people tend to have a Western name that the government and linguists and so on can a) pronounce and b) use. Within the community kinship names/ skin names or nicknames are used. I still don’t know the Aboriginal names of everyone I’ve worked with.

  4. The frustrating ones are those where there are only two speakers left, and they’re not allowed to speak to each other.

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