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Yidiny language


Yidiny language

Native to Australia
Region Queensland
Native speakers
150  (2006 census)[1]
Wanjurr (Wanjurru)
Language codes
ISO 639-3 yii
Glottolog yidi1250[4]
Yidiny (green, with arrow) among other Pama–Nyungan languages (tan)

Yidiny (also spelled Yidinj, Yidiɲ, Yidinʸ) is a nearly extinct Australian Aboriginal language, spoken by the Yidindji tribe of northern Queensland.


Yidiny form a separate branch of Pama–Nyungan. It is sometimes grouped with Djabugay as Yidinyic, but Bowern (2011) retains Djabugay in its traditional place within the Paman languages.[5]



Front Back
High i, iː u, uː
Low a, aː


Peripheral Laminal Apical
Bilabial Velar Palatal Alveolar Retroflex
Stop b ɡ ɟ d
Nasal m ŋ ɲ n
Lateral l
Rhotic r ɽ
Semivowel w j

It is not clear if the two rhotics are trill and flap, or tap and approximant.


The Yidiny language has a number of particles that change the meaning of an entire clause. These, unlike other forms in the language, such as nouns, verbs and gender markers, have no grammatical case and take no tense inflections. The particles in the Yidiny language: nguju - 'not' (nguju also functions as the negative interjection 'no'), giyi - 'don't', biri - 'done again', yurrga - 'still', mugu - 'couldn't help it' (mugu refers to something unsatisfactory but that is impossible to avoid doing), jaymbi / jaybar - 'in turn'. E.g. 'I hit him and he jaymbi hit me', 'He hit me and I jaybar hit him'.

Pronouns and deictics

Pronoun and other pronoun-like words are classified as two separate lexical categories. This is for morphosyntactic reasons: pronouns show nominative-accusative case marking while demonstratives, deictics, and other nominals show absolutive-ergative cad marking.[6]


In common with several other Australian Aboriginal languages, Yidiny is an agglutinative ergative-absolutive language. There are many affixes which indicate a number of different grammatical concepts, such as the agent of an action (shown by -nggu), the ablative case (shown by -mu or -m), the past tense (shown by -nyu) and the present and future tenses (both represented with the affix -ng).

There are also two affixes which lengthen the last vowel of the verbal root to which they are added, -Vli- and -Vlda (the capital letter 'V' indicates the lengthened final vowel of the verbal root). For example: magi- 'climb up' + ili + -nyu 'past tense affix' (giving magiilinyu), magi- 'climb up' + ilda + -nyu 'past tense affix' (giving magiildanyu). The affix -Vli- means 'do while going' and the affix -Vlda- means 'do while coming'. It is for this reason that they cannot be added to the verbs gali- 'go' or gada- 'come'. Therefore, the word magiilinyu means 'went up, climbing' and magiildanyu means 'came up, climbing'.

One morpheme, -ŋa, is an applicatve in some verbs and a causative in others. For example, maŋga- 'laugh' becomes applicative maŋga-ŋa- 'laugh at' while warrŋgi- 'turn around' becomes causative warrŋgi-ŋa- 'turn something around'. The classes of verbs are not mutually exclusive however, so some words could have both meanings (bila- 'go in' becomes bila-ŋa- which translates either to applicative 'go in with' or causative 'put in'), which are disambiguated only through context.[7]

Affixes and number of syllables

There is a general preference in Yidiny that as many words as possible should have an even number of syllables. It is for this reason that the affixes differ according to the word to which they are added. For example: the past tense affix is -nyu when the verbal root has three syllables, producing a word that has four syllables: majinda- 'walk up' becomes majindanyu in the past tense, whereas with a disyllabic root the final vowel is lengthened and -Vny is added: gali- 'go' becomes galiiny in the past tense, thus producing a word that has two syllables. The same principle applies when forming the genitive: waguja- + -ni = wagujani 'man's' (four syllables), bunya- + -Vn- = bunyaan 'woman's'. The preference for an even number of syllables is retained in the affix that shows a relative clause: -nyunda is used with a verb that has two or four syllables (gali- (two syllables) 'go' + nyunda = galinyunda), giving a word that has four syllables whereas a word that has three or five syllables takes -nyuun (majinda- (three syllables) 'walk up' + nyuun = majindanyuun), giving a word that has four syllables.[8]


  1. ^ Yidiny at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Dixon, R. M. W. (2002). Australian Languages: Their Nature and Development. Cambridge University Press. p. xxxiii. 
  3. ^ Yidiny at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  4. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Yidiny". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  5. ^ Bowern, Claire. 2011. "How Many Languages Were Spoken in Australia?", Anggarrgoon: Australian languages on the web, December 23, 2011 (corrected February 6, 2012)
  6. ^ Dixon, R.M.W. 1977. A Grammar of Yidiny. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Cited in Bhat, D.N.S. 2004. Pronouns. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 4–5
  7. ^ Dixon, R.M.W. (2000). "A Typology of Causatives: Form, Syntax, and Meaning". In Dixon, R.M.W. & Aikhenvald, Alexendra Y. Changing Valency: Case Studies in Transitivity. Cambridge University Press. pp. 31–32.
  8. ^ R.M.W. Dixon, Searching for Aboriginal Languages, pages 247-251, University of Chicago Press, 1989

Further reading

  • R. M. W. Dixon. (1977). A Grammar of Yidiny. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • R. M. W. Dixon. (1984, 1989). Searching for Aboriginal Languages. University of Chicago Press.
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