An SMS message in Guugu Yimithirr. Photo from blogs.slq.qld.gov.au.
La Cañada High School

Guugu Yimithirr: A language feature

When I first found out about the language Guugu Yimithirr, I thought its spelling looked like someone let loose on their keyboard.

Some other ways of spelling the language’s name are Guugu Yimidhirr, Koko Imudji, and Kukuyimidi, according to Omniglot.

As I read more about the language, I found that it had more fascinating qualities than just its name.

Guugu Yimithirr is an Australian language in the Pama-Nyungan language family that is spoken in parts of Queensland, Australia.

According to Omniglot, in the 2016 census, there were around 780 speakers of Guugu Yimithirr. Members of the Guugu Yimithirr speaking community are currently attempting to save the language.

Guugu Yimithirr means “having this speech,” according to Omniglot.

In 1770, Guugu Yimithirr was first documented by Joseph Banks, James Cook, and Sydney Parkinson, according to Omniglot. Guugu Yimithirr was the first Australian Aboriginal language that was written down.

In my opinion, the most interesting aspect of Guugu Yimithirr is its way of telling directions. In Guugu Yimithirr, there are no words for “left” and “right,” for example. In Guugu Yimithirr, points of location are referred to in cardinal points, which are the directions north, south, east, and west.

According to Our Languages, “If a speaker was conveying an object’s position, they would describe it as being ‘on the western edge of the floor,’ or if they wanted you to bend over, they would tell you to ‘go south.’”

As a native English speaker, I found this particular aspect of the language to be incredibly fascinating and captivating.

Guugu Yimithirr speakers “are more skilled at locating and describing objects in an open terrain, while English speakers are better at describing the position of objects relative to others,” according to Our Languages.

The fact that speakers of Guugu Yimithirr refer to objects’ locations in relation to cardinal points is one of the most interesting things I have ever seen a language do, and I hope you find this wonderful language interesting as well.

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