The sounds of Jingulu. Photo from Omniglot.
La Cañada High School

Opinion: Northern Australian language Jingulu has unique vowel combinations

Jingulu, which is also known as Djingili, is a language in the Mirndl language family that is spoken in the Northern Territory in Australia.

Other names for the language are Chunguloo, Chingalee, Djingila, Djingulu, Jingali, Tchingalee, Lee, and Tjingilu, according to Omniglot.

Jingulu, in my opinion, is an incredibly fun name to say.

There is (or was) a well-developed signed version of the Jingulu language,” according to Omniglot.

A signed version of Jingulu also sounds incredibly fun.

What isn’t incredibly fun is the fact that this language only has 23 speakers left, as of a 2016 census.

According to Omniglot, “The majority of speakers are over 50, and the language is no longer used as a means of daily communication — English or Kriol are used instead.”

The most interesting fact about Jingulu is that its three vowels each represent at least two sounds which might not make the same sound as the letter that represents it, depending on the letter.

This can be seen with the “i” making the [ɨ] or [e] sounds, the “u” making the [o] or [ɔ] sounds, and the “a” making the [ʌ], [æ] or [ə] sounds. Long vowels in the language are written out using double letters. I have never seen this specific combination before, which is why I find it so fascinating.

Another aspect of Jingulu vowels that intrigues me is the vowel harmony that is used in Jingulu, which can be seen in this example from Omniglot.

Jingulu has vowel harmony, which involves ‘a’ becoming ‘i’ when it is at the end of a root word and attached to suffixes containing ‘i’ or ‘u.’ For example: ngaja + -mindi-yi = ngijimindiyi (we will see); ngarrabaj + -wurru-nu = ngirribijiwurrunu (they told (it to him)).” —Omniglot

While the vowel harmony might seem somewhat strange or complicated at first, it is one of the features of Jingulu that definitely make it stand out.