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Uw Olkola and Uw Oykangand Language Information

Uw Olkola and Uw Oykangand are Australian Aboriginal languages spoken on southern Cape York Peninsula, far north Queensland. The traditional land of the Uw Olkola clans is concentrated around the Alice and Crosbie Rivers in the south-central part of the Peninsula, from the top of the Great Dividing Range in the east to what is now the Alice and Mitchell Rivers National Park in the west. Traditional Uw Oykangand land is centered around the National Park and further west around the Mitchell River into the Gulf Country.

Today Uw Olkola and Uw Oykangand speakers live in various towns, Aboriginal communities and outstations scattered around the Peninsula: Kowanyama and Pormpuraaw (Edward River) in the Gulf country; Laura, Musgrave and Coen along the Peninsula Development Road; Chillagoe; and Hopevale. Uw Oykangand and Uw Olkola people at Kowanyama are establishing a permanent outstation on traditional land at Oriners Station, and Uw Olkola people at Coen have established an outstation on traditional land at Glen Garland. They continue to make extensive use of the land for camping and subsistence hunting, fishing and gathering edible plant food stuffs. They also harvest the land for traditional industry.

The Aboriginal languages of Cape York Peninsula are all closely related, belonging to the Paman sub-group of the widespread Pama-Nyungan family (O'Grady, Voegelin & Voegelin 1966). Uw Olkola has a sister dialect, Uw Oykangand. They are very similar and mutually intelligible, with 97% cognacy in core vocabulary. Uw Olkola and Uw Oykangand are clearly distinct from the neighbouring languages they appear to be most closely related to: Kuuk Thaayorre, Koko Bera, Yirr Yorront, Yirrk Thangedl, and Ogh Unyjan.

There is a minimal amount of information on Uw Olkola and Uw Oykangand already available on the Internet, at the SIL Ethnologue entry for "Kunjen".

[Note on the term "Kunjen": "Kunjen" is a pigin English term for the Uw Oykangand language and speakers, commonly used by Aboriginal people and white people. I avoid this term for three reasons. First, "Kunjen" is is not a native term in either Uw Oykangand or Uw Olkola. Second, the term may lead to confusion since it is a vulgarised form of the native word for the Ogh Unyjan language and people. Ogh Unyjan is a distinct language from Uw Oykangand, referred to as Uw In.gan in Uw Oykangand and Uw Olkola. Third, the term "Kunjen" in English and pigin refers primarily to Uw Oykangand and normally does not include Uw Olkola. Many eastern Uw Olkola speakers are not familiar with the term.]

Uw Olkola and Uw Oykangand Phonology

In human languages words are composed of phonetic sounds in a sequence, and so words are distinguished from each other by their sounds. Languages differ in what sounds, or phonemes, they use to distinguish between words. The phoneme inventories of Uw Olkola and Uw Oykangand are very similar. They both have five vowel phonemes, written with the letters a, e, i, o, u. Each orthographic letter sounds similar between the two languages but there are systematic differences in the range of phonetic variation of each phoneme which sound minor to a native English speaker. The consonants of Uw Olkola and Uw Oykangand are also written the same. In alphabetical order they are: b, bm, ch, d, dh, dn, dnh, g, gng, j, jny, k, l, lh, ly, m, n, ng, nh, ny, p, r, rr, t, th, w, y. (Many of the phonemes in Uw Olkola and Uw Oykangand are written with two or three letters, just as the letters sh in English represent a single sound.) Once again there are systematic differences between Uw Olkola and Uw Oykangand in how the letters are pronounced. Thus two words written the same in the two languages may sound rather different.

Consonants: places of articulation
Oral and nasal stops are contrasted at five places of articulation: bilabial (p, b, m, bm), dorso-velar (k, g, ng, gng) and three coronal places, lamino-dental (th, dh, nh, dnh), apico-alveolar (t, d, n, dn) and lamino-alveopalatal (ch, j, ny, jny). Laterals are contrasted at the three coronal places (lamino-dental lh, apico-alveolar l and lamino-alveopalatal ly), and there is a single, apico-alveolar, trill rr. In addition there are three semivowels: one labial-velar (w, with simultaneous bilabial and dorso-velar gestures), one retroflex (r), and one palatal (y).

Consonants: manners of articulation
There are two series of obstruents, two series of nasal non-continuants, a single series of lateral sonorant approximants, a trill and three semivowels.

The two obstruent series differ on several phonetic parameters. One series is produced with a long, non-continuant occlusion, no vocal cord vibration and aspiration on release. The airstream is always completely occluded. The members of this series are p, th, t, ch, k. The other series is weakly articulated, either as a short stop or as a spirant. These segments are voiced and unaspirated. The members of this series are b, dh, d, j, g. The manner of articulation varies as a function of both phonetic context and place of articulation. Following a nasal they are always produced as stops. Between oral sonorants (either intervocalically, or between a lateral or trill and a vowel), the bilabial b is almost always produced as a spirant. The dorso-velar g is usually but not as consistently produced as a spirant, and the lamino-dental dh is optionally produced as a spirant. The apico-alveolar d and lamino-alveopalatal j are never spirantized.

There is less variation in the production of the nasal phonemes. They are pronounced similarly in both Uw Olkola and Uw Oykangand and there is little contextual variation in either language. One series is composed of plain nasal stop segments. Both the closure and release are nasalized. The members of this series are m, nh, n, ny, ng. The other series is produced with an oral closure and a nasal release. I refer to the members of this latter series as "pre-stopped nasals." The members of this series are bm, dnh, dn, jny, gng.
Place Bilabial Lamino-
Retroflex Lamino-
Palatal Dorso-
Long stop p th t ch k
Short stop b dh d j g
Plain nasal m nh n ny ng
Pre-stopped nasal bm dnh dn jny gng
Lateral lh l ly
Trill rr
Approximant (w)p r y (w)