C19: Wambaya

AIATSIS code: 
AIATSIS reference name: 


Thesaurus heading language
Thesaurus heading people
ABN name
ABS name
Horton name
Ethnologue name
ISO 639-3 code
Tindale name
Tindale (1974)
Wombaia, Wambaja, Wampaja (of Iliaura), Won-baia, Wom-by-a, Wombya, Yumpia, Umbaia, Umbia.
O'Grady et al (1966)
Wambaia, Wombya, Wom-by-a, Yumpia, Umbaia
Other sources
Wambaya, Yumpia, Umbaia [Top End Handbook] Umbia (Lindsay 1887), Wombya (Mathews 1900), Umbaia (Spender and Gillen 1904), Wombaia (Mathews 1905, Capell 1965), Yumpia (Basedow 1907), Umbai (Elymann 1908), Wambaia (Hale 1959, Tindale 1974), Wambaja (Capell 1963, Yallop 1969, Chadwick 1971) and Wampaya (Avery 1990) [Nordlinger 1998] Yumpia (Power), Umbaia (Spencer and Gillen 1904) [Basedow 1906:3]
Wambaia, Wombaya, Wambaia; Umbaia, Umbia, Wambaja, Wampaja, Wom by a, Wombaia, Wombya, Wonbaia, Yumpia, Wambaya; Umbaia, Wampaya; Umbaia, Wampaya, Wobya, Wambaya; Wambaia, Umbaia, Wailwan, Wailwin, Wailwun, Waljwan, Wamgaja, Wilwan, Ympia, Won baia

Wambaya (C19) is one of three dialects including Gudanji C26 and Binbinka N138 of the Wambayan language group, which belongs to the Ngurlun sub-group in the Mirndi language family of non-Pama Nyungan languages (Harvey, 2008:1-3). Harvey says Wambaya is extremely endangered (2008:4).

The Mirndi language family consists of two geographically non-contiguous groups on the Barkly Tableland in the Northern Territory: Western Mirndi, with two languages 'Jaminjungan' (see Jaminjung N18 and Ngaliwurru N19) and Nungali N28; and Eastern Mirndi, with three languages, Jingulu C22, Ngarnka N121 and the Wambayan language group.

The Wambayan language group and Ngarnka (N121) are in turn two languages which form a genetic group that Harvey calls 'Ngurlun' (Harvey, 2008:1-3).

Earlier writers call Wambayan the 'McArthur language', after the river which forms part of the territories affiliated with Gudanji, Binbinka and Wambaya (Nordlinger 1998:5 and Chadwick 1989:1-2). Nordlinger's description of these two non-contiguous but related language groups is similar: the first consisting of Jaminjung N18, Naliwuru N19 and Nungali N28 located in the geographic west and the second in the geographic east the 'West Barkly' set consisting of Jingili C22 along with the 'Eastern Group' of Ngarnga N121 and the McArthur language (see above) (1998:4).


  • Chadwick, Neil. 1989. The relationship of Jingulu and Jaminjungan. MS 2833.
  • Harvey, Mark. 2008. Proto Mirndi: a discontinuous language family in northern Australia. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
  • Harvey, Mark. 2008. Non-Pama-Nyungan Languages: land-language associations at colonisation. AILEC 0802.
  • Nordlinger, Rachel. 1998. A grammar of Wambaya, Northern Territory (Australia): Pacific Linguistics C-140. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
State / Territory: 
Location information: 

There was no precise information on the limits of Wambaya affiliations in 2007. Wambaya was associated with Eva Downs homestead, Anthony Lagoon, and Brunette Downs. Walhallow was probably associated with Wambaya, but there was no definite information on this point. Cresswell Downs homestead was not associated with Wambaya (Harvey AILEC 0802).


Sourcebook for Central Australian Languages (1981): 

Kartujarra (A51 ) in Sourcebook for Central Australian Languages (1981).


Names of the language and different spellings that have been used:
Wambaia (T), Wambaja (AC, orig. AIAS), Wambaya (Hale,O'G,RLS,SAW,Chadwick,AIAS), Wampaya (Hale), Wobya (AL), Umbaia (Spencer & Gillen), Yumpia (AL)
Classification of the language:
Wambayan Family, or Jingiluan-Wambayan Family., (Djingili-Wambayan Family (O'G: Djingiluan) Wambayan subgroup
Identification codes:
Oates '73: 30.1a
AIAS: C.019
Capell: C24
Present number and distribution of speakers:
Elliott, Anthony Lagoon, Brunette Downs, Rockhampton Downs, Tennant Creek
Milliken, 1972 -- 110
Black, 1979 -- more than 50 at Brunette Downs
Chadwick, (quoted 1979): more than 20 fluent speakers, and a further 40 with limited knowledge.
People who have worked intensively on the language:
Chadwick continues study of the Barkly languages.
Practical orthography:
None established. Orthography used by Chadwick is suitable (b-d-k); an alternative (p-t-k) is used in the word list.
Word lists:
Hale, 1966; Campbell, 1979.
Grammar or sketch grammar:
Campbell, 1979 (based on Hale ms.)
Material available on the language:
Campbell, Stuart J. 1979(?). An outline grammar of Wambaya based on field notes and recordings by K.L. Hale. 47p. ts. ANU.
Chadwick, Neil. 1975. (Basic data (morpho-syntactic) analysis: Djingili, Wambaya, Gudandji, Binbinga and Ngarnga). 48p. ms. Canberra.
---------- 1979. The West Barkly languages: an outline sketch, pp.653-711 in Australian Linguistic Studies, ed. by S.A. Wurm Pacific Linguistics C.54.
Gillen, F.J. 1894-98. Notes on some manners and customs of (Australian) Aborigines, 1894-98. 5vol. ms. folio notebooks. Sydney University. (comparative table of 200 words, English-Arunta, Kaitish, Waramangu, Chingili, Umbaia, Gnanji).
Hale, Kenneth L. 1959. Wampaya field notes. (Ms 870, AIAS).
---------- 1966. Barkly word list. 7p. mimeo. Dept. of Anthropology, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona. (15 March 1966) (113 words in 4 languages)
Literacy material:

Kathy Menning (comp.) and David Nash (ed.) 1981. © IAD Press

AIATSIS gratefully acknowledges IAD Press for permission to use this material in AUSTLANG.

Ken Hale, Rachel Nordlinger, Papulu Apparr-Kari Language Centre
Indigenous organisations: 
Year Source Speaker numbers

Speaker numbers were measured differently across the censuses and various other sources listed in AUSTLANG. You are encouraged to refer to the sources.

Speaker numbers for ‘NILS 2004’ and ‘2005 estimate’ come from 'Table F.3: Numbers of speakers of Australian Indigenous languages (various surveys)' in 'Appendix F NILS endangerment and absolute number results' in McConvell, Marmion and McNicol 2005, pages 198-230 (PDF, 2.5MB).

Type Documentation Status Documentation Score
Word list Medium (100-200 pages) 3
Text Collection Small (20-100 pages) 2
Grammar Large grammar (more than 200 pages) 4
Audio-visual More than 10 3
Manuscript note: 
tape transcription/field note available

Nordlinger, Rachel. 1998. A grammar of Wambaya, Northern Territory (Australia): Pacific Linguistics C140.Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.


Nordlinger, Rachel. Wambaya Dictionary, ASEDA 0551.

Source Family Group Sub-group Name Relationship
Ethnologue (2005) Pama-Nyungan West Barkly   Wambaya Wambaya [dialects: Wambaya, Binbinga (Binbinka), Gudandji. Black (1983) says the dialects are inherently intelligible.]
Dixon (2002)   MINDI SUBGROUP East Mindi subgroup* Wambaya Wambaya Nordlinger (1998) further dialects: Gudandji, Binbinka
Wurm (1994) Djingili-Wambayan Wambayan   Wambaya  
Walsh (1981) Djingili-Wambayan Wambayan   Wambaya  
Oates (1975) Djingili-Wambayan Wambayan   Wambaya  
Wurm (1972) Djingili-Wambayan Wambayic   Wambaya  
O'Grady, Voegelin and Voegelin (1966) Wambayan     Wambaya