K16: Jawi

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)
Djawi, Djau, Chowie, Djaoi, Tohawi, Tohau-i (name for main island of Buccaneer Group), Ewenu (native name of Sunday Island), Ewanji, Ewenyoon, I:wanja (another version of name of Sunday Island).
O'Grady et al (1966)
Towahi, Tohawi, Ewenu, Ewenyoon
Other sources
Chowie (Bird) [Bowern 2008:63]
Djawi, Djaui, Towahi, Tohawi, Ewenu, Ewenyoon, Chowie, Djaw, Djau, Djaoi, Tohau i, Ewanji, I:wanja

Jawi is a non-Pama Nyungan language from north west Western Australia. McGregor categorises Jawi as one of the Western Nyulnyulan languages, along with Bardi K15, Jabirrjabirr K8, Nimanburru K9, Ngumbarl K4 and Nyulnyul K13. He contrasts these with the Eastern Nyulnyulan languages, Nyikina K3, Warrwa K10, Yawuru K1 and Jukun K2 (2010:209).

Bardi K15 and Jawi are mutually intelligible dialects and show few differences. They have merged over the last thirty years, but the earliest sources of Jawi indicate that the differences used to be more substantial (Bowern 2008:59-60).


  • Bowern, Claire. 2008. History of research on Bardi and Jawi. In Encountering Aboriginal languages: studies in the history of Australian linguistics, ed. William McGregor, 59-84. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
  • Harvey, Mark. 2008. Non-Pama-Nyungan Languages: land-language associations at colonisation. AILEC 0802.
  • McGregor, William B. 2010. The semantics, pragmatics and evolution of two verbless negative constructions in Nyulnyul. Oceanic Linguistics 49(1):205-232.
  • Stokes, Bronwyn. 1982. A description of Nyigina, a language of the West Kimberley, Western Australia (MFE/B52), Australian National University: PhD. (MFE/B52).
  • Tindale, Norman B. 1974. Aboriginal tribes of Australia: their terrain, environmental controls, distribution, limits, and proper names. Berkeley: University of California Press/Canberra: Australian National University Press.
State / Territory: 
Location information: 

Sunday Island and archipelago; north to West Roe Island; west to Jackson Island; in modern times claim landing rights on the eastern coast of Dampier peninsula between Cunningham Point and Swan Point (Tindale 1974).

Sunday Island (Stokes 1984:9). The general associations were from Jackson Island to East Sunday Island (Harvey AILEC 0802).

... spoken on Sunday Island and the islands further east and north...Jawi, as noted above, was the language of the Islanders, especially Sunday Island (Iwany) and the Mayala Islands to the east and north-east. (Bowern 2008:61).


Handbook of Kimberley Languages (1988): 

Gula (A21 ) in Handbook of Kimberley Languages (1988).

4.3 Jawi / Djawi

Names of the language and different spellings that have been used:
Djaoi (Worms), Djau (Peile), Djaui (Capell, Oates, O'Grady), Djawi (AIAS, Bates, Black, Black & Walsh, Capell, Kerr, Robinson), Dyao (Nekes & Worms), Dyawi (Stokes), Jarrau, Jaw (Hudson & McConvell), Chowie (Bird), Ewenu, Ewenyoon, Ewenyun, Tohawi, Towahi
Both pronunciations Jawi and Jaw may be heard on the Dampier Land peninsula, presumably motivated by the same factors as motivate the alternate pronunciations Bardi and Bard (see page 52 above). The last five terms above are reported as language names in Oates & Oates (1970), but nowhere else. Presumably the last two are mishearings of Jawi; the other three are no doubt renditions of the name of Sunday Island, Irrwany (cf. Campbell & Bird 1914/15).
Classification of the language:
Nyulnyulan family
Identification codes:
Oates 1973: 49.1e
Capell: K4
Present number and distribution of speakers:
There may be a few (part) speakers in Lombardina, One Arm Point, Beagle Bay
Metcalfe - no remaining speakers (last 3 died in 1971), but about a dozen part speakers
Peile - 4-5 speakers, Sunday Island
Stokes - less than 10
People who have worked intensively on the language:
William Bird, early 1900s, Sunday Island
Howard Coate, mid 1960s, Sunday Island
Nora Kerr, late 1960s
Practical orthography:
None is presently in use; the Dampier Land variant of the North Kimberley orthography would be suitable.
Word lists:
Bates (nd), Beagle Bay Mission (1890-1930), Bird (1915), Campbell & Bird (1914/15), Capell (1966), Kerr (nd), Nekes (1939), Peile (nd)
Textual material:
Metcalfe (nd); according to Oates & Oates (1970), Peile has some recorded textual material, which remains in manuscript form.
Grammar or sketch grammar:
Bird (1910), Beagle Bay Mission (1890-1930), Coate (1967)
Material available on the language:
Bates, D.M. nd. Native vocabularies - Sunday Island. typescript. Section 12, 2E:6. ANL-MS365-53/41-81. (Includes vocabulary of c.700 words, and short sentences, 5pp.)
Beagle Bay Mission. 1890-1930. [Nyol-Nyol language material.] manuscript. AIAS Ms 1. (Includes some Jawi vocabulary.)
Bird,W. 1910. Some remarks on the grammatical construction of the Chowie language, as spoken by the Buccaneer Islanders, North-Western Australia. Anthropos 5. 454-456.
_____ .1915. A short vocabulary of the Chowie language of the Buccaneer Islanders (Sunday Islanders), North Western Australia. Anthropos 10. 180-186.
Capell, A. 1966. A new approach to Australian linguistics. (Oceania Linguistic Monographs, 1) Sydney: University of Sydney.
Campbell, W.D. & Bird, W. 1914/15. An account of the Aboriginals of Sunday Island, King Sound, Kimberley, Western Australia. Journal of Royal Society of Western Australia 1. 55-82.
Coate, H.H.J. 1967. Notes on three dead languages. typescript. AIAS.
Kerr, N.F. nd. A comparative word-list: Nyigina and neighbouring languages. 99pp. typescript. AIAS.
Metcalfe, C.D. nd. [Transcript of tape A1681, filed tape no.4]: a series of thirteen short traditional myths and stories (Bardi). 49pp. typescript. AIAS. (Text of story 3 includes Jawi words in brackets.)
Nekes, H. 1931-1947. Kimberleys language material: D'aro, N'ol N'ol, etc. 7pts. manuscript. AIAS Ms 35. (A1;B2).
_____ .1939. The pronoun in Nyol-Nyol (Nyul-Nyul) and related dialects. In Elkin, A.P. (ed.), Studies in Australian linguistics. (Oceania Monograph, 3) Sydney: University of Sydney. 139-163.
Nekes, H. & Worms, E.A. 1953. Australian languages. (Micro-Bibliotheca Anthropos, 10) Fribourg: Anthropos-Institut. 1058pp. AIAS MF 4.
Peile, A. R. nd. Field notes Warayngari. 182pp. manuscript. AIAS Ms 322.
Stokes, B. 1985. The verb from Noonkanbah to Broome: "alternative-prefixing" verbal systems of the West Kimberley. manuscript.
Worms, E.A. 1938a. Foreign words in some Kimberley tribes in North-Western Australia. Oceania 8. 458-462.
_____ .1938b. Onomatopoeia in some Kimberley tribes of North-West Australia. Oceania 8. 453-457.
_____ .1957. Australian mythical terms: their etymology and dispersion. Anthropos 52. 732-768.
Language programme:
Language learning material:
Literacy material:

McGregor, William. 1988 Handbook of Kimberley Languages. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. © Author.

AIATSIS gratefully acknowledge William McGregor for permission to use his material in AUSTLANG.

Howard Coate, Anthony Peile, Gerhardt Laves, Nekes & Worms, William Bird
Indigenous organisations: 
Year Source Speaker numbers
1975Oates12 (part speaker)

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 Less than 20 pages 1
Text Collection None 0
Grammar A few articles 1
Audio-visual 1-10 2
Manuscript note: 
tape transcription/field note available
Source Family Group Sub-group Name Relationship
Ethnologue (2005) Nyulnyulan     Djawi  
Dixon (2002)   FITZROY RIVER SUBGROUP*   Djawi Baardi (or Baard) McGregor (1996), Aklif (1999) further dialects: Djawi, Njul-Njul, Djabirr-Djabirr, Ngumbarl, Nimanburru
Wurm (1994) Nyulnyulan     Djawi  
Walsh (1981) Nyulnyulan     Djawi  
Oates (1975) Njulnjulan     Djawi  
Wurm (1972) Nyulnyulan     Djaw(i) (Djaui)  
O'Grady, Voegelin and Voegelin (1966) Nyulnyulan     Djaui