K22: Wunambal

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)
Wunambulu, Wunambullu, Wanambal, Laiau (small tribe or horde name), Wardana (extinct small tribe or horde name), Winjai (term for an eastern horde), Kanaria (northeastern horde near Port Warrender), Peremanggurei (horde name), Jamindjal, Jarmindjal ('northeasterners,' a term applied by Worora), Unambal, Wonambul, Wumnabal (? typographical error), Wunambulu, Unambalnge (people of tribe).
O'Grady et al (1966)
Unambal, Wumnabal, Wunambullu
Other sources
Kularri/Gularri 'south-westerners' (regional term used to refer to Wunambal, Gamberre and Worrorra - Perez 1977, Perez, Pratt & Millington 1981, Torres, Pratt & Millington 1986), Unambal, Wulanggu (Bardi term for Wunambal and Ungarinyin - Wilfrid Goonak p.c.), Wunambal-ngarri [Carr 2000:12-17] Wunamabullu, Wunumabal, Woonambal [Karadada et al. 2011:15]
Wunambul, Wunumbal, Unambal, Jamindjal, Jarmindjal, Kanaria, Laiau, Peremanggurei, Unambalnge, Wanambal, Wardana, Winjai, Wonambul, Wumnabal, Wunambullu, Wunambulu, Kularri/Gularri south westerners, Wulanggu, Wunambal ngarri, Worrorran

Wunambal is a non-Pama-Nyungan language of the Worrorran family, specifically Northern Worrorran, along with Miwa K44; Gunin/Kwini K36; Gambera K39; Wilawila K35; Yiiji K32 and (tentitively) Gulunggulu K59 (McGregor and Rumsey, 2009:8).

Tindale mentions Wilawila under his entry for Wunambal but this Wilawila does not seem to be the same as Wilawila K35, which Tindale lists as a separate entry. Harvey (ASEDA 802) says Tindale's statements under Wunambal concerning Wilawila are unclear. Harvey (ASEDA 802) reports that in 2007 nobody recognised Wilawila as attaching to either the Osborne Islands or Carson River. Rather, it was associated with Bigge Island and the Hunter River area on the coast opposite Bigge Island.

Wunambal belongs to the Wunambalic group within the Worrorran family. Analysis of the internal relationships within the Wunambalic group can be found in Carr (2000:2-4), Glasgow, Hocking and Steiner (PMS 656) and McGregor (1993:7-8).

According to Carr (2000:15), Capell (1941) and Capell and Coate (1984:5) identify two dialects of Wunambal on typological grounds: Southern and Northern.

Karadada et al. (2011:15) comment that Wunambal and Gaambera K39 are 'very closely related', with very little difference in pronunciation and lexicon. 'It is possible that there were some differences in the past but in recent times these differences have faded.' The 'Uunguu plants and animals' dictionary basically treats them as a single language, with additional Gaambera K39 forms given where they are different.

Jones (2006) equates Wunambal, Gunin K36, Yeiji K32, Arruwarri K28 and 'Bamberre', stating that they are simply different names for the same language, which she calls the Forrest River Language.


  • Capell, A. 1941. Notes on the Wunambal language. Oceania, vol. 11, no. 3, pp. [295]-308. (RS 57/11)
  • Capell, Arthur & H.H.J. Coate. 1984. Comparative studies in Northern Kimberley languages: Pacific Linguistics C-69. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
  • Carr, Thérèse. 2000. Wunambal: a language of the north-west Kimberley region, Western Australia, University of New England: MA (Hons).
  • Glasgow, David, F.M. Hocking & W.L. Steiner. n.d. Report [to A.I.A.S.] on surveys of languages and dialects of the north - east Kimberleys, typescript. (PMS 656).
  • Harvey, Mark. 2008. Non-Pama-Nyungan Languages: land-language associations at colonisation. AILEC 0802.
  • Jones, Barbara. 2006. The Forrest River Language: a book about the indigenous language of the Forrest River region. Halls Creek, WA: Kimberley Language Resource Centre.
  • Karadada, Jack, Lily Karadada, Wilfred Goonack, Geoffrey Mangolamara, William Bunjuck, Louis Karadada, Basil Djanghara, Sylvester Mangolamara, Janet Oobagooma, Agnes Charles, Dianna Williams, Regina Karadada, Thomas Saunders, and Glenn Wightman. 2011. Uunguu plants and animals: Aboriginal biological knowledge from Wunambal Gaambera Country in the north-west Kimberley, Australia. Wyndham, W.A.: Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation.
  • McGregor, William, & Alan Rumsey. 2009. Worrorran revisited: the case for genetic relations among languages of the Northern Kimberley region of Western Australia: Pacific Linguistics 600. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
  • McGregor, William. 1993. Gunin/Kwini. München: Lincom Europa.
  • 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: 

York Sound; coast north of Brunswick Bay, northward to Admiralty Gulf and the Osborne Islands; inland about 25 to 30 miles (40 to 50 km.). Cape Wellington peninsula north and east to Port Warrender and the little known area to east; inland to the divide of the King Edward River (Tindale 1974).

Wunambal is [...] spoken in the most north-westerly part of the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Country associated with Wunambal extends from north of the Prince Regent River taking in the Mitchell Plateau, Scott's Strait and Cape Voltaire, and some inland gIra 'countries', as shown on Map One. Some 'clans' also exploited the resources of the adjoining small islands, especially Wuyurru (Bigge Island), Prudhoe, Corneille and Cassini islands although, apart from Bigge Island, these islands were not permanently inhabited. (Carr 2000:1).

The general association was to the coast from the Coronation Islands to the drainage of Lawley River. Mitchell Plateau, the lower Mitchell, lower Moran and lower Roe Rivers were all associated with Wunambal. It is unclear why Tindale classified the Osborne Islands as associated with Wunambal when his informant described the people from this area as speaking "light Kambure". Sources in 2007 stated that the Coronation Islands were associated with Wunambal. Sources also stated that the Upper Moran and Roe Rivers were associated with Ngarinyin and not Wunambal. It was not possible to obtain definitive information on the affiliation of the Upper Mitchell River area (Harvey AILEC 0802).


Handbook of Kimberley Languages (1988): 

Milamada (A36 ) in Handbook of Kimberley Languages (1988).

5.17 Wunambal / Wunambul

Names of the language and different spellings that have been used:
Wunambal (AIAS, Capell, Love, Oates, Oates & Oates, O'Grady, SIL,Vaszolyi, Worms), Unambal (Hernandez, Lommel, Worms), Wumnabal, Wunambullu (Love), Wunumabal (Raa & Woenne), Woonambal (KLS), Wunambul (Mawaljarlai)
It seems likely that the Wenambal on Tindale's tribal map is in fact Wunambal. It may be a mishearing on Tindale's part. Although he gives Wenambal and Wunambal different and geographically widely separated traditional locations, this may be due to the fact that in such a complex dialectal situation, as described in section 5.1, speakers might alternatively claim to speak Wunambal or to use one of the more specific variety names.
Classification of the language:
Worrorran family, Wunambalic group
Identification codes:
Oates 1973: 48.1
Capell: K21
Present number and distribution of speakers:
Mainly Mowanjum and Kalumburu; some at Wyndham.
Oates (quoting Vaszolyi) - at least 200 speakers, though many are second language speakers.
People who have worked intensively on the language:
Howard Coate, irregularly since 1930s, mainly at Derby
Eric Vasse (formerly Vaszolyi), since early 1970s, Derby
Practical orthography:
Word lists:
Capell (1940, 1941), Capell & Coate (1984), Coate (1948), Hudson & McConvell (1984), Raa & Woenne (1973), Summer Institute of Linguistics (1971a, 1971b), Vaszolyi (1972-1973), Worms (1957)
Textual material:
Capell (1972), Capell & Coate (1984), Crawford (1969), Mowaljarli (1982), Lommel (1952)
Grammar or sketch grammar:
Capell (1941); Vaszolyi (1976a, 1976b, 1976c) contain grammatical information.
Material available on the language:
Capell, A. 1937. The languages of the Kimberley division. Oceania 8. 216-245.
_____ .1939. The languages of the Northern Kimberley division, W.A. Mankind 2. 169-175.
_____ .1940. The classification of languages in north and north-west Australia. Oceania 10. 241-272, 404-433.
_____ .1941. Notes on the Wunambal language. Oceania 11. 295-308.
_____ .1972. Cave painting myths: northern Kimberley. (Oceania Linguistic Monographs, 18) Sydney: University of Sydney.
Capell, A. & Coate, H.H.J. 1984. Comparative studies in northern Kimberley languages. Canberra: PL, C-69.
Coate, H. H.J. 1948. English - Wunambal dictionary. 89pp. manuscript. AIAS pA3 13. (A3a;B1).
Crawford, I.M. 1969. Late prehistoric changes in Aboriginal cultures in Kimberley, Western Australia. PhD thesis, University of London.
Lommel, A. 1952. Die unambal: ein stamm in Nordwest-Australien. Hamburg: Museum fur Volkerkunde.
Love, J.R.B. 1934. Grammatical structure of the Worora language of North-Western Australia. MA thesis, University of Adelaide.
Mowaljarlai, D. 1982. Walungari and Wurrnganjen songs: Ngarinyin, Wunambul and Worora initiation songs for boys. Transcripts prepared by M. Langton. 64pp. typescript. AIAS Ms 1789.
Raa, E. ten & Woenne, S.T. 1973. Research dictionary of the Western Desert language of Australia, Part I: vernacular-English. Processed Wunumbal data. 30pp. typescript. AIAS pMs 1438. (A1;B4).
Street, C.S. & Street, L. 1972. Report on the survey of languages in the West Kimberleys, W.A. 9pp. typescript. AIAS (A2;B1).
Summer Institute of Linguistics. 1971a. AIAS word list for N.E. Kimberleys: Wunambal language. AIAS tapes A2176,2188. 18pp. manuscript. AIAS pMs 1763, 1764.
_____ .1971b. AIAS word list for N.E. Kimberleys survey: Wunambal language. AIAS tapes A2180,2181. 18pp. manuscript. AIAS.
Vaszolyi, E. 1970. Report [to AIAS] on research work in anthropological linguistics during the period June 1st - September 1st, 1970. 2pp. typescript. AIAS.
_____ .1972-1973. Wunambal language data. 3 vols. typescript. AIAS Ms 425.
_____ .1973. Notes on the Aboriginal language situation in the Kimberleys, W.A. 24pp. typescript. AIAS (A1;B5).
_____ .1973? Phonology: the phonemes of Wunambal. 68pp. typescript. AIAS Ms 715.
_____ .1976a. The derivational affix 'having': Wunambal. In Dixon, R.M.W. (ed.), Grammatical categories in Australian languages. Canberra: AIAS. 282-285.
_____ .1976b. The bivalent suffix -ku: Wunambal. In Dixon, R.M.W. (ed.), Grammatical categories in Australian languages. Canberra: AIAS. 424-427.
_____ .1976c. Simple and compound verbs: conjugation by auxiliaries in Australian verbal systems; Wunambal. In Dixon, R.M.W. (ed.), Grammatical categories in Australian languages. Canberra: AIAS. 629-646.
_____ .1979. Kimberley languages: past and present. In Berndt, R.M. & C.H. (eds), Aborigines of the West: their past and their present. Nedlands: University of Western Australia Press. 252-260.
Worms, A.E. 1957. Australian mythical terms: their etymology and dispersion. Anthropos 52. 732-768.
Language programme:
Language learning programmes have been started in Wunambal on a number of occasions in Mowanjum community, but have usually been of fairly short duration. In a recent programme, begun in 1984, older speakers told stories to the children, and a small amount of literacy was taught. A language maintenance or revival programme would be suitable.
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.


Mona Williams taught a language variety regarded as Wunambal at the school in Wyndham in 1996. (Carr 2000:12) Community adult literacy programmes have been run in Mowanjum in the past for Worrorra, Wunambal and Ngarinyin. (Carr 2000:22) Daisy Utemorrah (dec.) worked with KLRC on Wunambal. (Carr 2000:22) A language and story recording project was initiated by KLRC in 1996 (in Kalumburu). (Carr 2000:25) KLRC and linguist Margaret Howard are working with language speakers at Kalumburu. (Carr 2000:7)

Therese Carr, Eric Vasse (aka Vaszilyi), Arthur Capell, J.R.B. Love, Howard Coate, Daisy Utemorrah (dec.), Summer Institute of Linguistics, Andreas Lommel, Margaret Howard (nee Sefton), William McGregor
Indigenous organisations: 

Kimberley Language Resource Centre

Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring | Mirima Place for Talking http://mirima.org.au/

Batchelor Institute https://www.batchelor.edu.au/

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 Less than 20 pages 1
Grammar Small grammar (100-200 pages) 3
Audio-visual More than 10 3
Manuscript note: 
tape transcription/field note available

Carr, Thérèse. 2000. Wunambal: a language of the north-west Kimberley region, Western Australia, University of New England: MA (Hons).


Coate, H. H. J. 1948. English - Wunambal dictionary, ms. Karadada, J. et al. 2011. Uunguu plants and animals: Aboriginal biological knowledge from Wunambal Gaambera Country in the north-west Kimberley, Australia. Wyndham, WA: Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation.

Source Family Group Sub-group Name Relationship
Ethnologue (2005) Wororan     Wunambal Wunambal [dialects: Wunambal, Gambera, Miwa]
Dixon (2002)   NORTH KIMBERLEY AREAL GROUP   Wunambal Wunambal McGregor (1993) further dialects: Wilawila, Gamberre, Kwini (=Gunin), Ginan, Miwa (=Bagu), Yiidji (=Forrest River)
Wurm (1994) Wororan Wunambalic   Wunambal  
Walsh (1981) Wororan Wunambalic   Wunambal  
Oates (1975) Wororan Wunambalic   Wunambal  
Wurm (1972) Wororan Wunambalic   Wunambal  
O'Grady, Voegelin and Voegelin (1966) Wororan Wunambalic   Wunambal