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Wed, 3 May 2017

Local language celebrated

Bob Dixon and Ernie Grant with the Dyirbal dictionary
Professor Bob Dixon and Jirrbal-ngan elder Dr Ernie Grant with the Dyirbal dictionary.

James Cook University is celebrating the publication of three volumes devoted to Dyirbal, one of the original languages of northern Queensland.

Each of the volumes includes documentation of the Dyirbal language by renowned linguist R.M.W. (Bob) Dixon, an Adjunct Professorial Research Fellow at The Cairns Institute.

The volumes have been compiled by Professor Dixon and published by the Language and Culture Research Centre at JCU.

The three volumes are:

  • A two-volume thesaurus and dictionary of Dyirbal, covering ten dialects including Girramay, Jirrbal, Mamu and Ngajan.
  • A collection of Dyirbal texts, including legends, stories, autobiographies, conversations and remedies in Jirrbal, Girramay, Mamu and Gulngay dialects.

Bob Dixon began studying the Dyirbal language in 1963 and defended his doctoral thesis on The Dyirbal language of North Queensland in 1968. A revised version was published in 1972. He is an authority on the languages of the region and the indigenous languages of Australia in general.

The three volumes were launched today by Dr Ernie Grant, elder of the Jirrbal-ngan people.

Dyirbal was spoken from just north of Cardwell to north of Innisfail and inland to Ravenshoe, Atherton, and Herberton.

“Bob’s 1972 grammar of the language was well received and marked a turning point in the history of linguistics, making people aware of fascinating grammatical features,” Professor Alexandra Aikhenvald from the Language and Culture Research Centre said.

There are four genders in Dyirbal: masculine, feminine, edible, and neuter. There was also a special speech style which had to be used in the presence of a taboo relative such as a mother-in-law.

“All the elders who taught their language to Bob in the 1960s, 70s and 80s have now returned to their ancestral spirit home,” Professor Aikhenvald said. “We’re very pleased that many of their children and grandchildren will be attending the launch.”