Murngin - Orientation

Identification. Yolngu has generally replaced the term Murngin to refer to the indigenous people of the northeastern part of Arnhem Land in Australia. "Murngin" was the term that the anthropologist Lloyd Warner adopted in the 1930s to identify the region and its culturally similar peoples. Linguists working in the area in the 1960s and 1970s introduced the term "Yolngu language," since yolngu is the word for "Aboriginal human being" in all the dialects. Aboriginal people in the Yolngu-speaking area refer to themselves as yolngu (as well as identifying all Aboriginal Australians as yolngu). Within the Yolngu area are some twenty such language-named, land-owning groups. In addition to the names of Language groups, Yolngu people describe and name themselves in a number of other ways, including the location and features of the land they own or where they live (for example, "beach people" or "river people").

Location. The Yolngu area is roughly triangular and is located between 11° and 15° S and 134° and 137° E. The northern and eastern "sides" are coastal and the third "side" runs inland southeast from Cape Stewart on the north to south of Rose River on the east. Northeastern Arnhem Land is monsoonal, with northwest winds bringing rain from about December until April or May.

Demography. The Aboriginal population within the Yolngu area is estimated at 3,500; the population is largely in developing towns and settlements that were formerly Protestant missions.

linguistic Affiliation. Yolngu languages are classified as Pama-Nyungan along with others covering seven-eighths of Australia, but they are isolated geographically from other Pama-Nyungan languages. Yolngu speakers classify their Languages according to their pronominal systems into some nine groups, and each group is labeled by their shared demonstrative "this/here." Two of the largest groups, in terms of number of named languages, also classify their speakers by moiety: dhuwal languages are all Dhuwa moiety, and dhuwala Languages are all Yirratja moiety. Since the 1970s and the Development of adult education and bilingual education programs, a substantial amount of written material is being produced in the Yolngu languages.

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