Ancestral Language Facilitator (ALF): Xavier Barker

Language name: Mpakwithi

Austlang code: Y186*

ISO639-3: awg

Mpakwithi Language Situation

Mpakwithi is a Northern Paman language whose speech community has been reduced to 4 elders – three women in New Mapoon and one in Weipa. There are no fluent speakers remaining.

The three women in New Mapoon – known collectively as the Kennedy sisters – have memories of their grandfather speaking this language until his death sometime in 1985. Some Mpakwithi words are used in everyday conversation.

Historical overview of the Mpakwithi Language Nation:

Mpakwithi is a dialect of Anguthimri traditionally around the Tent Pole Creek tributary of the Wenlock River.

The use of Mbakwithi and other aboriginal languages was discouraged at the mission station of (Old) Mapoon. Children were separated from parents and placed in English-only dormitories. The speech community finally had only one fully fluent member, who is the grandfather of today’s Mpakwithi elders.

Sources: History of Mpakwithi Nation (publications, recordings, film etc.)

Crowley, Terry. 1981. The Mpakwithi dialect of Anguthimri. In Handbook of Australian languages vol. 2, eds. R. M. W. Dixon and B. J. Blake, 147–194 + map p. 146. Canberra: ANU Press.

Overview of previous documentation efforts.

Terry Crowley (1981) recorded the speech of the current Elders’ (the Kennedy sisters’) grandfather and published his grammar sketch and small gloss in 1981.

There were few or no records of Mpakwithi before Crowley’s 1981 sketch grammar. This book chapter will remain the main source of information since further elicitation is not possible.

Sources relating to documentation of Mpakwithi

Crowley, Terry. Mbakwithi vocabulary. (ASEDA 0240).

Crowley, Terry. 1975. Cape York tape transcriptions. ( AIATSIS MS 1002).

Crowley, Terry. 1976. Phonological change in New England. In Grammatical categories in Australian languages, ed. R. M. W. Dixon, 19-50. Canberra: AIAS.

Crowley, Terry. 1980. Phonological targets and northern Cape York sandhill. In Papers in Australian Linguistics 13, 241-258. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.

Crowley, Terry. 1981. The Mpakwithi dialect of Anguthimri. In Handbook of Australian languages vol. 2, eds. R. M. W. Dixon and B. J. Blake, 147–194 + map p. 146. Canberra: ANU Press.

Previous maintenance and revitalisation efforts:

Unusual for a Cape York language, the group of Elders is familiar with and cherishes the volume of Handbook of Australian Languages that describes their ancestral language. The Mpakwithi group is therefore actively interested in revitaliasing their language.

September 2015, before PLC was in contact with the Mpakwithi or the local linguist, efforts were started to reconstruct the language based on the memories of the Kennedy sisters and the Crowley (1981). Some recordings were produced of the 3 sisters speaking sentences that were constructed with Crowley as a guide.

At the first meeting of the Mpakwithi ALAT, a previously unknown fact came to light: The family had in the 80s made an effort to preserve the language by writing hymns in their language. The first Mpakwithi AL Project will be based on these hymn texts.

Current situation

Benchmark against which to assess progress, so need to describe, quantify and record in as much detail as possible and design some surveys: number and age of speakers, level of transmission (see EGIDS)

  • ancestral language literacy
  • current level of engagement and ancestral language awareness
  • current language maintenance activities and programs
  • school programs (describe current programs and outcomes.

Benchmarking observations

Current EGIDS rating:

Dormant (9) The language serves as a reminder of heritage identity for an ethnic community, but no one has more than symbolic proficiency.

Aspirations of Language Nation

Meeting or interview with: Mpakwithi

Date: Thursday, 21th January, 2016 5pm

Location: Home of Mpakwithi Elder Agnes Mark, New Mapoon

Notes on speakers Ancestral Language aspirations and ideas
Name of interviewee/ speaker Agnes Mark née Kennedy

Mpakwithi Elder

Name of interviewee/speaker Susan Kennedy

Mpakwithi Elder

Name of interviewee/speaker Vikki Kennedy

Mpakwithi Elder

Summary Elders expressed a strong desire to revive the language. A first priority is to produce materials in Mpakwithi.

The husband of Agnes Mark, Rev. Johnny Mark, is a traditional owner of the related Tjungundji. It was decided that this ALAT will eventually co-operate with Tjungundji people since historical events have brought these groups and their cultures closely together. Possibly there will be a common Ancestral Language Action Team for these related groups.

Long-term goals (vision)

That descendants of the Mpakwithi have partial or full knowledge of a revitalised form of Mpakwithi

Medium-term goals

Create the first materials in Mpakwithi (other than linguistic records and descriptions) including CDs and story books

Language Action teams

In January 2016, the Mpakwithi ALAT has 4 members.

Actions for 2015-16 and 2016+

At a meeting with the Kennedy sisters, it was decided that a priority project should be to produce a recording, transcription and translation of the collection of songs that the ladies collectively remember, as taught to them by their grandfather. They have established 24 March 2016 as the date by which to have completed production of the CDs, along with a book of the lyrics and transcription of the melodies.

There is also a plan to produce a bilingual children’s book of simple phrases such as those we had recorded earlier, with artwork by the sisters themselves.