A multilingual team at Maningrida participated in a two week sign language workshop at Maningrida in August, 2017. Linguists Margaret Carew (CALL), Jenny Green (University of Melbourne), Murray Garde (Australian National University) and Carolyn Coleman worked with people from Kuninjku, Gunnartpa, Wurlaki, Ndjébbana and Kun-barlang  language groups recording signs – or ‘actions’ – for kin, animals, plants and everyday objects.

We learned much about how sign is used for everyday interactions, such as when people are communicating over a distance or when they are out hunting and need to stay quiet. Most interesting was to realise how important signing is as a marker of respect between certain kin.


Patrick Muchana demonstrates signing in the presence of his jongok ‘in law’.


We set up a recording studio at the Arts Centre at Maningrida (thankyou MAC!) to record sign. One group of signers found the studio too restricting and suggested we take it outside. This resulted in a session on the beach where Dorothy Galaledba and Janet Gumbiyarra acted out a number of hunting scenarios.

Dorothy Galaledba and Janet Gumbiyarra act out a hunting scenario (a short clip from a longer story).


Sign language at Maningrida has not been studied in depth, although work has been done on Yolŋu Sign Language, used in neighboring communities (see Adone & Maypilama, 2014; Bauer, 2014). We are now working through the recordings and planning for a followup workshop in 2018.

Margaret Carew and Jenny Green presented preliminary findings from the August workshop at the International Conference on Minority Languages in Finland, in August 2017. The slides from this talk can be viewed in this film:


Project acknowledgements:

We thank the signers at Maningrida who have participated in this project: Samuel Namundja, Jennifer Wurrkidj, Melva Kurrdjarrwanga (Kuninjku), Raymond Walanggay, Patrick Mudjana Litchfield, Crusoe Batara England, Dorothy Galaledba, Janet Gumbiyarra, Trixie Nadjerrdjerr (Gun-nartpa), Lena Djabíbba (Ndjébbana), Millie Djamuddjana (Kunbarlang), Margaret Rinybuma, Simon Pascoe (Wurlaki)

Linguists: Jenny Green, Margaret Carew, Murray Garde, Carolyn Coleman

Camera and stills: Jenny Green and Margaret Carew

We thank Maningrida Arts and Culture and Jodie Kell for their support and assistance during our fieldwork in Maningrida in August 2017.

The Maningrida Sign Languages project is a collaboration between the Research Unit for Indigenous Language (RUIL) at the University of Melbourne and the Centre for Australian Languages and Linguistics (CALL) at Batchelor Institute. Jennifer Green’s research is funded through the Australian Research Council (DE160100873). CALL is funded by the Australian Government’s Indigenous Languages and Arts program (ILA).


Adone, D., & Maypilama, E. (2014). A Grammar Sketch of Yolŋu Sign Language. Munich: Lincom Europe.

Bauer, A. (2014). The Use of Signing Space in a Shared Sign Language of Australia. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.