Jawoyn is the language of the Katherine area, and of country north and east of Katherine.

The languages most similar to Jawoyn, and to which it’s related are those further north and east into Arnhem Land.

Jawoyn belongs to a family that has been called ‘Gunwinyguan’, after one of the most widely spoken dialect clusters.

Most people learned and used several languages throughout their lifetimes, and came to have something like equal fluency in most of them.

It was characteristic of older Jawoyn speakers that they spoke at least two Arnhem Land languages with equal or near fluency, and many spoke three or more. They understood a number of languages, at least partially, beyond those they spoke.

Most common in the repertoires of people of Katherine, Barunga (Bamyilli) and Beswick (Wugularr) area who spoke Jawoyn natively were Mayali and/or Ngalkbon, and in some instances Rembarrnga. Today, however, multilingualism is not the norm.


Though people have varying degrees of understanding of Jawoyn and other languages, younger people are no longer using Jawoyn actively. It is endangered.

The most vital language of the Katherine and Barunga area is now Mayali, which is not indigenous to this area, but has a large reserve of active speakers extending into Arnhem Land.

There are social and historical reasons for this decline. One is the long-term historical disruption of Aboriginal people in the Katherine region. There were early reductions of Aboriginal populations.

Jawoyn remains, however, the identity of a large number of people of the Katherine and Barunga area who see themselves affiliated to Jawoyn country. For these people, Jawoyn remains the language they consider theirs, to whatever degree of proficiency.


Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge - Cicada place

Leliyn (Edith Falls) - Frill neck lizard

Jodetluk - Left hand rock wallaby

Luk - Place

Yowoyn - Yes, alright

Bobo - Goodbye


Research Tricksters and Traditions: Jawoyn Stories and Story-tellers of southern Arnhemland

Merlan, Francesca.
This online volume contains a set of stories told in Jawoyn, a highly endangered language of southern Arnhem Land.