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Wemba Wemba

Earliest reference to language name: 1854 (Parker 1854)

Meaning: derived from distinctive word for ‘no’

Sub-dialect: Burabura

Clark (1990) lists over 20 variant spellings. It is possible to find variants in a singular representation, as in Wemba or Wamba, reduplicated, as in Wembawemba or Wambawamba, and occasionally singular and reduplicated spelt with a ‘y’, as in Yamba and Yambayamba. See Hercus (1986; 1992) for detailed analyses of this language. Dixon’s analysis has shown that Wembawemba shared 93 percent common vocabulary with Barababaraba.

Blake’s and Reid’s (1998) analysis is that it shared 86 percent with Wergaia; 75 percent with Wadiwadi; 70 percent with Madimadi; 82 percent with Djabwurrung; 72 percent with Ladjiladji; and 72 percent with Djadjawurrung.

Status of Burabura

Burabura is recorded by five separate sources (Beveridge 1865, 1884, in Victoria 1859; Smyth 1878; Howitt 1904, Papers; Mathew Papers; Stone 1911). Locative information includes ‘Swan Hill’ (Beveridge 1865, 1884, in Victoria 1859; Mathew Papers); ‘From Swan Hill to the junction of the Loddon with the Murray River’ (Howitt 1904); ‘Reedy Lake’; ‘The Boora-boora and Watti-watti boundary outbound is the Tyrell Creek and Lake Tyrell’ (Howitt Papers); ‘Tyntynder-Swan Hill’ (Stone 1911). 

Benjamin Lanky Manton is recorded by John Mathew as ‘belonging to Swan Hill’ and ‘his lang was called purabura lang = no. His mother‘s lang was puraba puraba at Morga on the Edward R’. Dixon’s assessment of the ‘Burabura language’ notes in Mathews notebook is that it is T5 Wemba (A), by which he means Wembawemba/ Barababaraba. Hercus (1992) has considered the evidence for a distinction between an eastern and a western form of Wembawemba. The eastern form of speech shared some minor features with the neighbouring languages to the east, Perapaperapa; the western form of speech shared some minor features with the neighbouring language to the west, Watiwati. 

A fundamental question here is whether the name is a dialect/tribal name and/or a placename and a pastoral run name. Bura-bura is a placename on maps from the late 1840s onwards, and always refers to the same location, the run of the same name below Piangil. Clark (1990, 1996) considered Burabura to be a variant of Barababaraba that is found in the literature in a form Burabaraba. 

However, after having reconsidered the evidence, there does seem to be some weight for the separate existence of a Burabura group, especially the linguistic evidence raised by Hercus for an eastern and western form of Wembawemba. It is curious that the locative data in Howitt and elsewhere for a location from Swan Hill to the junction of the Loddon River with the Murray River bear no relation to the Burabura placename or the station name, which falls within Wekiweki. The status of Burabura requires more consideration.

Digital Resource in Wemba Wemba Language

Launched on Monday 15th February 2016, Swan Hill Primary School students have created a Wemba Wemba Language resource in the form of an interactive digital app, which contains word list categories accompanied by images and audio, in Wemba Wemba.

The App is available now for download at the App Store, for use on iPad, iPhone & iPod Touch.

Available on the App Store

wemba wemba icon copy


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