search catalogue

Documentation and description of Ngarinyin, a language of the Kimberley region of Western Australia


Language Ngarinyin
Depositor Stef Spronck
Affiliation Australian National University
Location Australia
Collection ID 0121
Grant ID IGS0148
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

For centuries Ngarinyin has been the main language of the Northern central Kimberley Region of Western Australia, being spoken over an area of up to 45,000 km2. Nowadays, however, only about a dozen of elderly speakers use it as their preferred language and Ngarinyin is no longer passed on to children.

This collection will consist of documented elicited and un-elicited Ngarinyin speech and conversation. It will supplement existing mid-20th century sound recordings of Ngarinyin with sorely missed metadata. There will also be more data on an extensive, recently discovered avoidance register in the language.


Group represented

Ngarinyin speakers in Western Australia, Kimberley, Derby to King river. The Ngarinyin people share a long history with the neighbouring Worrorran and Wunambal peoples, which has led to widespread muli-lingualism pre-dating contact with Europeans in the Kimberley region (Vaszoli, 1973: 9). All speakers of Ngarinyin are multi-lingual in, at least, Ngarinyin and Aboriginal English and to a varying degree in Worrorra and Wunambal. All Worrorra and Wunambal Elders have at least conversational competency in Ngarinyin. The total number of speakers of Ngarinyin has been estimated to be as high as 100 (McGregor & Rumsey 2009: 1) but the language is barely used by Ngarinyin people of the middle and youngest generations, who speak Aboriginal English and/or Kriol. Most of the Ngarinyin speakers are semi-speakers, having a moderate to good comprehension of the language but not using more than a few words of it in day-to-day discourse. However, Ngarinyin is the most viable member of the Worrorran languages and is still the preferred language of at least 10 elderly Ngarinyin people.

Most elderly Ngarinyin speakers are illiterate, but all semi-speakers and younger Ngarinyin people are literate in English. The elderly Ngarinyin speakers mostly worked as stock drivers in the beef industry and young Ngarinyin people are increasingly finding employment on traditional country through ranger organisations. This has also increased motivation among young people to keep traditional culture strong. Paired with ongoing efforts from the experienced and active community language centre the KLRC, this may emerge as an impetus for language maintenance.


Language information

Ngarinyin (sometimes called Ungarinyin in order to distinguish it from the ethnonym and also known as Ungarinjin or Ngarinjin) is one of the three clearly established Worrorran languages (Capell, 1972: 54), the other two being Worrorra (moribund) and Wunambal (less than 10 speakers) (McGregor and Rumsey, 2009). Like most Northern Kimberley languages, the language is non-Pama-Nyungan. However, it has had considerable contact with Pama-Nyungan languages of the Kimberley region.


Special characteristics

Among other linguistic features of interest, Ngarinyin has a special ‘avoidance register’, which has never been formally described (Spronck, 2010). Although usage of this register seems to be close to more familiar avoidance registers (e.g. in Bunuba, Rumsey, 2000), its grammatical features seem to be far more distinct from ‘standard’ Ngarinyin than has been reported for other avoidance registers in Australia. Although the avoidance register is no longer in use, it seems to be another aspect of Ngarinyin in urgent need of being documented before it will be lost completely.


Other information

All recordings and transcriptions are available to the Ngarinyin community, and will also be archived at The Kimberley Language Resource Centre (KLRC).


Acknowledgement and citation

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:

Spronck, Stef. 2011. Documentation and description of Ngarinyin, a language of the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

Powered by Preservica
© Copyright 2024