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Documenting the Ngan’gi language

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Language Ngan’gi
Depositor Nicholas Reid
Affiliation University of New England
Location Australia
Deposit ID 0361
Grant ID MDP0271
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online


Summary of the deposit

This collection is an audiovisual documentation of Ngan’gi speech events, including stories, conversation and songs. Ngan’gi is a severely endangered language spoken by less than 200 people in the Daly River region of Australia’s Northern Territory. There exists some description of this language, but no real documentation. This collection aims to thoroughly document Ngan’gi through the collection, transcription and archiving of a rich variety of linguistic and sociolinguistic practices, resulting in text, audio and video products that will be accessible to the community as well as safely archived for future uses.


Group represented

This collection represents speakers of the Ngan’gi varieties, Ngan’gikurunggurr and Ngen’giwumirri, who live in the Daly River region of Australia’s Northern Territory in the communities of Nauiyu (Daly River), Peppimenarti, Wudigapildhiyerr, Nimalak, Nganambala and Merrepen, all on the west side of the Daly River in Australia’s Northern Territory.

Shortly before the start of the research for this collection, elders from the Nauiyu community established a Repatriation and Archiving Elders Group, representing various language groups from the Daly River region. Their project received initial start-up funding through Northern Territory Library Services, and the group established a small room at Nauiyu specifically set up for housing photographs and eventually other relevant information about the area that would become available to people in the community. The research team involved in building the collection archived here at ELAR aligned themselves with the interests of the Repatriation and Archiving Elders Group and filmed many of the activities that the Elders Group organises, e.g. a planned artefact-building workshops funded by AIATSIS. The personal involvement of McTaggart and the establishment of the elders archiving group means that the EDLP documentation project underlying this collection took place in a community context where the value of archiving had been freshly established and there was genuine enthusiasm for the activities planned. While the ELDP project ran over a single year, it was the clear intention of all members of the team that this was the beginning of an ongoing interest in documentation and archiving that would extend into the foreseeable future.


Language information

Ngan’gi is a southern Daly (non-Pama-Nyungan) language spoken in the Daly River area in north-western Australia. Ngan’gi is spoken in two varieties: Ngan’gikurunggurr and Ngen’giwumirri, which have systematic differences in their vocabulary, phonology and morphology, but are mutually intelligible. Today both these varieties are highly endangered: Ngan’gikurunggurr has about 100 speakers and Ngen’giwumirri about 20. Together with Murrinh-Patha, Ngan’gi forms the Southern Daly subgroup (Green and Reid, 2004). Today however Ngan’gi and Murrinh-Patha look very different to each other and their speakers do not think of them as related languages. Young children of Ngan’gi speakers show some passive knowledge of the language, but few can speak it actively, and none have the ability to fully inflect the complex verbal system. This recording includes one text by a 21 year old with surprisingly good active speaking skills, however the majority of speakers of Ngan’gi are in their 50s, and older. Given the low likelihood of men surviving into their 60s, this also means that about 90% of the remaining pool of Ngan’gi speakers are elderly women.Other names used in the past for Ngan’gi include Ngankikurrungkurr and Ngengomerri, and many other similar variations.


Special characteristics

Patricia McTaggart, one of the researchers involved in this collection, is a full speaker of Ngan’gi. She is the acknowledged community linguist and expert in Ngan’gi who has a wealth of experience on documentation projects. She is a Ngen’giwumirri traditional owner and senior biocultural knowledge custodian. She is a Bachelor College trained linguist and has worked collaboratively with linguists, botanists and CSIRO and NRETAS scientists over many years. She is co-author of books that outline biocultural knowledge of Ngen’giwumirri, Ngan’gikurunggurr, MalakMalak, Matngala, Marri Ngarr and Magati Ke, and is also co-author of the Ngan’gi Dictionary.

McTaggart was awarded an Order of Australia Medal (AM) in recognition of her contributions to Indigenous languages and culture and for her commitment to language documentation. She lives in a Ngan’gi-rich environment surrounded by mothers, aunts, and sisters, who, through her enthusiasm, are all highly interested in language heritage issues.


Deposit contents

The first set of materials to be deposited for this collection mostly consists of monologue narrative about remembered events. The full collection includes examples of multi-participant co-construction of stories, groups of two or more people discussing hot topics, ribald asides to passers-by, and even some singing. Some of the stories are reminiscences of people’s growing up years. Many Ngan’gi speakers were the first generation to be put into boarding school when the Daly River Mission was founded in the mid-50s, and this period proved to be a rich vein for storytelling to mine. Others recalled dramatic events, such as surviving a crocodile attack, and getting a snake-bitten child to hospital. Many of the filmed events start out as storytelling and then evolve into interview, with Nick Reid and Patricia McTaggart prompting continued talk through directed questions.

When completed, this collection will include

  • about ten hours of video recordings of a wide range of Ngan’gi language events, including single participant events (narratives, speeches and instruction), dialogic events (conversations, interviews, co-tasking exchanges) and group events (group conversations, language games, singing, and some kin-controlled speech acts such as routinised exchanges in both oblique and light-hearted speech styles)
  • about three hours of edited films from the video recordings, e.g. a film on dillybag making
  • about eight hours of audio recordings of written and spoken texts
  • transcriptions and translations of the audio recordings
  • a published collection of Ngan’gi texts that allow people to both read and hear the stories


Deposit history

The materials in this collection were gathered and prepared between 2013 and 2014 during the ELDP Major Documentation Project held by Nicholas Reid.


Acknowledgement and citation

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

Reid, Nicholas. 2015. Documenting the Ngan’gi language. London: SOAS University of London, Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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