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Anangu, more accurately "Aṉaŋu" or "Arnangu" (pronounced with the stress on the first syllable: [ˈaɳaŋʊ]) is a word found in a number of eastern varieties of the Western Desert Language (WDL), an Australian Aboriginal language of the Pama–Nyungan family, spoken in the desert regions of western and central Australia. Before the arrival of non-Aboriginal people in Central Australia the core meaning of anangu was probably "human being, person". Now however it is used to mean "Aboriginal human being, person" and is rarely applied to non-Aboriginal people. As a Western Desert Language word for "(Aboriginal) person", and given that other Aboriginal languages have their own words for "(Aboriginal) person" the word anangu has come to be very closely associated with the WDL speaking people who use it to the extent that it is now commonly used to refer to them, mainly by non-Aboriginal people but also by the speakers themselves. Used in this way it seems never to be used to refer to any traditional grouping but rather to any collection of WDL people. It may also be used to refer to other Aboriginal people, especially where the speaker is uncertain who they are.

The correct term for "black person" in Pitjantjatjara is aṉangu maru, literally "dark/black person".

Anangu also has the meaning "human body" and may be used to refer specifically to the physical body, or to a dead body.

Distribution and spelling[edit]

The following table shows the main WDL dialects in which it is used (left column) along with the word spelled according to the orthography of that dialect (right column).

Pitjantjatjara aṉangu
Southern (Titjikala) Luritja yarnangu
Pintupi Luritja aṉangu
Ngaanyatjarra yarnangu
Ngaatjatjarra yarnangu
Yankunytjatjara yaṉangu

The reasons for the spelling variations are: some WDL dialects do not allow vowel-initial words—in these varieties the word begins with y; some orthographies use underlining (e.g. ṉ) to indicate a retroflex consonant, while others use a digraph (e.g. rn). Pitjantjatjara seems to be the best-known source for the word, but the underlining of the consonant is often ignored (or not understood) by English speakers, and is difficult to type, so the word is very commonly seen as anangu. It is probably best in this article to continue using the word in the most familiar form (which is also the article title) despite the fact that it is an incorrect spelling.


On occasion this word is used to refer to white people and non-natives. In some communities, when a white person is accepted into their community, one of the ways that they know that they are accepted is to be referred to as an Anangu (a person).

Equivalents in other languages/dialects[edit]

Other Western Desert Language dialects have different words with a similar meaning and range of uses. In the far west of the WDL (i.e. amongst Manyjilyjarra, Kartujarra, Putijarra and Warnman) the word martu is used, and in the central Western Desert (i.e. amongst the western Pintupi) the word purntu, although this seems to be rarely used now.

A few of the equivalent terms used by some Aboriginal groups in other regions of Australia are Koori, Noongar, Nunga, Murri.

Communities with a large WDL-speaking population[edit]

See also WARU community directory

Other names used by Australian Aboriginal people[edit]

There are a number of other names from Australian Aboriginal languages commonly used to identify groups based on geography:

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  • Goddard, Cliff. (1992). Pitjantjatjara/Yankunytjatjara to English Dictionary. IAD Press, Alice Springs Australia. (ISBN 0-949659-64-9)
  • Glass, Amee and Dorothy Hackett. (2003). Ngaanyatjarra & Ngaatjatjarra to English Dictionary. IAD Press, Alice Springs Australia. (ISBN 1-86465-053-2)
  • Goddard, Cliff. (1985). A Grammar of Yankunytjatjara. IAD Press, Alice Springs Australia.
  • Eckert, Paul and Joyce Hudson. (1988). Wangka Wiru: A handbook for the Pitjantjatjara language learner. SACAE, Underdale SA. (ISBN 0-86803-230-1)
  • Hansen, KC & LE Hansen. (1992). Pintupi/Luritja Dictionary 3rd Edition. IAD Press, Alice Springs, Australia. (ISBN 0-949659-63-0)
  • Valiquette, Hilaire (ed.). (1993). A Basic Kukatja to English Dictionary. Luurnpa Catholic School, Balgo WA. (ISBN 0-646-12453-6)