Pitjantjatjara dialect

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Region Northwest South Australia
Native speakers
2,700 (increasing)  (2006 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 pjt
Glottolog pitj1243[3]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Pitjantjatjara (English /pɪənəˈɑːrə/,[4] Aboriginal pronunciation: [ˈpɪɟanɟaɟaɾa] or [ˈpɪɟanɟaɾa]) is a dialect of the Western Desert language traditionally spoken by the Pitjantjatjara people of Central Australia. It is mutually intelligible with other varieties of the Western Desert language, and is particularly closely related to Yankunytjatjara dialect.



The name used for Pitjantjatjara (and for Yankunytjatjara, Ngaanyatjarra, and others) is based on a single prominent word, the verb for ‘come/go’, which distinguishes it from its near neighbour, Yankunytjatjara. The latter has yankunytja (present tense yananyi) for this verb, while Pitjantjatjara has pitjantja (in the present tense pitjanyi).[5] The ending -tjara is the comitative suffix and means ‘having’ or ‘with’. Thus Yankunytjatjara means ‘to have yankunytja’ as opposed to Pitjantjatjara which ‘has pitjantja’.[5]


Through a process of haplology, the name Pitjantjatjara is usually pronounced (in normal, fast speech) with one of the repeated syllables -tja- deleted, thus: pitjantjara. In slow, careful speech all syllables will be pronounced.[6]

The longest official place name in Australia is a Pitjantjatjara word, Mamungkukumpurangkuntjunya Hill in South Australia, which means "where a devil urinates".[7]


Features distinctive to Pitjantjatjara include -pa endings on words that would otherwise end with consonants, and a preference to not have y at the start of most words.

Nouns and noun phrases[edit]

Pitjantjatjara uses case marking to show the role of nouns within the clause as subject, object, location, etc. Pitjantjatjara is a language with split ergativity, since its nouns and pronouns show different case marking patterns (Bowe 1990:9-12).

Consider the following example, where the subject of a transitive verb is marked with the ergative case and the object with the absolutive case (Bowe 1990:10):

Minyma-ngku tjitji nya-ngu.
woman-ergative child(absolutive) see-past
'The woman saw the child.'

This can be contrasted with the following sentence with an intransitive verb, where the subject takes the absolutive case:

Tjitji a-nu.
child(absolutive) go-past
'The child went.'

In contrast to the ergative-absolutive pattern that applies to nouns, pronouns show a nominative-accusative pattern. Consider the following examples, with pronoun subjects (Bowe 1990:11):

Ngayu-lu tjitji nya-ngu.
I-nom child(absolutive) see-past
'I saw the child.'
Ngayu-lu a-nu.
I-nom go-past
'I went.'

Verbs and verb phrases[edit]

Pitjantjatjara verbs inflect for tense. Pitjantjatjara has four different classes of verbs, each of which takes slightly different endings (the classes are named according to their imperative suffixes): ∅-class verbs,la-class verbs, wa-class verbs, and ra-class verbs.

Derivational morphology[edit]

It also has systematic ways of changing words from one part of speech to another, e.g., making nouns from verbs, and vice-versa. However the words formed this way may have slightly different meanings that cannot be guessed from the pattern alone.

Segmental phonology and orthography[edit]

There are slightly different standardised spellings used in the Northern Territory and Western Australia compared to South Australia, for example with the first two writing w between a and u combinations and a y between a and i, which SA doesn't use.

Pitjantjatjara has the following consonant inventory, written as shown in bold:

Peripheral Laminal Apical
Bilabial Velar Palatal Alveolar Retroflex
Plosive p [p]~[b] k [k]~[ɡ] tj [c]~[ɟ] t [t]~[d] [ʈ]~[ɖ]
Nasal m [m] ng [ŋ] ny [ɲ] n [n] [ɳ]
Trill/Tap r[8] [r]~[ɾ]
Lateral ly [ʎ] l [l] [ɭ]
Approximant w [w] y [j] [8] [ɻ]~[ɹ]

Pitjantjatjara has three vowels:

Front Central Back
Close i [ɪ], ii [ɪː] u [ʊ], uu [ʊː]
Open a [a], aa []

Pitjantjatjara vowels have a length contrast which is indicated by writing them doubled. In the past, a colon : was sometimes used to indicate long vowels: a:, i:, u:.


Pitjantjatjara requires the following underlined letters, which can be either ordinary letters with underline formatting, or Unicode characters which include a line below:

  • Ḻ: unicode 1E3A
  • ḻ: unicode 1E3B
  • Ṉ: unicode 1E48
  • ṉ: unicode 1E49
  • Ṟ: unicode 1E5E
  • ṟ: unicode 1E5F
  • Ṯ: unicode 1E6E
  • ṯ: unicode 1E6F

External links[edit]


  • Bowe, Heather. 1990. Categories, Constituents, and Constituent Order in Pitjantjatjara, An Aboriginal Language of Australia. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-05694-2
  • Goddard, Cliff (1996). Pitjantjatjara/Yankunytjatjara to English Dictionary. Alice Springs: IAD Press. ISBN 0-949659-91-6. 
  • Goddard, Cliff (1985). A Grammar of Yankunytjatjara. Institute for Aboriginal Develoepment Press. ISBN 0-949659-32-0. 
  • Langlois, Annie (2004). Alive and Kicking: Areyonga Teenage Pitjantjatjara, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies. ISBN 0-85883-546-0
  1. ^ Pitjantjatjara at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Pitjantjatjara at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  3. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Pitjantjatjara". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  4. ^ Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student’s Handbook, Edinburgh
  5. ^ a b Goddard (1996)
  6. ^ Goddard (1985)
  7. ^ "South Australian State Gazeteer". 
  8. ^ a b Note that is written as r at the start of words, since words can't begin with /r/. In some versions of the orthography, /r/ is written rr, and /ɻ/ is written r.