Western Desert language
|Region||Desert areas of Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory|
|Native speakers||7,600 (2006 census)|
Manjtjiltjara (Martu Wangka)
ant – Antikirinya
ktd – Kokata (Kukarta)
kux – Kukatja
mpj – Martu Wangka
ntj – Ngaanyatjarra
piu – Pintupi-Luritja
pjt – Pitjantjatjara
kdd – Yankunytjatjara
pti – Pintiini (Wangkatja)
pii – Pini
xny – Nyiyaparli
Wati languages (green) among Pama–Nyungan (tan)
The name Wati tends to be used when considering the various varieties to be distinct languages, Western Desert when considering them dialects of a single language, or Wati as Wanman plus the Western Desert cluster.
Location and list of communities
The speakers of the various dialects of the Western Desert Language traditionally lived across much of the desert areas of Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory. Most Western Desert people live in communities on or close to their traditional lands, although some now live in one of the towns fringing the desert area such as Kalgoorlie, Laverton, Alice Springs, Port Augusta, Meekatharra, Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing.
The following is a partial list of Western Desert communities:
- Kintore, Northern Territory
- Docker River, Northern Territory
- Ernabella, South Australia
- Amata, South Australia
- Fregon, South Australia
- Pipalyatjara, South Australia
- Kalka, South Australia
- Warburton, Western Australia
- Kiwirrkura, Western Australia
- Balgo, Western Australia
- Aputula, Northern Territory (also known as Finke)
- Imanpa, Northern Territory (also known as Mount Ebenezer)
- Mutitjulu, Northern Territory
- Jigalong, Western Australia
The Western Desert Language consists of a network of closely related dialects; the names of some of these have become quite well known (such as Pitjantjatjara) and are often referred to as 'languages'. As the whole group of dialects which constitutes the language does not have its own name it is usually referred to as the Western Desert Language. WDL speakers referring to the overall language use various terms including wangka 'language' or wangka yuti 'clear speech'. For native speakers this language is mutually intelligible across its entire range.
Some of the named varieties of the Western Desert Language, with their approximate locations, are:
- Antakarinya (Antakirinya)* – north-east of SA
- Kartutjarra* – near Jigalong, WA
- Kukatja* – south of Balgo, WA
- Kokatha* – Kokatha Mula, central SA
- Luritja – central Australia
- Manyjilyjarra (Manjiljarra)* – near Jigalong
- Martu Wangka – Jigalong Community
- Ngaanyatjarra* – near Warburton, WA
- Ngaatjatjarra – near Warburton, WA
- Pintupi* – Kintore (Northern Territory) and further west.
- Pintupi Luritja – Papunya and Kintore region, NT
- Pitjantjatjara* – North-west of SA
- Putijarra* – south of Jigalong, WA
- Titjikala Luritja* – Titjikala around Maryvale and Finke, NT
- Wangkatjunga (Wangkajunga)* – south of Christmas Creek, WA (part of Martu Wangka?)
- Watha – east of Meekatharra, WA
- Wawula – south-east of Meekatharra
- Wong-gie – Kalgoorlie to Cosmo Newberry and Wiluna region, W.A
- Yankunytjatjara* – north-west of SA
- Yulparirra (Yulparija)* – north of Jigalong
Starred names are listed as separate languages in Bowern (2011 ).
Status of the language
The Western Desert Language has thousands of speakers, making it one of the strongest indigenous Australian languages. The language is still being transmitted to children and has substantial amounts of literature, particularly in the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara dialects in South Australia where there was formerly a long-running bilingual program.
In the following tables of the WDL sound system, symbols in boldface give a typical practical orthography used by many WDL communities. Further details of orthographies in use in different areas is given below. Phonetic values in IPA are shown in [square brackets].
|Close||i [i], ii [iː]||u [u], uu [uː]|
|Open||a [a], aa [aː]|
The Western Desert Language has the common (for Australia) three-vowel system with a length distinction creating a total of six possible vowels.
|Stop||p [p]||k [k]||tj [c]||t [t]||rt [ʈ ]|
|Nasal||m [m]||ng [ŋ]||ny [ɲ]||n [n]||rn [ɳ ]|
|Lateral||ly [ʎ]||l [l]||rl [ɭ ]|
|Approximant||w [w]||y [j]||r [ɻ ]|
As shown in the chart, the WDL distinguishes five positions of articulation, and has oral and nasal occlusives at each position. The stops have no phonemic voice distinction, but display voiced and unvoiced allophones; stops are usually unvoiced at the beginning of a word, and voiced elsewhere. In both positions they are usually unaspirated. There are no fricative consonants.
While the dialects of the WDL have very similar phonologies there are several different orthographies in use. This results from the preferences of the different early researchers as well as the fact that the WDL region extends into three states (Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory), with each having its own history of language research and educational policy.
- Antikirinya reference at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
Kokata (Kukarta) reference at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
Kukatja reference at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
Martu Wangka reference at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
Ngaanyatjarra reference at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
Pintupi-Luritja reference at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
(Additional references under 'Language codes' in the information box)
- Dixon, R. M. W. (2002). Australian Languages: Their Nature and Development. Cambridge University Press. p. xxxvii.
- Western Desert at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
- Kendon, A. (1988) Sign Languages of Aboriginal Australia: Cultural, Semiotic and Communicative Perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Goddard, C. 1985. A Grammar of Yankunytjatjara. Alice Springs: IAD.
- Ngapartji Online course of Pitjantjatjara language, and related performance event 2006.
- 'Western Desert' section of Handbook of Western Australian Aboriginal Languages South of the Kimberley