Upper Arrernte language

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Upper Arrernte
Upper Arrernte
RegionNorthern Territory, Australia
EthnicityArrernte people, Alyawarre, Anmatyerre, Ayerrereng, Yuruwinga
Native speakers
4,537 (2016 census)[1]
Aranda Sign Language
Language codes
ISO 639-3Variously:
amx – Anmatjirra
aly – Alyawarr
adg – Antekerrepenhe
aer – Eastern Arrernte
are – Western Arrernte
axe – Ayerrerenge
AIATSIS[3]C8 Arrernte, C14 Alyawarr, C8.1 Anmatyerre, C12 Antekerrepenh, G12 Ayerrerenge, C28 Akarre
Arandic languages.png
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Arrernte or Aranda (/ˈærəndə/;[4] Arrernte [aɾəⁿɖə]) or more specifically Upper Arrernte (Upper Aranda), is a dialect cluster spoken in and around Alice Springs (Mparntwe in Arrernte) in the Northern Territory, Australia. The name is sometimes spelled Arunta or Arrarnta.


Artist Albert Namatjira was a Western Arrernte man.

The varieties are as follows:[5][6]

  • Alyawarr (Alyawarra), spoken by the Alyawarre
  • Anmatjirra (spoken by the Anmatyerre)
  • Antekerrepenhe (Andegerebinha)
  • Ayerrerenge (Ayerreyenge)
  • Eastern Arrernte (Ikngerripenhe) and Central Arrernte (Mparntwe Arrernte; east of Alice Springs)
  • Western Arrernte (Akarre, Tyuretye Arrernte, Arrernte Alturlerenj; west of Alice Springs)
  • Southern Arrernte (Pertame, south of Western Arrernte)

There is much debate on whether these are dialects of an Arrernte language, or separate languages, both among linguists and among the Arrernte people themselves. Lower Arrernte, however, is clearly distinct.[3]



Peripheral Coronal
Laminal Apical
Bilabial Velar Uvular Palatal Dental Alveolar Retroflex
Stop p pʷ k kʷ c cʷ t̪ t̪ʷ t tʷ ʈ ʈʷ
Nasal m mʷ ŋ ŋʷ ɲ ɲʷ n̪ n̪ʷ n nʷ ɳ ɳʷ
Prestopped nasal ᵖm ᵖmʷ ᵏŋ ᵏŋʷ ᶜɲ ᶜɲʷ ᵗn̪ ᵗn̪ʷ ᵗn ᵗnʷ ᵗɳ ᵗɳʷ
Prenasalized stop ᵐb ᵐbʷ ᵑɡ ᵑɡʷ ᶮɟ ᶮɟʷ ⁿd̪ ⁿd̪ʷ ⁿd ⁿdʷ ⁿɖ ⁿɖʷ
Lateral Approximant ʎ ʎʷ l̪ l̪ʷ l lʷ ɭ ɭʷ
Approximant β̞ ɰ ~ ʁ̞ j jʷ ɻ ɻʷ
Tap ɾ ɾʷ

/ɰ ~ ʁ̞/ is described as velar ([ɰ]) by Breen & Dobson (2005), and as uvular ([ʁ̞]) by Henderson (2003).

Stops are unaspirated.[7] Prenasalized stops are voiced throughout; prestopped nasals are voiceless during the stop. These sounds arose as normal consonant clusters; Ladefoged states that they now occur initially, where consonant clusters are otherwise forbidden, due to historical loss of initial vowels;[8] however, it has also been argued that such words start with a phonemic schwa, which may not be pronounced (see below).


The vowel phonemes of Central Arrernte, from Breen & Dobson (2005:251). The positioning of the vowels is only approximate, as they possess a wide range of allophones. /u/ may not be a phoneme but rather just one of the allophones of /ə/.
Front Central Back
High (i) (u)
Mid ə
Low a

All dialects have at least /ə a/.

The vowel system of Arrernte is unusual in that there are only two contrastive vowel phonemes, /a/ and /ə/. Two-vowel systems are very rare worldwide, but are also found in some Northwest Caucasian languages. It seems that the vowel system derives from an earlier one with more phonemes, but after the development of labialised consonants in the vicinity of round vowels, the vowels lost their roundedness/backness distinction, merging into just two phonemes. There is no allophonic variation in different consonantal contexts for the vowels. Instead, the phonemes can be realised by various different articulations in free variation. For example, the phoneme /ə/ can be pronounced [ɪ ~ e ~ ə ~ ʊ] in any context.[9]


The underlying syllable structure of Arrernte is argued to be VC(C), with obligatory codas and no onsets.[10] Underlying phrase-initial /ə/ is realised as zero, except before a rounded consonant where, by a rounding process of general applicability, it is realised as [ʊ]. It is also common for phrases to carry a final [ə] corresponding to no underlying segment.[11]

Among the evidence for this analysis is that some suffixes have suppletive variants for monosyllabic and bisyllabic bases. Stems that appear monosyllabic and begin with a consonant in fact select the bisyllabic variant. Stress falls on the first nucleus preceded by a consonant, which by this analysis can be stated more uniformly as the second underlying syllable. And the frequentative is formed by reduplicating the final VC syllable of the verb stem; it does not include the final [ə].


Arrernte orthography does not write word-initial /ə/, and adds an e to the end of every word.

Peripheral Coronal
Laminal Apical
Bilabial Velar Uvular Palatal Dental Alveolar Retroflex
Stop p pw k kw ty tyw th thw t tw rt rtw
Nasal m mw ng ngw ny nyw nh nhw n nw rn rnw
Prestopped nasal pm pmw kng kngw tny tnyw tnh/thn tnhw/thnw tn tnw rtn rtnw
Prenasalized stop mp mpw ngk ngkw nty ntyw nth nthw nt ntw rnt rntw
Lateral ly lyw lh lhw l lw rl rlw
Approximant w h y yw r rw
Tap/Trill rr rrw
Front Central Back
High (i/ey) (u/we)
Mid e
Low a


Kai Kai Western Arrernte, likely a speaker of Upper Arrernte; c. 1900.

Arrernte has fairly free word order but tends towards SOV. It is generally ergative, but is accusative in its pronouns. Pronouns may be marked for duality and skin group.[7]

Suffixes (Eastern/Central Arrernte)[13]
suffix gloss
+aye emphasis
+ewe stronger emphasis
+eyewe really strong emphasis
+ke for
+le actor in a sentence
+le instrument
+le location
+le-arlenge together, with
+nge from
-akerte having
-arenye from (origin), association
-arteke similarity
-atheke towards
-iperre, -ipenhe after, from
-kenhe belongs to
-ketye because (bad consequence)
-kwenye not having, without
-mpele by way of, via
-ntyele from
-werne to
+ke past
+lhe reflexive
+me present tense
+rre/+irre reciprocal
+tyale negative imperative
+tye-akenhe negative
+tyeke purpose or intent
+tyenhe future


Pronouns decline with a nominative rather than ergative alignment:

Non-skin-group-marking pronouns (Eastern/Central Arrernte)[14]
person number subject object dative possessive
1 singular ayenge/the ayenge/ayenhe atyenge atyenhe/atyinhe
dual ilerne ilernenhe ilerneke ilernekenhe
plural anwerne anwernenhe anwerneke anwernekenhe
2 singular unte ngenhe ngkwenge ngkwinhe
dual mpwele mpwelenhe mpweleke mpwelekenhe
plural arrantherre arrenhantherre arrekantherre arrekantherrenhe
3 singular re renhe ikwere ikwerenhe
dual re-atherre renhe-atherre
ikwere-atherre ikwere-atherrenhe
plural itne itnenhe itneke itnekenhe

Body parts normally require non-possessive pronouns (inalienable possession), though younger speakers may use possessives in this case too (e.g. akaperte ayenge or akaperte atyinhe 'my head').[15]

Sign language[edit]

The Arrernte have a highly developed sign language.

Arrernte in school[edit]

Hut of the Eastern Arrernte Basedow, Eastern Arrernte people, Arltunga district, Northern Territory; August 1920.

In most primary schools in Alice Springs, all students are taught Arrernte (or in some cases Western Arrernte) as a compulsory language, often alongside the French or Indonesian languages. Additionally, most Alice Springs high schools give the option to study Arrernte language throughout high school as a separate subject, and it can also be learned at Centralian College as part of a TAFE course. Future plans are that it will be included as a university subject.

Arrernte in the workplace[edit]

Many Alice Springs workplaces require that employees learn at least basic Arrernte to communicate effectively with the large numbers of Arrernte people. Many workplaces offer learning of Arrernte as an option and will fund the course.


Eastern and Central Arrernte examples[16]
Arrernte English
G'day, What's new?
Nothing much
Unte mwerre?
Ye, ayenge mwerre
Are you alright?
Yes, I'm alright
Urreke aretyenhenge
Kele aretyenhenge
See you later
OK, See you later

Cultural references[edit]

Peter Sculthorpe's music theatre work Rites of Passage (1972–73) is written partly in Arrernte and partly in Latin. Western and Southern Arrernte were also used in parts of the libretto for Andrew Schultz' and Gordon Williams' Journey to Horseshoe Bend, based on the novel by T. G. H. Strehlow.


  1. ^ ABS. "Census 2016, Language spoken at home by Sex (SA2+)". stat.data.abs.gov.au. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 2017-10-29.
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Aranda". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ a b Arrernte at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies  (see the info box for additional links)
  4. ^ Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student's Handbook, Edinburgh; also /əˈrændə/ "Aranda". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  5. ^ Dixon, R. M. W. (2002). Australian Languages: Their Nature and Development. Cambridge University Press. p. xxxix.
  6. ^ Bowern, Claire. 2011. "How Many Languages Were Spoken in Australia?", Anggarrgoon: Australian languages on the web, 23 December 2011 (corrected 6 February 2012)
  7. ^ a b Green (2005).
  8. ^ Ladefoged, Peter; Maddieson, Ian (1996). The Sounds of the World's Languages. Oxford: Blackwell. p. 129. ISBN 0-631-19814-8.
  9. ^ Ladefoged and Maddieson (1996)
  10. ^ Breen & Pensalfini (1999).
  11. ^ Breen & Pensalfini (1999), pp. 2–3.
  12. ^ Arrernte on Omniglot
  13. ^ Green (2005), pp. 46–47.
  14. ^ Green (2005), p. 54.
  15. ^ Green (2005), p. 55.
  16. ^ "Fact Sheet 3" (PDF). (681 KB)


  • Breen, Gavan (2000). Introductory Dictionary of Western Arrernte. Alice Springs: IAD Press. ISBN 978-0-949659-98-9.
  • Breen, Gavan (2001). "The wonders of Arandic phonology". In Simpson, Jane; Nash, David; Laughren, Mary; Austin, Peter; Alpher, Barry. Forty Years On: Ken Hale and Australian Languages. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. pp. 45–69.
  • Breen, Gavan; Dobson, Veronica (2005). "Illustrations of the IPA: Central Arrernte". Journal of the International Phonetic Association. 35 (2): 249–254. doi:10.1017/S0025100305002185.
  • Breen, Gavan; Pensalfini, Rob (1999). "Arrernte: A Language with No Syllable Onsets". Linguistic Inquiry. 30 (1): 1–25. doi:10.1162/002438999553940.
  • Dixon, R. M. W. (2002). Australian Languages: Their Nature and Development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-47378-1.
  • Green, Jenny (2005). A learner's guide to Eastern and Central Arrernte. Alice Springs: IAD Press. ISBN 978-1-86465-081-5.
  • Henderson, John (1988). Topics in Eastern and Central Arrernte grammar. PhD dissertation. University of Western Australia.
  • Henderson, John; Veronica Dobson (1994). Eastern and Central Arrernte to English Dictionary. Alice Springs: IAD Press. ISBN 978-0-949659-74-3.
  • Henderson, John (2003). "The word in Eastern/Central Arrernte". In R. M. W. Dixon; Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald. Word: A Cross-Linguistic Typology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 100–124.
  • Ladefoged, Peter; Ian Maddieson (1996). The Sounds of the World's Languages. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd. ISBN 978-0-631-19815-4.
  • Mathews, R. H. (Oct–Dec 1907). "The Arran'da Language, Central Australia". Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 46 (187): 322–339.
  • Strehlow, T. G. H. (1944). Aranda phonetics and grammar. Sydney: Oceania Monographs.
  • Wilkins, David P. (1988). "Switch-reference in Mparntwe Arrernte (Aranda): form, function, and problems of identity". In Austin, P. K. Complex sentence constructions in Australian languages. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. pp. 141–176.
  • Wilkins, David P. (1989). Mparntwe Arrernte (Aranda): studies in the structure and semantics of grammar. PhD dissertation, Australian National University.
  • Wilkins, David P. (1991). "The semantics, pragmatics and diachronic development of "associated motion" in Mparntwe Arrente". Buffalo Working Papers in Linguistics. 91: 207–257.
  • Yallop, C. (1977). Alyawarra, an Aboriginal language of central Australia. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. ISBN 978-0-85575-062-6.

External links[edit]