Anindilyakwa language

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Enindhilyakwa, Enindhilyagwa
Amamalya Ayakwa
Native toAustralia
Northern Territory
RegionGroote Eylandt, Bickerton Island, Northern Territory, Australia
Native speakers
1,500 (2021 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3aoi
A map highlighting Groote Eylandt and Bickerton Island where Anindilyakwa is spoken.
Anindilyakwa is classified as Vulnerable by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Anindilyakwa (Amamalya Ayakwa) is an Australian Aboriginal language spoken by the Anindilyakwa people on Groote Eylandt and Bickerton Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria in the Northern Territory of Australia. Anindilyakwa is a multiple-classifying prefixing language in which all traditional nouns, adjectives, personal and demonstrative pronouns are prefixed for person, number and gender.[3] According to the 2021 Australian Census, Anindilyakwa was spoken natively by 1,516 people, an increase from 1,283 in 2006.[4]


The local Anindilyakwa people refer to the language as Amamalya Ayakwa (Amamalya means 'true' and Ayakwa means 'words'). However, Anindilyakwa is still commonly used.[5]

Before linguists established orthography, people had spelt Anindilyakwa in multiple ways. These included Andiljangwa, Andilyaugwa, Aninhdhilyagwa, Enindiljaugwa, Enindhilyagwa, Wanindilyaugwa, Ingura, and Yingguru. It is also known as Groote Eylandt after its location.[2]

Linguistic classification[edit]

Once considered a family level isolate, Van Egmond (2012) has demonstrated Anindilyakwa to be part of the Eastern branch of the Gunwinyguan family, relating it to Nunggubuyu and (more distantly) Ngandi, using correspondences between core vocabulary, verbal morphological forms, phonemes, and verbal inflectional paradigms.[6][7]



The analysis of Anindilyakwa's vowels is open to interpretation. Stokes[8] analyses it as having 4 phonemic vowels, /i e a u/. Leeding[9] analyses it as having just 2, a/ with allophones [ i ɪ u ɯ ə o a ] and [ a æ aɪ æɪ e eɪ ɒ aʊ ], respectively.


Peripheral Coronal
Bilabial Velar Laminal Apical
rounded unrounded Palatal Dental Alveolar Retroflex
Plosive p k c t ʈ
Nasal m ŋʷ ŋ ɲ n ɳ
Lateral ʎ (ɭ)
Rhotic r ɻ
Glide w j


Anindilyakwa words almost always end with a final vowel 'a'. Clusters of up to 3 consonants such as 'ngw' can occur within words.


Noun classes[edit]

Anindilyakwa has 5 noun classes, or genders, each marked by a prefix:

Male human n-
non-human y-
Female human or non-human d-
Inanimate neuter a-
vegetable m-

For bound pronouns, instead of "human male" and "non-human male" classes there is a single "male" class.

All traditional Anindilyakwa nouns carry a class prefix, but some loanwords may lack them.


The language traditionally had numerals up to 20 but since the introduction of English, English words are now used almost exclusively for numbers above 5.[10]

Anindilyakwa uses a quinary number system. The numbers are also adjectival and must be qualified with their corresponding noun class. 'One crocodile' becomes dawilyaba dingarrbiya, '2 turtles' becomes yambilyuma yimenda.

'Nothing' is expressed by nara ebina, 'not any'. There is no term for '"infinity", but the concept "innumerable" can be expressed by: yinguwurramur.dinama dakwulyingarrijanga 'there are too many stars to count.'[11]

1 Awilyaba 11 Ememberrkwa awilyaba
2 Ambilyuma 12 Ememberrkwa ambilyuma
3 Abiyakarbiya 13 Ememberrkwa abiyakarbiyia
4 Abiyarbuwa 14 Ememberrkwa abiyarbuwa
5 Amangbala 15 Amaburrkwakbala
6 Amangbala awilyaba 16 Amaburrkwakbala awilyaba
7 Amangbala ambilyuma 17 Amaburrkwakbala ambilyuma
8 Amangbala abiyakarbiya 18 Amaburrkwakbala abiyakarbiya
9 Amangbala abiyarbuwa 19 Amaburrkwakbala abiyarbuwa
10 Ememberrkwa 20 Wurrakiriyabulangwa


Size degrees is done in 2 grades the positive and a diminutive (warrngka), although reduplication of this word is possible for an intensifying effect.[9]


Personal pronouns[edit]

Anindilyakwa features 5 grammatical numbers for pronouns: singular, feminine dual, masculine dual, trial, and plural.

The language has a clusivity distinction common in many Aboriginal Australian languagesngakwurruwa 'inclusive we' and yirruwa 'exclusive we'. 'Inclusive we' includes explicitly the addressee (that is, 'you and I, and possibly others'). 'Exclusive we' excludes explicitly the addressee (that is, 'he/she/they and I, but not you'), regardless of who else may be involved.

Singular Dual (male) Dual (female) Trial Plural
First person (inclusive)
'you and me'
'you and me'
'we three or four, including you'
'we all, including you'
First person (exclusive)
'we two men or women, but not you'
'we two women, but not you'
'we three or four people, but not you'
'we all, excluding you'
Second person
'you two men, or man and woman'
'you two women'
'you three or four people'
'you, many people'
Third person
enuwa 'he'
ngaluwa 'she'
'they two men', or 'man and woman'
'they two women'
'they three or four people'
'they all, them'

Possessive pronouns[edit]

With the exception of my, possessive pronouns in Anindilyakwa replace the -uwa suffix from the singular or plural pronouns with -langwa 'belonging to'.

English Anindilyakwa
My Nganyangwa
Yours (singular) Nungkwa-langwa
Yours (plural) Nungkwurra-langwa
Ours (exclusive) Yirra-langwa
Ours (inclusive) Ngakwurra-langwa
Theirs Aburra-langwa
His Ena-langwa
Hers Ngala-langwa
Suffix Gloss
-baba because
-dangwa the one that's better or best
-manja by (beside), in, at, on, when, with (people)
-minjena mother of child
-mubaba because (on verbs)
-mulangwa about, of, from (on verbs); after
-murra from (by means of), with (by means of)
-murriya etc., and the rest
-langwa belonging to, from, of
-langwa-langwa around, along
-langwiya along, along and around, over (in the sense of travelling over an area), through
-ma in (by means of); only, just (one); with (by means of)
-yada for (for the purpose of), so (that), to make, used on time words
-wiya all over, still (in sense of being the same), used on time words
-wa to

For kinship nouns, there are 7 possessive suffixes used that distinguish between first, second and thirds, singular or plural numbers, and third person genders.

Suffixes for kinship possession
Singular Non-singular
Suffix Anindilaykwa English Suffix Anindilyakwa English
1st person -arrka Nganyanwa nungwarrka My father
2nd person -ena Nungkwa-langwa nungwena Your father
3rd person Male -enikba Ena-langwa nungenikba His father -arringba Aburra-langwa nungarringba Their father
Female -adukba Ngala-langwa nungadukba Her father

Language maintenance[edit]

Groote Eylandt Language Centre[edit]

The Groote Eylandt Language Centre (GELC) promotes, maintains, and preserves Anindilyakwa. They are based in Angurugu with offices in Umbakumba and Bickerton Island. It hosts a significant collection of language and cultural resources relating to the Warnindilyakwa people. The Centre undertakes language projects both large and small and offers services such as language recording and resource development, language advice and expertise, and translation.[12]

Previously known as Groote Eylandt Linguistics, Church Mission Society ran the department until 2006. The CMS created the orthography with the Latin script to translate Bible texts into Anindilyakwa. The centre now operates under the "Preserving Culture" department of the Anindilyakwa Land Council.[13]

GELC has compiled and published the Anindilyakwa dictionary Eningerriberra-langwa jurra "The Book about Everything",[14] as well as producing an online dictionary,[15] and a web app with the assistance of the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation.[16] They also run a YouTube channel with an expanding content of videos and resources in Anindilyakwa.[17]


Macassan influence[edit]

Makassar people from the region of Sulawesi (modern-day Indonesia) began visiting the coast of northern Australia sometime around the early to middle 1700s.[18] This happened yearly until the introduction of the White Australia Policy in 1906.[19] The Macassans visited Groote Eylandt for trade, particularly for highly prized trepang in the South China Sea. The Macassans also brought with them tamarinds (jamba), dugout canoes (malamukwa), tobacco (dambakwa) and beer (anija). Evan analyses that there are potentially 35 Makassarese words, mostly nouns, that have entered the Anindilyakwa language, including many place names such as Umbakumba (Malay word ombak-ombak for 'lapping of waves') and Bartalumba Bay (Macassan word batu lompoa for 'the big rock').[6]

Words with Macassan origin
English Makassarese Anindilyakwa English Makassarese Anindilyakwa
lapping of waves ombak-ombak Umbakumba the big rock batu lompoa Batalumba Bay
alcohol anisi anija tobacco tambako dambakwa
anchor balaŋo balangwa horse jarang jarrangwa
trepang taripaŋ derriba shovel spear lamaŋ lama
fish hook pekaŋ bikanga machete kalewaŋ kaliwanga
tamarind jampa jamba fish bait eppaŋ libanga
material/cloth sombala dumbala knife ladiŋ lyelyinga
dug-out canoe lepalepa libaliba coconut kaluku kalukwa
book surat jurra boss puŋgawa bungawa
white person balanda balanda lantern baraccuŋ bajananga
gun sinapaŋ jinaba billycan bassi kaleŋ bajikala
nail paso baja axe paŋkulu bangkilya
boat biseaŋ mijiyanga rudder gulin kulunga
box patti bada mast/sail pallayarraŋ baliyerra
north-west wind bara barra south wind sallataŋ dalada
north-east wind tuŋkara 'SE wind' lungkurrma north-east wind timoro dimburra
east wind tuŋkara 'SE wind' dungkwarra


English Anindilyakwa English Anindilyakwa
Where?/Where is it? Angamba? 'Who?' Angkaburra?
Where to?/Where are you going? Ngambu-wa? 'Who's that?' Angkaburra wurrangaba?
Where from?/Where did you come from? Ngamba-langwa? 'Whose?' Angkaburra-langwa?
Where at?/Where are you? Nga-manja? 'Can I sit here?' Ngambarriya-langwa?
When? Ngambi-yada? 'How much?/How many?' Ambarrngarna?
What is your name? Amiyembena ekirra nungkwa-langwa? 'You good?/How are you?' Ningkeningaba?
What? Miyambena? 'What are you doing?' Ningkiyamarrkinama ningkakina?
Why? (for what reason?) Miyambena-baba? 'What are you looking at?' Amiyembena ningkirringka nungkuwa?
Why? (for what purpose?) Miyambena-yada?
What with?/How? (By what means?) Miyambena-ma/Miyambena-murra?
What's the time? Mamiyembena mamawura mema?


Land Animals (Yinungungwangba-murriya)
English Anindilyakwa English Anindilyakwa
Crocodile Dingarrbiya Wallaby, kangaroo Yiburada
Gecko Yibilyibilya Dingo Warnungwenimbaluba
Goanna Yaraja Frilled lizard Dukwululuwawa
Blue-tongued lizard Yimarndakuwaba Turtle Yimenda
Rock wallaby Dilanda Bandicoot Yirukwujilangwa
Native-cat Yiniyerruwena Mice, rats Wurrendinda
Possum Yukungba Sugar glider Yelyuwarra
Echidna Dijinungkwa Snakes Yingarna
Introduced animals
English Anindilyakwa English Anindilyakwa
Dog Wurrawarda Pig Bikibiki
Chicken Jukwajukwa Cat Bujikeda
Horse Jarrangwa Cow Bulukwa
Deer Bambi Goat Nenukwuda
Fish (Akwalya)
English Anindilyakwa English Anindilyakwa
Fish Akwalya Turtle Yimenda
Shark Mangiyuwanga Stingray Amaduwaya
Sawfish Yukwurrirringdangwa Shellfish Adidira
Octopus Amilyengmilyengmaka Crab Angwala
Dugong Dinungkwulangwa Dolphin Dinginjabena
Trepang Yungwula Starfish Miyalkwa
Frog Dilyaburnda

In popular culture[edit]


Film and television[edit]

  • The Last Wave (released in the USA as Black Rain) is a 1977 Australian mystery drama film directed by Peter Weir where a white lawyer represents a group of Aboriginal men accused of murder.[22][23] Also starring Yolngu man David Gulpilil, local Anindilyakwa men Nandjiwarra Amagula, Walter, Roy Bara, Cedrick Lalara, and Morris Lalara portray the men on trial.
  • Bakala is a 2017 award-winning short film written and directed by Nikolas Lachajczak and told entirely in the Anindilyakwa language. It follows the story of Anindilyakwa man, Steve 'Bakala' Wurramara, who is afflicted with Machado-Joseph Disease (MJD), a hereditary neurodegenerative disorder that results in a lack of muscle control and coordination of the upper and lower extremities.[24]
  • Anija is a 2011 award-winning short film written and directed by David Hansen. It is filmed mainly in the Anindilyakwa language and follows the experiences of one family dealing with the effects of alcohol addiction. The film won Best Indigenous Resource at the Australian Teachers of Media (ATOM) Awards in 2011.
  • Anindilyakwa was featured in Spread the Word, an Indigenous Australian languages show on The Disney Channel. The show featured the Anindilyakwa word Ngarrarndirrarjena which translates to 'kicking a tree to get something off of it.'


  • In 2019 the Royal Australian Mint issued a 50 cent coin to celebrate the International Year of Indigenous Languages which features 14 different words for 'money' from Australian Indigenous languages including awarnda for Anindilyakwa. The coin was designed by Aleksandra Stokic in consultation with Indigenous language custodian groups.[25]


  1. ^ Australian Bureau of Statistics (2021). "Cultural diversity: Census". Retrieved 13 October 2022.
  2. ^ a b N151 Anindilyakwa at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  3. ^ Waddy, Julie (1988). Classification of Plants and Animals from a Groote Eylandt Aboriginal Point of View. Australian National University North Australia Research Unit Monograph.
  4. ^ "2016".
  5. ^ "Our Language - Amamalya Ayakwa (Anindilyakwa)".
  6. ^ a b Van Egmond, M-E. (2012). "Enindhilyakwa phonology, morphosyntax and genetic position." Doctoral thesis. University of Sydney. pp. 314–70.
  7. ^ Bowern, C. (2017). "Language isolates of Australia." in Campbell, L., ed. Language Isolates. Abingdon: Routledge: 323–43
  8. ^ Stokes, J. (1981). "Anindilyakwa phonology from phoneme to syllable". In Waters, B. (ed.). Australian phonologies: collected papers. Darwin: Summer Institute of Linguistics, Australian Aborigines Branch. pp. 138–81.
  9. ^ a b Leeding, V. J. (1989). Anindilyakwa phonology and morphology. PhD dissertation. University of Sydney. pp. 38–60. hdl:2123/1558.
  10. ^ Stokes, J. (1982). "A description of the mathematical concepts of Groote Eylandt Aborigines". In Hargrave, S. (ed.). Work Papers of SIL-AAB: Language and Culture. Darwin: Summer Institute of Linguistics, Australian Aborigines Branch. pp. 33–152.
  11. ^ "Anindilyakwa". Retrieved 11 August 2020.
  12. ^ "Groote Eylandt Language Centre about".
  13. ^ "GELC history".
  14. ^ Eningerriberra-langwa jurra. Groote Eylandt Linguistics. 1993. ISBN 9780869070635.
  15. ^ "Ekirra-langwa".
  16. ^ "ALNF Anindilykwa Dictionary".
  17. ^ "Groote Eylandt Language Centre". YouTube.
  18. ^ "Aboriginal-Makassan interactions in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in northern Australia and contemporary sea rights claims" (PDF). Australian Aboriginal Studies. Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. 2004 (1): 3(15). 22 March 2004. ISSN 0729-4352. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 March 2019. Retrieved 1 November 2020.
  19. ^ Bednall, James (January 2020). "Temporal, aspectual and modal expression in Anindilyakwa, the language of the Groote Eylandt Archipelago, Australia". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  20. ^ Nally, Alicia (6 July 2017). "Carving her own pathway". Cairns Post.
  21. ^ "Yilila".
  22. ^ Variety film review; 16 November 1977, p. 21.
  23. ^ "The Last Wave". Creative Spirits. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  24. ^ "Bakala (2017)". IMDb.
  25. ^ mhones (8 April 2019). "International Year of Indigenous Languages commemorated with new coins launched by Royal Australian Mint and AIATSIS". Retrieved 2 November 2020.
  • Leeding, V. J. (1996). "Body parts and possession in Anindilyakwa". In Chappell, H.; McGregor, W. (eds.). The grammar of inalienability: a typological perspective on body part terms and the part-whole relation. Berlin: Mounton de Gruyter. pp. 193–249.

External links[edit]