Anindilyakwa language

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Enindhilyakwa, Enindhilyagwa
Amamalya Ayakwa
A map highlighting Groote Eylandt and Bickerton Island where Anindilyakwa is spoken.
Native toAustralia
Northern Territory
RegionGroote Eylandt, Bickerton Island, Northern Territory, Australia
Native speakers
1,486 (2016 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3aoi
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Anindilyakwa (Amamalya Ayakwa) is an Australian Aboriginal language spoken by the Warnindhilyagwa people on Groote Eylandt and Bickerton Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria in the Northern Territory of Australia. According to the 2016 Australian Census, Anindilyakwa was spoken natively by 1,486 people, an increase from 1,283 in 2006.[3]


Anindilyakwa can also be spelled Andiljangwa, Andilyaugwa, Aninhdhilyagwa (used by R. M. W. Dixon's Australian Languages), Enindiljaugwa, Enindhilyagwa, Wanindilyaugwa, Ingura, and Yingguru. It also known as Groote Eylandt after its location.

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.[4][5]



The analysis of Anindilyakwa's vowels is open to interpretation. Stokes[6] analyses it as having four phonemic vowels, /i e a u/. Leeding[7] analyses it as having just two, /ɨ a/.


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


All Anindilyakwa words end in a vowel. Clusters of up to three consonants can occur within words.


Noun classes[edit]

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

  • Human male
  • Non-human male
  • Female (human or non-human)
  • Inanimate "lustrous", with the prefix a-.
  • Inanimate "non-lustrous", with the prefix mwa-.

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

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


The language traditionally had numerals up to twenty but since the introduction of English, English words are now used almost exclusively for numbers above five.[8]

Anindilyakwa uses a quinary number system. They are also adjectival and therefore must be qualified with their corresponding noun class. "One crocodile" becomes "dawilyaba dingarrbiya". "Two 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."[9]

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 two grades the positive and a diminutive (warrngka), although reduplication of this word is possible for an intensifying effect.[7]


Personal Pronouns[edit]

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

The language has a clusivity distinction common in many Indigenous Australian languages - inclusive "we" and exclusive "we". Inclusive "we" specifically includes the addressee (that is, one of the words for "we" means "you and I and possibly others"), while exclusive "we" specifically excludes the addressee (that is, another word for "we" means "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

Language preservation[edit]

Groote Eylandt Language Centre[edit]

The Groote Eylandt Language Centre (GELC) works to promote, maintain and preserve 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.[10]

Previously known as Groote Eylandt Linguistics, they were run by Church Mission Society 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.[11]

GELC have compiled and published the Anindilyakwa dictionary Eningerriberra-langwa jurra "The Book about Everything",[12] as well as producing an online dictionary,[13] and a web app with the assistance of the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation.[14] They also run a YouTube channel with an expanding content of videos and resources in Anindilyakwa.[15]


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.[16] This happened yearly until the introduction of the White Australia Policy in 1906.[17] The Macassans visited Groote Eylandt for trade, particularly for trepang which was high prized 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 Macassan 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’).[4]

Words with Macassan origin
English Macassan Anindilyakwa English Macassan 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]

  • 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 which results in a lack of muscle control and coordination of the upper and lower extremities.[20]
  • Anija is a 2011 award-winning short film written and directed by David Hansen. It is filmed mostly 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 Australian pay television channel The Disney Channel. The show featured the Anindilyakwa word "Ngarrarndirrarjena" which translate 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.[21]


  1. ^ "Census 2016, Language spoken at home by Sex (SA2+)". Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 29 October 2017.
  2. ^ N151 Anindilyakwa at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  3. ^ "2016".
  4. ^ a b Van Egmond, M-E. (2012). "Enindhilyakwa phonology, morphosyntax and genetic position." Doctoral thesis. University of Sydney. pp. 314–70.
  5. ^ Bowern, C. (2017). "Language isolates of Australia." in Campbell, L., ed. Language Isolates. Abingdon: Routledge: 323–43
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ a b Leeding, V. J. (1989). Anindilyakwa phonology and morphology. PhD dissertation. University of Sydney.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ "Anindilyakwa". Retrieved 11 August 2020.
  10. ^ "Groote Eylandt Language Centre about".
  11. ^ "GELC history".
  12. ^ "Eningerriberra-langwa jurra".
  13. ^ "Ekirra-langwa".
  14. ^ "ALNF Anindilykwa Dictionary".
  15. ^ "Groote Eylandt Language Centre".
  16. ^ "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.
  17. ^ Bednall, James. "Temporal, aspectual and modal expression in Anindilyakwa, the language of the Groote Eylandt Archipelago, Australia". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  18. ^ Nally, Alicia (6 July 2017). "Carving her own pathway". Cairns Post.
  19. ^ "YILILA".
  20. ^ "Bakala (2017)".
  21. ^ 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]