Bardi language

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Native speakers
381 (2016 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3Either:
djw – Jawi

Bardi (also Baardi, Baard) is a moribund Australian Aboriginal language, located in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. There are approximately 20 speakers out of a population of 380.


Bardi is a member of the Nyulnyulan language family. It is a member of the Western branch of the family.

According to R. M. W. Dixon (2002), the following dialects were mutually intelligible with Bardi:

Ethnologue (206) treats all but Ngumbarl as distinct languages, and this view is supported by those linguists who have worked on the languages, including Claire Bowern and William McGregor. It is also the view of Bardi speakers.

There is considerable documentation of the Bardi language, but most of it is unpublished. The earliest work on the language dates from the 1880s, although that has been lost. The earliest records are from the very early 20th century. Gerhardt Laves spent some time on Sunday island in the late 1920s and recorded extensive textual materials, and steady documentation has progressed since the late 1960s. In 2012, a comprehensive reference grammar written by Claire Bowern was published by De Gruyter Mouton.



Bardi has a consonant inventory rather typical of Australian languages, distinguishing 17 consonants both five positions and manners of articulation, with no fricatives or voicing distinctions.

The consonant inventory is as follows, with the orthographic conventions represented in bold.[4]

Peripheral Apical Laminal
Bilabial Velar Alveolar Retroflex Palatal
Plosive b [p] g [k] d [t] rd [ʈ] j [c]
Nasal m [m] ng [ŋ] n [n] rn [ɳ] ny [ɲ]
Trill r [r]
Lateral l [l] rl [ɭ] ly [ʎ]
Approximant w [w] r [ɻ] y [j]

The plosives are voiceless word initially and finally, and usually voiced everywhere else. Intervocally, they are often weakly lenited to an approximant.


Front Central Back
Close i [i], ii [] oo [u], []
Mid o [o]
Open a [a], a []

Bardi has a typical vowel inventory for Australian languages, aside from /o/, which is not phonemic in other Nyulnyulan languages. Except for /o/, all of the vowels have phonemic short and long variants. The short versions are considerably more frequent than long vowels in the language, except for /o/ which is the least common vowel quality in Bardi.

As expected for languages with rather few vowel qualities, allophonic variation is extreme, though long vowels have a more stable realization. /a/ is probably the most variable vowel, ranging from [æ] to [ɒ], from entirely front to back. /aː/ is more consistently realized as [ɑː]. /i/, /u/, /uː/ are usually a more lower [ɪ] and [ʊ~o(ː)], with /iː/ being closer to the cardinal vowel. Finally, /o/ is most often realized as [ɔ].

While quite similar to languages like in the more well-known Pama-Nyungan family, the orthography of Bardi is exceptional in its transcribing of both high-back vowels as <oo>, instead of using 'u'. This convention is typical to other Kimberly languages, such as Gooniyandi and Miriwoong. While one might suspect that this orthographic depth could lead to some communication difficulties, /uː/ is by far the least common vowel in the language, and it bears little functional load.


  1. ^ "Census 2016, Language spoken at home by Sex (SA2+)". ABS. Retrieved 2017-10-30.
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Bardic". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Bardi at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  4. ^ Bowern, C. "A Grammar of Bardi, De Gruyter Mouton Press, 2012, p. 71-100.
  • Aklif, G. (1999). Ardiyooloon Bardi Ngaanka, One Arm Point Bardi dictionary. Halls Creek, Western Australia: Kimberley Language Resource Centre.
  • Dixon, R. M. W. (2002). Australian Languages: Their Nature and Development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Bowern, C. (2012). A Grammar of Bardi. Berlin, Germany: De Gruyter Mouton.