Iwaidja language

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Native toAustralia
RegionCroker Island, Northern Territory
EthnicityIwaidja people
Native speakers
123 (2016 census)[1]
Latin script
Language codes
ISO 639-3ibd
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Iwaidja, in phonemic spelling Iwaja, is an Australian aboriginal language of the Iwaidja people with about 123 native, with an extra 20 to 30 L2 speakers in northernmost Australia. Historically having come from the base of the Cobourg Peninsula, it is now spoken on Croker Island. It is still being learnt by children within the Northern Territory.



Iwaidja has the following 20 consonants.

Peripheral Laminal Apical
Bilabial Velar Postalveolar Alveolar Retroflex
Nasal m ŋ ɲ n ɳ
Plosive p k c t ʈ
Approximant w ɣ j ɻ
Flap ɽ
Trill r
Lateral (ʎ) l ɭ
Lateral flap (ʎ̆) ɺ ɭ̆
Note: The postalveolar lateral and lateral flap are rare, and it cannot be ruled out that they are sequences of /lj/ and /ɺj/. The plosives are allophonically voiced, and are often written b d ɖ ɟ ɡ.


Iwaidja has three vowels, /a, i, u/. The following table shows the allophones of these vowels as described by Pym and Larrimore.[3]

Vowel Allophone Environment
/i/ [iː] Occurs before laminal consonants.
[e] Occurs word initially.
[i] All other cases.
/a/ [ai] Occurs before laminal consonants.
[æ] Occurs following laminal consonants except utterance final. Free variation with [a] in this environment.
[au] Occurs before /w/. Free variation with [a] in this environment.
[a] All other cases.
/u/ [ui] Occurs before laminal consonants.
[o] Occurs following velar consonant. Free variation with [u] in this environment.
[u] All other cases.


Iwaidja has extensive morphophonemic alternation. For example, body parts occur with possessive prefixes, and these alter the first consonant in the root:

ŋa-ɺ̡uli aŋ-kuli ɹuli
my foot your foot his/her foot

Both the words arm and to be sick originally started with an /m/, as shown in related languages such as Maung. The pronominal prefix for it, its altered the first consonant of the root. In Iwaidja, this form extended to the masculine and feminine, so that gender distinctions were lost, and the prefix disappeared, leaving only the consonant mutation—a situation perhaps unique in Australia, but not unlike that of the Celtic languages.

arm to be sick
they a-mawur
their arms
they're sick
he/she/it pawur
his/her arm
s/he's sick


The Iwaidja languages are nearly unique among the languages of the world in using verbs for kin terms. Nouns are used for direct address, but transitive verbs in all other cases. In English something similar is done in special cases: he fathered a child; she mothers him too much. But these do not indicate social relationships in English. For example, he fathered a child says nothing about whether he is the man the child calls "father". An Iwaidja speaker, on the other hand, says I nephew her to mean "she is my aunt". Because these are verbs, they can be inflected for tense. In the case of in-laws, this is equivalent to my ex-wife or the bride-to-be in English. However, with blood relations, past can only mean that the person has died, and future only that they are yet to be born.






am father to



a -pana -maɽjarwu -n

I-to-him FUT {am father to} NOUN

"my future son" (lit. "I will be his father")




is husband to



ɹi -maka -ntuŋ

he-to-her {is husband to} PAST

"his ex/late wife" (lit. "he was husband to her")

Alternative names[edit]


  1. ^ "Census 2016, Language spoken at home by Sex (SA2+)". stat.data.abs.gov.au. ABS. Retrieved 2017-10-30.
  2. ^ N39 Iwaidja at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  3. ^ Pym, Noreen, and Bonnie Larrimore. Papers on Iwaidja phonology and grammar. Series A Vol. 2., 1979.
  4. ^ Garde, Murray. "Yibadjdja". Bininj Kunwok online dictionary. Bininj Kunwok Regional Language Centre. Retrieved 4 Jan 2022.


  • Nicholas Evans, 2000. "Iwaidjan, a very un-Australian language family." In Linguistic Typology 4, 91-142. Mouton de Gruyter.

External links[edit]