Iwaidja language

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Region Croker Island, Northern Territory
Native speakers
123 (2016 census)[1]
Latin script
Language codes
ISO 639-3 ibd
Glottolog iwai1244[2]
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Iwaidja, in phonemic spelling Iwaja, is an Australian aboriginal language with about 150 speakers in northernmost Australia. Historically from the base of the Cobourg Peninsula, it is now spoken on Croker Island. It is still being learned by children.


Iwaidja has three vowels, /a, i, u/, and the following 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 (ʎ̮) ɺ   (= ɺ˞ )
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 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.

a -pana -maɽjarwu -n
I-to-him future am father to noun
"my future son" (lit. "I will be his father")
ɹi -maka -ntuŋ
he-to-her is husband to past
"his ex/late wife" (lit. "he was husband to her")


  1. ^ "Census 2016, Language spoken at home by Sex (SA2+)". stat.data.abs.gov.au. ABS. Retrieved 2017-10-30. 
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Iwaidja". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ Iwaidja at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies


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

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