Kaurna language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Kaurna language
Kaurna Warra
RegionSouth Australia
ExtinctExtinct as a first language since 25 December 1929, with the death of Ivaritji
RevivalSubsequently revived, with a growing number of L2 speakers
Language codes
ISO 639-3zku
Kaurna is classified as Critically Endangered by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger

Kaurna (/ˈɡɑːnə/ or /ˈɡnə/) is a Pama-Nyungan language historically spoken by the Kaurna peoples of the Adelaide Plains of South Australia. The Kaurna peoples are made up of various tribal clan groups, each with their own parnkarra district of land and local dialect. These dialects were historically spoken in the area bounded by Crystal Brook and Clare in the north, Cape Jervis in the south, and just over the Mount Lofty Ranges. Kaurna ceased to be spoken on an everyday basis in the 19th century and the last known native speaker, Ivaritji, died in 1929. Language revival efforts began in the 1980s, with the language now frequently used for ceremonial purposes, such as dual naming and welcome to country ceremonies.


Robert M. W. Dixon (2002) classified Kaurna as a dialect of the Kadli language, along with Ngadjuri, Narungga, and Nukunu, and "Nantuwara",[2] with kadli meaning "dog" in these varieties. However this name has not gained wide acceptance and is not recorded as a language in the AIATSIS AUSTLANG database.[3]

Luise Hercus and J. Simpson (2002, 2006) classify Kaurna as within the subgroup of Thura-Yura languages.[1][4]

History of the name[edit]

The name "Kaurna" was not widely used until popularised by South Australian Museum Ethnographer Norman B. Tindale in the 1920s.[5] The term "Kaurna" was first recorded by Missionary Surgeon William Wyatt (1879: 24) for "Encounter Bay Bob's Tribe". At the same time he recorded "Meeyurna" for "Onkaparinga Jack's Tribe".[citation needed]

Kaurna most likely derives from kornar, the word for "people" in the neighbouring Ramindjeri/ Ngarrindjeri language. Mullawirraburka (Onkaparinga Jack, also known to the colonists as "King John"), was one of Lutheran missionaries Christian Teichelmann and Clamor Schürmann's main sources. Encounter Bay Bob, as his name suggests, came from Encounter Bay (Victor Harbor) and was most likely a fully initiated elder Ramindjeri man. Thus "Meyunna" is probably an endonym and would linguistically be preferable as the name for this language group, as suggested in the mid-1990s.[by whom?] However, they are now universally known as the Kaurna people.

Name variants[edit]

Library of Congress Subject Headings gives the following variant names (all followed by "language"): Adelaide; Coorna; Gauna; Gaurna; Gawurna; Kaura; Kawurna.[6]

The Endangered Languages Project names the following alternatives: Kaura, Coorna, Koornawarra, Nganawara, Kurumidlanta, Milipitingara, Widninga, Winnaynie, Meyu, Winaini, Winnay-nie, Wakanuwan, Adelaide tribe, Warra, Warrah, Karnuwarra, Jaitjawar:a, Padnaindi, Padnayndie, Medaindi, Medain-die, Merildekald, Merelde, Gaurna, Nantuwara, Nantuwaru, Meljurna, Midlanta.[7]

Early records of the language[edit]

Kaurna Pidgin
Native speakers
Kaurna–based pidgin
Language codes
ISO 639-3

French explorer Joseph Paul Gaimard recorded the first wordlist of the language, containing 168 words, after calling in at the Gulf St Vincent en route to Western Australia in 1826, before the colony of South Australia had been established. His sources were listed as Harry and Sally.[8]

Schürmann and Teichelmann, who ran a school at Piltawodli, gained most of their knowledge of the language from three respected elders: Mullawirraburka ("King John" / "Onkaparinga Jack"), Kadlitpinna ("Captain Jack") and Ityamaiitpinna ("[King Rodney"). The two missionaries recorded around about 3000 words, a sketch grammar, hundreds of phrases and sentences along with English translations, traditional songlines, and textual illustrations of differences among dialects. They also created Kaurna translations of six German hymns as well as the Ten Commandments.[8]

Other Europeans such as William Wyatt, William Williams,[9][10] William Cawthorne and Matthew Moorhouse were interested in the people and learnt some of the language; several wrote about the "Adelaide Tribe" in their memoirs.[11][10] Williams created a list of 377 Kaurna words, published in the Southern Australian on 15 May 1839 and republished in The South Australian Colonist[11] on 14 July 1840.[12][13][14] His work entitled A vocabulary of the language of the Aborigines of the Adelaide district, and other friendly tribes, of the Province of South Australia was self-published in 1839, to be sold in London as well as Adelaide.[15] Others who recorded some knowledge of Kaurna included James Cronk, Walter Bromley, George Augustus Robinson, Hermann Koeler, Louis Piesse, Edward Stephens and James Chittleborough.[8]

In the 19th century, there was also a Kaurna-based pidgin used as a contact language.[citation needed]

The former range of the language was mapped by Norman Tindale and later Robert Amery, and is managed by the Kaurna people.[citation needed]

Language revival[edit]

Kaurna had not been spoken as a native language since the Kaurna people had been pushed out of their traditional lands since the colonisation of South Australia in the 19th century, with the population in decline due to various factors.[16] Ivaritji (c.1849 – 1929) was the last known speaker, but it was probably last only widely spoken in the early 1860s.[8]

In the 1980s, Kaurna people who had moved back into the Adelaide Plains area began to learn and use their language again.[16] Robert Amery, head of Linguistics at the University of Adelaide, who has devoted much of his life and career to Indigenous languages, in particular Kaurna: "After more than 25 years of painstaking effort, there are now several Kaurna people who can conduct a conversation in Kaurna without resorting to English too quickly, and we are seeing the first semi-native speakers of Kaurna emerging".[17] Kaurna is now frequently used to give Welcomes to Country.[16][8]

Sustained efforts to revive the language in from 1989 included the writing of several Kaurna songs originally written in the Ngarrindjeri, Narungga and Kaurna languages. A second songbook, Kaurna Paltinna, was published in 1999. Following one-off workshops in 1990 and 1991,[citation needed] a Kaurna language program was introduced into Kaurna Plains School in 1992. Elizabeth City High School and Elizabeth West Adult Campus introduced the teaching of the language in 1994, and other schools have followed suit. TAFE courses to train Kaurna language teachers were developed by Mary-Anne Gale. Kaurna linguistics courses have been taught at the University of Adelaide since 1997.[8][17] and both Kaurna and non-Kaurna have been studying and speaking the language.[16]

The records, including an extensive vocabulary and grammar, compiled by Teichelmann and Schürmann in the 1840s have proven valuable in projects to reconstruct the language.[18][8][19]

The Kaurna Learners' Guide (Kulurdu Marni Ngathaitya) was published in 2013, and Kaurna radio shows have been broadcast since 2012. The Kaurna Dictionary Project at the University of Adelaide, funded by a federal government grant, is under way to revise the spellings. Amery has been overseeing much of the work. It is intended that the final version will be released in print and in electronic form, including a phone app.[20] In 2021, a printed Kaurna dictionary was published, as well as a Ngarrindjeri one. Amery and his wife, Ngarrindjeri linguist Mary-Anne Gale, have helped to drive the project.[21]

There has been a growing number of Kaurna speakers in the 21st century.[22][8]

The first students of courses specially tailored to the teaching of Aboriginal language, run by Tauondi Aboriginal College in Port Adelaide, enabling those who have learnt the language to pass on their skills to communities, graduated in July 2021.[21] With the teachers and students often in the older age group, by July 2022 two of the first graduates had died. There is a need for more funding and more teachers.[23]

Kaurna Warra Pintyanthi[edit]

Kaurna Warra Pintyanthi (meaning "creating Kaurna language") is a group developing and promoting the recovery of the Kaurna language. It was established in 2002 by two Kaurna elders, Lewis Yerloburka O'Brien and Alitya Wallara Rigney, and linguist Robert Amery. The group now includes other Kaurna people, teachers, linguists and language enthusiasts. It was created from a series of workshops funded by a University of Adelaide grant in 2000, and is hosted by the department of linguistics at the University of Adelaide.[24] KWP-run language classes through both the Kaurna Plains School and the university.

KWP has created a uniform dialect of the language, making new words such as mukarntu (mukamuka brain + karntu lightning), meaning "computer", and other words for things such as modern appliances, transportation, cuisine, and other common features of life that have changed for the Kaurna people while the language was dormant.[25] The Kaurna Warra Karrpanthi Aboriginal Corporation (KWK) was registered in 2013 to support the reclamation and promotion of the language of the Kaurna nation, including training and teaching.[26]


In 2022 a dictionary written by Rob Amery and co-authors Susie Greenwood and Jasmin Morley was published. It includes not only the words included on the handwritten lists made by Teichelmann and Schürmann 160 years earlier, but also 4,000 new words that were created in consultation with local elders and Kaurna speakers. The cover was designed by Kaurna artist Katrina Karlapina Power.[27] Entitled Kaurna Warrapiipa, Kaurna Dictionary, the dictionary contains translations both ways (Kaurna and English). and is published by Wakefield Press.[28]

Kaurna names[edit]

Renaming and dual naming[edit]

Efforts to reintroduce Kaurna names, beginning in 1980 with the naming of Warriappendi School,[29] in 1980 by Auntie Leila Rankine, have been made within the public domain.[8]

Since the Adelaide City Council drew up a Reconciliation Vision Statement in 1997, they committed to a dual naming project, working with Kaurna Warra Pintyanthi, to cover the city centre and North Adelaide, including the five public squares and Adelaide park lands. Victoria Square, in the centre of Adelaide city, is now also known as Tarntanyangga,[30] all 29 Parks around the city have been assigned a Kaurna name, and the River Torrens is now also named Karrawirra Parri.[31] The renaming of 39 sites was finalised and endorsed by the council in 2012.[32] Others include Piltawodli (now Pirltawardli), "brushtail possum home"; Warriparringga (Warriparinga) "windy river place".[citation needed] The full list of square and park names, along with meanings and pronunciations, is available on the Council website.[33]

Between 1980 and 2012, around 1000 entities were assigned Kaurna names, including people, pets, organisations, buildings, parks, walking trails, an allele (a hereditary gene or chromosome), brand names, and the Kari Munaintya tram and Tindo solar bus.[8]

Some place names are known from historical sources, but not officially used as yet, such as Patpangga (Rapid Bay) "in the south"; Pattawilyangga (Patawalonga, Glenelg) "swamp gum foliage"; and Yertabulti (Port Adelaide). [34]

Public artworks, beginning in 1995 with the Yerrakartarta installation outside the Intercontinental Hotel on North Terrace, Adelaide, have also incorporated words, phrases and text drawn from the Kaurna language, and the universities and other organisations have also taken on Kaurna names.[35] The Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute uses the original name for Adelaide.[36]

The annual Tarnanthi Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art takes its name from the Kaurna word meaning "to rise, come forth, spring up or appear".[37]

Other Kaurna-derived names[edit]

Many prominent South Australian place names are drawn from the Kaurna language:

  • Kauandilla (Cowandilla) from kauanda meaning "north" plus locative suffix -illa;[38]
  • Kanggarilla (Kangarilla) from kanggari meaning "shepherding" plus locative suffix -illa;[38]
  • Kondoparinga possibly from kundo meaning "chest" plus parri meaning "river" plus locative suffix -ngga;[38]
  • Maitpangga (Myponga);
  • Ngaltingga (Aldinga) from ngalti (meaning unknown) plus locative suffix -ngga;[38]
  • Ngangkiparringga (Onkaparinga) from nganki meaning "woman" plus parri meaning "river" plus locative suffix -ngga;[38]
  • Nurlongga (Noarlunga) nurlo meaning "corner/curavature" plus locative suffix -ngga, probably in reference to Horseshoe Bend on the Onkaparinga River;
  • Patawalonga from patta, a species of gum tree (possibly the swamp gum), plus wilya meaning "foliage" plus locative suffix -ngga;[38]
  • Waitpingga (Waitpinga) meaning "wind place"
  • Willangga (Willunga)
  • Wilyaru (Willyaroo) meaning a fully initiated adult man.[38]
  • Yatala most likely from yartala meaning "water running by the side of a river; inundation; cascade".[38]
  • Yernkalyilla (Yankalilla) 'place of the fallen bits'
  • Yurridla (Uraidla) meaning "two ears", derived from a dreaming story in which the Mount Lofty Ranges are the body of a giant.[38]

English-Kaurna hybridised placenames include:

  • Glenunga from Scots language glen and Kaurna locative suffix -ngga.[39]
  • Paracombe from para meaning "river/stream" and English language combe meaning "narrow way". Similar to South Australia's 'Picadilly', there exists a direct analogue in England, Parracombe in Devon, which likely contributed to the adoption of the name.[40]

Possible Kaurna placenames include:

  • Piccadilly. Although usually assumed to be named after Piccadilly, London, it is likely to be an anglicisation of the Kaurna pikodla meaning "two eyebrows", being a part of the same dreaming story that gave rise to "Uraidla".[38]
  • Yankalilla. Although almost certainly an Indigenous word, there are conflicting etymologies. The most likely is that it is derived from the Ramindjeri yangaiake meaning "hill", but with the Kaurna locative suffix -illa, or possibly yernkalyilla meaning "place of the fallen bits".[38]



Kaurna has three different vowels with contrastive long and short lengths (a, i, u, a:, i:, u:), and three diphthongs (ai, au, ui).[41] The three main vowels are represented by ⟨a⟩, ⟨i⟩ and ⟨u⟩ respectively, with long vowels indicated by doubling the vowel. Historically, Kaurna has had ⟨e⟩ and ⟨o⟩ used varyingly in older versions of its orthography, but these are not reflected in the phonology of the language.

Front Back
High i u
Low a


The consonant inventory of Kaurna is similar to that of other Pama-Nyungan languages (compare with Adnyamathanha, in the same Thura-Yura grouping). In the orthography, dental consonants are followed by ⟨h⟩ and palatals by ⟨y⟩, and retroflex consonants are preceded by ⟨r⟩, with the exception of ⟨rd⟩ /ɾ/. Pre-stopped consonants are preceded by ⟨d⟩. Below are the consonants of Kaurna (Amery, R & Simpson, J 2013[42]).

Peripheral Laminal Apical
Labial Velar Dental Palatal Alveolar Retroflex
Stop p k c t ʈ
Nasal plain m ŋ ɲ n ɳ
pre-stopped ɟɲ dn ɖɳ
Lateral plain ʎ l ɭ
pre-stopped ɟʎ dl ɖɭ
Tap ɾ
Trill r
Approximant w j ɻ


  • All words must begin with a peripheral or laminal consonant (see Consonants above), excluding the pre-stopped nasals.
  • All words must end with a vowel.
  • In addition to the pre-stopped consonants, consonant clusters of a nasal followed by a stop are allowed.[43]


Kaurna places primary stress on the first syllable.[41]


Kaurna has relatively free word order.[44]


Noun cases and suffixes[edit]

Kaurna uses a range of suffixed case markers to convey information including subjects, objects, spacio-temporal state and other such information. These sometimes have variations in pronunciation and spelling. Below is a table of some of these cases.[45]

Ergative, Instrumental, Temporal -rlu, -dlu (when following -i-)
Dative -ni
Genitive -ku, -rna (variants)
Purposive -itya
Aversive -tuwayi
Locative -ngka (or ⟨-ngga⟩) for bisyllabic roots
-ila (or ⟨-illa⟩) for trisyllabic roots
Comitative -ityangka, -lityangka
Allative to places -ana, -kana
to people -itya, -litya
Ablative from places -unangku, -anangku, -nangku
from people -ityanungku
Perlative -arra, -tarra
Semblative -rli
Possessed -tidi
Privative -tina


Kaurna has 3 numbers: singular, dual (-rla, -dla) and plural (-rna).[45]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b L3 Kaurna at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  2. ^ Dixon, R. M. W. (2002). Australian Languages: Their Nature and Development. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-47378-0.
  3. ^ L61 Kadli at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  4. ^ L63 Thura / Yura at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  5. ^ Amery, Rob (2000). Warrabarna Kaurna! - reclaiming an Australian Language. The Netherlands: Swets & Zeitlinger. pp. 1, 3, 17. ISBN 90-265-1633-9.
  6. ^ "Kaurna language". Library of Congress Authorities. Retrieved 27 April 2019.
  7. ^ "Kaurna [aka Kaura, Coorna, Koornawarra]". Endangered Languages Project. Retrieved 27 April 2019.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Amery, Rob (9 December 2013). "Kaurna language (Kaurna warra)". Adelaidia. Retrieved 13 July 2021.
  9. ^ "William Williams [B 5839]: Photograph" (photo and text). State Library of South Australia. Retrieved 9 December 2019. ).
  10. ^ a b Amery, Rob (2016). "4. A Sociolinguistic History of Kaurna". Warraparna Kaurna!: Reclaiming an Australian language. JSTOR Open Access monographs. University of Adelaide Press. p. 57-68. ISBN 978-1-925261-25-7. JSTOR 10.20851/j.ctt1sq5wgq.13. Retrieved 11 January 2021 – via JSTOR. (Also here)
  11. ^ a b Amery, Rob. "Piltawodli Native Location (1838-1845)". German missionaries in Australia. Griffith University. Retrieved 8 December 2019.
  12. ^ Williams, William (14 July 1840). "The language of the natives of South Australia" (PDF). South Australian Colonist. 1 (19): 295–296. Retrieved 11 January 2021 – via Australian Cooperative Digitisation Project. Australian Periodical Publications 1840–1845. (Access page here.
  13. ^ Schultz, Chester (13 August 2020). "Karrawadlungga". Adelaide Research & Scholarship. University of Adelaide. hdl:2440/113971. Retrieved 12 January 2021.
  14. ^ Schultz, Chester (13 August 2020). "Karrawadlungga" (PDF). Place Name Summary (PNS) 9/04. ...with some more thoughts on the 'Wirra tribe'. and PART 3 of the 1839 Police expedition
  15. ^ Williams, William (1839), A vocabulary of the language of the Aborigines of the Adelaide district, and other friendly tribes, of the Province of South Australia, Published for the author by A. Macdougall, retrieved 11 January 2021
  16. ^ a b c d "The Kaurna Language Dictionary (forthcoming)". Kaurna Warra Pintyanthi. The University of Adelaide. 11 July 2021. Retrieved 13 July 2021.
  17. ^ a b "Dr Robert Amery". University of Adelaide. Retrieved 4 July 2019.
  18. ^ Lockwood, Christine (2017). "4. Early encounters on the Adelaide Plains and Encounter Bay". In Brock, Peggy; Gara, Tom (eds.). Colonialism and its Aftermath: A history of Aboriginal South Australia. Wakefield Press. pp. 65–81. ISBN 9781743054994.
  19. ^ Teichelmann, C. G.; C. W. Schürmann (1840). Outlines of a grammar, vocabulary and phraseology of the Aboriginal language of South Australia spoken by the natives in and for some distance around Adelaide. Lutheran Missionary Society, Adelaide.
  20. ^ "Language projects". Kaurna WarraPintyanthi. Retrieved 4 July 2019.
  21. ^ a b Marchant, Gabriella (12 July 2021). "Aboriginal languages making comeback through new training program and dictionaries". ABC News. Retrieved 13 July 2021.
  22. ^ Phil Mercer (22 January 2013). "Lost indigenous language revived in Australia". BBC. Retrieved 22 January 2013.
  23. ^ Skujins, Angela (7 July 2022). "Real talk at Tauondi Aboriginal Community College". CityMag. Retrieved 16 July 2022.
  24. ^ "Kaurna Warra Pintyanthi". Retrieved 31 August 2015.
  25. ^ Amery, Rob; Simpson, Jane (2013). Kulurdu Marni Ngathaitya. Kaurna Warrarna Pintyanthi, Wakefield Press. p. 171.
  26. ^ "Kaurna Warra Karrpanthi Aboriginal Corporation (KWK)". Kaurna Warra Pintyanthi. 15 February 2015. Retrieved 31 August 2015.
  27. ^ Randall, Angus (4 August 2022). "How Adelaide's 'extinct' Indigenous language Kaurna was brought back to life". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 5 August 2022.
  28. ^ Amery, Rob; Greenwood, Susie; Morley, Jasmin (2022). Kaurna Warrapiipa, Kaurna Dictionary. Kaurna Warra Pintyanthi. ISBN 9781743059210. Retrieved 5 August 2022.
  29. ^ "Who are we?". Warriapendi School. Retrieved 27 April 2019.
  30. ^ "Victoria Square/Tarntanyangga". City of Adelaide. Archived from the original on 27 April 2019. Retrieved 27 April 2019.
  31. ^ "Adelaide City Council Placenaming Initiatives". Kaurna Warra Pintyanthi. Retrieved 27 April 2019.
  32. ^ "Kaurna place naming: Recognising Kaurna heritage through physical features of the city". City of Adelaide. Retrieved 29 November 2019.
  33. ^ "Kaurna Place Naming". City of Adelaide. Retrieved 14 December 2019.
  34. ^ Amery, Rob & Williams, Georgina Yambo (2002). "Reclaiming Through Renaming: The Reinstatement of Kaurna Toponyms in Adelaide and the Adelaide Plains." In Luise Hercus, Flavia Hodges & Jane Simpson (eds) The Land is a Map: Placenames of Indigenous Origin in Australia, 255-276.
  35. ^ "Kaurna Language in Public Art and Commemorative Plaques within the city precincts". Kaurna Warra Pintyanthi. Retrieved 27 April 2019.
  36. ^ "Organisations with Kaurna Names within the Adelaide City Precincts". Kaurna Warra Pintyanthi. University of Adelaide. Retrieved 27 April 2019.
  37. ^ Mcdonald, John (31 October 2017). "Review: Tarnanthi, Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Art". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 26 April 2019.
  38. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Amery, Rob; Buckskin, Vincent (Jack) Kanya (March 2009), "Chapter 10. Pinning down Kaurna names: Linguistic issues arising in the development of the Kaurna Placenames Database" (PDF), in Hercus, Luise; Hodges, Flavia; Simpson, Jane (eds.), The Land is a Map: Placenames of Indigenous Origin in Australia, ANU Press, pp. 202–203, ISBN 9781921536571
  39. ^ Amery, Rob (March 2009), "Chapter 1. Indigenous Placenames: An Introduction" (PDF), in Hercus, Luise; Hodges, Flavia; Simpson, Jane (eds.), The Land is a Map: Placenames of Indigenous Origin in Australia, ANU Press, pp. 165–180, ISBN 9781921536571
  40. ^ Manning, George (1990), "Place Names of South Australia: Paracombe", Manning Index of South Australian History, State Library of South Australia, retrieved 31 May 2017
  41. ^ a b Kulurdu Marni Ngathaitya. p. 31.
  42. ^ Kulurdu Marni Ngathaitya. pp. 29–30.
  43. ^ Kulurdu Marni Ngathaitya. pp. 31–32.
  44. ^ Kulurdu Marni Ngathaitya. pp. 114–115.
  45. ^ a b Kulurdu Marni Ngathaitya. pp. 121–123.

General references[edit]

  • Amery, Rob (compiler) (2003) Warra Kaurna. A Resource for Kaurna Language Programs. Kaurna Warra Pintyandi, Adelaide. ISBN 0-9751834-0-0
  • Amery, Rob (2002) 'Weeding out Spurious Etymologies: Toponyms on the Adelaide Plains.' In Luise Hercus, Flavia Hodges & Jane Simpson (eds) The Land is a Map: Placenames of Indigenous Origin in Australia, 165-180.
  • Teichelmann, C. G.; C. W. Schürmann (1982) [1840]. Outlines of a grammar, vocabulary and phraseology of the Aboriginal language of South Australia spoken by the natives in and for some distance around Adelaide. Tjintu Books. ISBN 0-9593616-0-X.
  • Wyatt, William (1879) Some Account of the Manners and Superstitions of the Adelaide and Encounter Bay Aboriginal Tribes with a Vocabulary of their Languages.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]