Kaytetye language

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Native toAustralia
Regioncentral Northern Territory
EthnicityKaytetye people
Native speakers
120[1] (2016 census)[2]
Akitiri Sign Language
Language codes
ISO 639-3gbb
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Kaytetye (also spelt Kaititj, Gaididj, Kaiditj, Kaytej) is an Australian Aboriginal language spoken in the Northern Territory north of Alice Springs[1] by the Kaytetye people, who live around Barrow Creek and Tennant Creek. It belongs to the Arandic subgroup of the Pama-Nyungan languages and is related to Alyawarra, which is one of the Upper Arrernte dialects. It has an unusual phonology and there are no known dialects.[1]

The language is considered to be threatened; it is used for face-to-face communication within all generations, but it is losing users,[5] with only 120 speakers of the language in the 2016 census.[1]

The Kaytetye have (or had) a well-developed sign language known as Akitiri or Eltye eltyarrenke.[6]

Map showing languages


Kaytetye is phonologically unusual in a number of ways. Words start with vowels and end with schwa; full CV(C) syllables only occur within a word, as in the word arrkwentyarte 'three' (schwa is spelled ⟨e⟩, unless initial, in which case it is not written and often not pronounced). Stress falls on the first full syllable. There are only two productive vowels, but numerous consonants, including pre-stopped and pre-palatalized consonants.[7]


Consonants occur plain and labialized.

Peripheral Coronal
Laminal Apical
Bilabial Velar Palatal Dental Prepalatalized Alveolar Retroflex
Stop p pʷ k kʷ c cʷ t̪ t̪ʷ ʲt ʲtʷ t tʷ ʈ ʈʷ
Nasal m mʷ ŋ ŋʷ ɲ ɲʷ n̪ n̪ʷ ʲn ʲnʷ n nʷ ɳ ɳʷ
Prestopped nasal ᵖm ᵖmʷ ᵏŋ ᵏŋʷ ᶜɲ ᶜɲʷ ᵗn̪ ᵗn̪ʷ ʲᵗn ʲᵗnʷ ᵗn ᵗnʷ ᵗɳ ᵗɳʷ
Lateral Approximant ʎ ʎʷ l̪ l̪ʷ ʲl ʲlʷ l lʷ ɭ ɭʷ
Approximant ɰ w j jʷ ɻ ɻʷ
Tap ɾ ɾʷ

[w] is phonemically /ɰʷ/. In the orthography, /ɰ/ is written ⟨h⟩.


Front Central Back
High (i) ɨ ~ ə
Low a

/i/ is marginal.

Two-vowel systems are unusual, but occur in closely related Arrernte as well as in some Northwest Caucasian languages. It seems that the vowel system derives from an earlier one with the typical Australian /i a u/, but that *u lost its roundedness to neighboring consonants, resulting in the labialized series of consonants, while *i lost its frontness (palatal-ness) to other consonants as well, resulting in some cases in the prepalatalized series.


Kin terms are obligatorily possessed, though with grammatically singular pronouns. There's a dyadic suffix as well:[7]

Kaytetye kin inflections
Elder brother Mother
1 alkere-ye
my/our brother
my/our mother
2 ngk-alkere
your brother
your mother
3 kw-alkere
his/her/their brother
his/her/their mother
dyadic alkere-nhenge
elder and younger brother
mother and child

Dual and plural pronouns distinguish clusivity as well as moiety (or 'section') and generation. That is, for a male speaker, different pronouns are used for I and my sibling, grandparent, grandchild (even generation, same moiety), I and my father, I and my brother's child (odd generation, same moiety), and I and my mother, spouse, sister's child (opposite moiety). This results in twelve pronouns for 'we':[7]

Kaytetye pronouns for 'we'
Number & person Even generation
(same moiety)
Odd generation
(same moiety)
Opposite moiety
Dual inclusive ayleme aylake aylanthe
Dual exclusive aylene aylenake aylenanthe
Plural inclusive aynangke aynake aynanthe
Plural exclusive aynenangke aynenake aynenanthe

That is, root ay-, dual suffix -la or plural -na, exclusive infix ⟨en⟩, an irregular nasal for even generation, and a suffix for same moiety -ke or opposite moiety -nthe.

Verbs include incorporated former verbs of motion that indicate direction and relative timing of someone, usually the subject of the verb. There are differences depending on whether the verb is transitive or intransitive:[7]

Kaytetye 'associated motion' stems
Time angke 'talk' Gloss kwathe 'drink' Gloss
Prior motion
(go/come and X)
angke-ye-ne- talk after going kwathe-ye-ne- drink after going
angke-ye-tnye- talk after coming kwathe-ye-tnye- drink after coming
angke-ya-lpe- talk after returning kwathe-ya-lpe- drink after returning
angke-ya-yte- talk after someone arrives kwathe-ya-yte- drink after someone arrives
Subsequent motion
(X and go/come)
angke-rra-yte- talk before leaving kwathe-la-yte- drink before leaving
angke-rra-lpe- talk before returning kwathe-la-lpe- drink before returning
Concurrent motion
(X while going/coming)
angke-yerna-lpe- talk while coming kwathe-yerna-lpe- drink while coming
angke-rra-pe- talk while going along kwathe-rra-pe-yne- drink while going along
angke-rra-ngke-rre-nye- talk continuously while going along kwathe-la-the-la-rre- drink continuously while going along
angke-lpa-ngke- talk once when on the way kwathe-lpa-the- drink once when on the way
Prior and subsequent angke-nya-yne- go and talk and come back kwathe-nya-yne- go and drink and come back



  1. ^ a b c d "Kaytetye". Ethnologue. Retrieved 10 June 2019.
  2. ^ "Census 2016, Language spoken at home by Sex (SA2+)". stat.data.abs.gov.au. ABS. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Kaytetye". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. ^ C13 Kaytetye at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  5. ^ https://www.ethnologue.com/cloud/gbb
  6. ^ Kendon, A. (1988) Sign Languages of Aboriginal Australia: Cultural, Semiotic and Communicative Perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 60
  7. ^ a b c d Koch, 2006. "Kaytetye". In the Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, 2nd ed.

Further reading[edit]

  • Breen, Gavan (2001). "Chapter 4: The wonders of Arandic phonology". In Simpson, Jane; Nash, David; Laughren, Mary; Austin, Peter; Alpher, Barry (eds.). Forty years on: Ken Hale and Australian languages (pdf). Pacific Linguistics 512. ANU. Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies. (Pacific Linguistics). pp. 45–69. ISBN 085883524X. (pp.59-62 are specifically on Kaytetye)
  • Materials on Kaytetye are included in the open access Arthur Capell collections (AC1) held by Paradisec.
  • Koch, Harold (April 2018). "Chapter 10: The Development of Arandic Subsection Names in Time and Space". In McConvell, Patrick; Kelly, Piers; Lacrampe, Sébastien (eds.). Skin, Kin and Clan. ANU. doi:10.22459/SKC.04.2018. ISBN 9781760461645. Has map and gives much info about Arrernte group and related languages.