Yawuru language

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Native speakers
61 (2016 census)[1]
  • Eastern
    • Yawuru
Language codes
ISO 639-3ywr

Yawuru is a Western Nyulnyulan language spoken on the coast south of Broome in Western Australia.

Grammatically it resembles other Nyulnyulan languages. It has a relatively free word order.[4]

It has few fluent speakers, but continues to be taught in schools in Broome.

Map of the traditional lands of Australian Aboriginal tribes around Derby, Western Australia.[5]


The vowel phonemes are short vowels /i/, /a/, and /u/, and long vowels /i:/, /a:/, and /u:/ (spelled ii, aa, uu).

Consonantal segments include:[6]

Bilabial Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar
plain palatalized
Stop voiceless p t ʈ k
voiced b d ɖ k/g
Nasal m n ɳ ŋ
Approximant plain l ɭ
lateral ɻ j w
Flap ɾ

Speakers also use glottal stops, implosives, and ejectives.

Syllable structure in the initial position is #CV(:) (C(C)), in the medial position is CV(:)(C), and in the final position is CV(C(C))#. # representing the word boundary, C standing for consonant, V for vowel, and V: for long vowel. The most common syllables are CV or CVC (CV: or CV:C).


There is no noun class in Yawuru. Adverbs belong to the same class as nominals. There is a verb class. Nouns and adjectives are distinguished through semantic context.


Nominals inflect for case and adverbs, belonging to this class, take case markers. Case markers are signified by enclitics. Nominals do not have a declension class. Verbs inflect to denote person, number, tense, mood, and aspect. Prefixes, suffixes, and enclitics are used to conjugate verbs.

There are four person categories in Yawuru: first person, second person, third person, and fourth person, which is made up by a first person inclusive (includes the speaker and the hearer).


Word order is flexible, with the verb often preceding the subject.


Yawuru has a large borrowing from Pama-Nyungan languages, neighboring languages. The vocabulary is specifically strong in terms of environment, reflecting on the culture.


  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). "Yawuru". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Yawuru at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  4. ^ Yawuru Ngan-ga, a Phrasebook of the Yawuru Language, Magabala, 1995.
  5. ^ This map is indicative only.
  6. ^ Hosokawa, K (1991). "The Yawuru Language of West Kimberly: a meaning based description". Australian National University.