About the language

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Alternative Names and Variant Spellings

Dialects and closely associated languages

Present number and distribution of speakers

People who have worked on the language

Early records and manuscripts

Wordlists and Dictionaries


Language Learning Material

Language Programs

Community Language Functions / Activities


The homelands of the Adnyamathanha people are the northern Flinders Ranges, in South Australia. This area lies some 500 km north of Adelaide and is approximately delineated by Lyndhurst and Moolawatana Homestead in the north-west and north-east, Lake Frome in the east, and Parachilna and Blinman in the south. Mount Serle (Atuwarapanha) and Mount McKinlay (Wayanha), located in the central north part of this area, are focal points of Adnyamathanha traditions and recent history.

Alternative Names and Variant Spellings:

There are two bases for the naming of the people and language of the Flinders ranges. On is based on the construction ‘Rock People/Language’, and include the variations: Atnyamathanha, Adnyamatana, Adnjamathanha, Anyamatana, Keidnamutha, Gadnyamatana, Anyamitana, Anjimatana, Adnyamathnha, Unyamootha, Atnyaarlta. Note the word kanyamatja has also been recorded from Western Desert speakers in referring to northern Flinders Ranges people and traditions.
The other name often used is based on the construction ‘People’s/This/My Language’, and has the variatios: Yura Ngawarla, Adnyamathanha Yura Ngawarla, Nimbalda, Archualda. Note the Adnyamathanha people often refer to themselves as Yura.

Dialects and closely associated languages:

The Adnyamathanha language today is spoken in a number of family-based varieties that may possibly derive from dialects spoken in different parts of the original homelands. Neighbouring groups include the Kuyani, the Wailpi (or Walypi), the Yartliyawarra, and the Pirlatapa. There is some suggestion that these diverse groups may have contributed to the formation of a residual population that took refuge in the hills (atnya) after the savage onslaught, beginning in the 1850s, of European invaders, and that ultimately this amalgam became known as the Hills/Rock People, or Adnyamathanha (Brock 1985:13–18).

Present number and distribution of speakers:

Although only 125 people reported speaking Adnyamathanha at home in the 1996 Census, and 113 in the 2006 Census, the number of people who identify as Adnyamathanha is much greater than this figure, and would be well into the many 100s.

Today, many Yuras live not only in the Adnyamathanha township of Nepabunna and nearby towns such as Copley, but also further south in the towns of Hawker, Quorn and Port Augusta, and also in Adelaide. Some Yura families are engaged in park-ranging duties in the Gammon Ranges National Park and so live in the park itself.

People who have worked on the language:

The first comprehensive and rigorous work on the language began in the mid-1960s when Andrew Coulthard and the linguist Bernhard Schebeck collaborated to record, translate and analyse a number of texts. Schebeck also recorded texts from May and Henry Wilton and other speakers. This work resulted in the first descriptions of Adnyamathanha phonology, grammar, and the first publication of extended texts (see Schebeck 1973, 1974, 1976).

From the late 1970s and into the 1980s, Dorothy Tunbridge conducted linguistic research working with a number of speakers from the Nepabunna area. This led to the development of a practical orthography for use in schools and the wider community, as well as publications devoted to particular aspects of traditional Adnyamathanha culture (Tunbridge and Coulthard 1985; Tunbridge and others 1988, 1991) and Adnyamathanha linguistics (Tunbridge 1988).

In the 1980s Adnyamathanha speakers John and Pearl McKenzie of Hawker, working with John McEntee of Erudina Station, began publishing topical word-lists of Adnyamathanha (McEntee, McKenzie and McKenzie 1986, McEntee and McKenzie 1988), culminating in a consolidated dictionary (McEntee and McKenzie 1992). A special orthography was developed for this work, heavily reliant on diacritics used with capitals letters arranged in a Sanskrit-based alphabetical order.

In 1997 Bernhard Schebeck resumed Adnyamathanha linguistics in a project sponsored by the Yura Women’s Group in Port Augusta, and a year later continued with a curriculum development project sponsored by the South Australian Department of Education, Training and Employment. Speakers involved with the latter project included Lily Neville, Rhoda Ryan, Margaret Brown, Clara Johnson, Myra McKenzie, Buck McKenzie, Evelyn Coulthard, Cynthia Ryan, Denise Champion, Noeleen Ryan-Lester, Pauline Wilton, Maxine Turner and Sylvia Brady. Department officers Greg Wilson and Guy Tunstill have also contributed. Work in these projects is still in progress; to date there is a published syllabus Ngarpurla for Years R–10 containing sample texts (DECS, 2004), an unpublished research dictionary (Adnyamathanha–English and English–Adnyamathanha), and a draft language learning manual for both teachers and students.

Practical spelling system:

A practical spelling system for Adnyamathanha was developed in the 1980s as an element of Tunbridge’s work, and has been the standard, more or less, ever since. However, it suffers for want of a published word-list and today there is a significant degree of inconsistency in the way this orthography is used by Yuras. Therefore a simplified orthography was developed in 1999 for the curriculum project and is being trialled in schools. It removes redundant letters and symbols, and is the standardized form used in the recently compiled comprehensive word-list that compares the various spellings used by other recorders in the past. This was compiled by Schebeck with Adnyamathanha speakers to assist writers, teachers and learners.

The simplified 1999 orthography introduced for use in school language programs is:
Short vowels: a, i, u
Long vowels: aa, ii, uu
Dipthongs: ai au iu ui

Stops: p, th, t, rn, ty, k
plus lenis stops: v, dh, d, rd, g

Nasals: m, nh, n, rn, ny, ng
Laterals: lh,l, rl, ly
Rhotics: r, rr
Semi vowels: w, y

Note that a strict adoption of the simplified spelling would render the name of the group as ‘Atnyamathanha’ (which first appeared in Schebeck 1974), but it remains to be seen whether this will be adopted in preference to the now more familiar ‘Adnyamathanha’.

The alternative system of capitals-plus-diacritics developed and used by McEntee and John and Pearl McKenzie is regarded as not suitable for use in schools or with young learners. It has little currency outside of Hawker.

Early records and manuscripts:

The first recorded wordlist from the northern Flinders Ranges appeared in George Taplin’s 1879 publication and was collected by Henry Quincy Smith (a Police-trooper at Mount Freeling) with the assistance of Auruepunda of Mount Freeling (or ‘Batuarapunna’).

Fifty years later two researchers, Norman B. Tindale and Charles P. Mountford, passed through the area, but these visits did not significantly advance linguistic knowledge. Mountford recorded some Adnyamathanha stories in English with isolated words and phrases in Adnyamathanha. Note that Tindale’s publications and his well-known map of 1974 refers to the Adnyamathanha people and language as the ‘Wailpi’ rather than the ‘Adnyamathanha’. Other archival Adnyamathanha material is quoted and listed in Brock 1985.

Wordlists and Dictionaries:

The only published dictionary of the Adnyamathanha language is McEntee and McKenzie (1992) which lists about 1,600 head words. Also published are some topical word-lists (McEntee, McKenzie and McKenzie 1986; McEntee and McKenzie 1988; Tunbridge and Coulthard 1985; Tunbridge and others 1991; Pedler 1994). Bernhard Schebeck has compiled a two-way "Research dictionary - for Private or 'internal' use only, not for publication"; it was completed in May 2000. It is a comprehensive and comparative listing drawn from every publication on, or in, Adnyamathanha. There are 2,529 main entries in from Adnyamathanha–English and 2,783 main entries from English–Adnyamathanha. It remains unpublished, and was prepared and printed for internal circulation only to assist further research and language teaching.

Grammar or sketch grammar:

Schebeck (1974) remains the only published grammar of the language that approaches comprehensiveness. It is based on the analysis of 13 texts from Andrew Coulthard that deal with the Adnyamathanha social system. Apart from this there are a few articles dealing with aspects of Adnyamathanha grammar published in linguistics collections (see Schebeck 1976; Tunbridge 1988).

Literature in the language:

Several Adnyamathanha people have had stories and other texts published, ranging from English-only stories, bilingual stories and postcards. As well as the large collection of stories published in English by Tunbridge and others (1988) there are three Adnyamathanha stories in English (Moon Man, The Magpie and the Crow, and Yulu’s Coal) in the Aboriginal Australia Reading series (published by Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich) written by Terrence Coulthard, Cliff Coulthard, and Buck McKenzie. Clem and Terrence Coulthard published a bilingual Adnyamathanha story in 1997 called Awi Irta: the Story of the Red Breast Robin (Coulthard and Coulthard, 1997). Buck McKenzie issued a series of Adnyamathanha postcards in 2001, each containing a short text. A short welcome text in Adnyamathanha appears in the South Australian Tourist Commission’s Flinders Ranges visitor guide.

An active language worker Lily Neville, of Quorn, continues to produce a great amount of hand-written material in the language. In 2007 a number of these pages were published in their hand-written form in a full colour booklet, called Adnyamathanha Ngawarla. It was published by Australian Against Racism Inc. and includes Lily''s hand-drawn annotated illustrations and un-edited texts. Neville's texts range from translations of well-known songs, wordlists based on topics, to observations of life in the bush, and family matters. She writes and speaks fluently and her material is of great value.

Sound archives and Audio recordings:

The SA Education Department in 2005 was embarking on digitally recording the language that appears in their curriculum materials using the web-based Audacity software. This is to assist language programs in schools. This process is still underway.

In 2009 - 2010 a group of Adnyamathanha community members based in Adelaide embarked on a major animation film-making project, through MILR funding. This resulted in the production of a high quality and now very popular DVD which includes an eight minute animation entirely in the Adnyamathanha language entitled Wadu Matyidi. It was a professionally produced film and was animated by Vishus productions. It features the story of three children and their encounter with the first white men in the Flinders Ranges. The making of this DVD was a language learning exercise for the families attending evening language classes each week at Tauondi College, and the DVD includes supporting film clips explaining the research and film making processes.

See below for the links on the web which show a brief clip and promotes the DVD:

Language learning material:

In 1986 a course in Adnyamathanha language and culture for adults was held over five days at Pichi Richi in the Flinders Ranges. The unpublished notes from this were collated and are still referred to in school programs.

The Department of Education, Training and Employment has published a number of curriculum materials in the field of Aboriginal Studies to support the learning of Adnyamathanha history and culture. Some Adnyamathanha language appears in these publications (EDSA 1992; DECS 1996).

In 2004 a 480 page syllabus for teaching the Adnyamathanha language in schools was published by the Education Department of SA entitled: Ngarlpurla: Adnyamathanha Years R-10. It is a teaching framework for language revival and second language learning in years Reception – Year 10. It includes many sample sentences and points of grammar, plus accompanying texts suitable for the classroom, as well as recordings of Adnyamathanha speakers. Its production involved the active participation of 13 Adnyamathanha people, mainly from the Port Augusta area, where most school programs are located.

Language Programs:

Adnyamathanha has been taught in northern country schools for a number of years, and in 2009 was being learned by well over 1,000 students in nine schools (five in the Port Augusta area and one each in Leigh Creek, Hawker, Quorn and Adelaide). These school programs are language revitalisation programs which essentially use second language learning methodologies. Most of this teaching is in the primary years and is done by teaching teams comprising a classroom teacher and an Aboriginal Language and Cultural Specialist. These programs are trialling the R-10 Adnyamathanha syllabus. The language is also taught in two or three preschools in the Port Augusta area, and occasionally at the local TAFE. The many Port Augusta school programs have relied heavily for many years on the language and teaching skills of the Aboriginal Language Specialist Kaylene McMillan, who is a fluent speaker of Adnyamathanha.

Community language functions / activities:

Most Adnyamathanha people now use English as a major means of communication, however there are several arenas and activities that serve to promote the use of the Adnyamathanha language, including:

  • The Adnyamathanha Women’s Choir which convenes to sing at important events such as the 2002 Adelaide Festival, and earlier at the ‘Opera in the Outback’. They sing traditional songs entirely in Adnyamathanha.
  • The Yura Women’s Group which meets to record and publish Adnyamathanha language and traditions in a form that reflects community needs.
  • Buck McKenzie, an Adnyamathanha singer–songwriter, who has been active for many years promoting an understanding of Adnyamathanha lands and traditions. Much of his work has been done through schools, working with both students and teachers.
  • Iga Warta is a cultural tourism program operated by Terrence and Cliff Coulthard from their home at Iga Warta (near Nepabunna). It encourages visitors to stay overnight and join cultural tours through the nearby ranges.
  • The use of language in class and on field trips to the Flinders Ranges by the families attending weekly lessons at Tauondi College in Adelaide.This group is coordinated by Gilliam Bovoro, and the ctlasses are taught by a range of Adnyamathanha speakers. This same group produced the Wadu Matyidi DVD, and is now using the language to write scripts for a second animation DVD.

Above Information written by Guy Tunstill with Bernard Schebeck, and Mary-Anne Gale