At the time of the European invasion, Narungga speakers lived on Yorke Peninsula. Today many Narungga people still live on their traditional country, although a significant number also reside in metropolitan Adelaide and other locations. In the 1970s, Norman Tindale estimated the traditional Narungga territory to be “Yorke Peninsula, north to Port Broughton; east to Hummock Range; at Bute, Wallaroo, Ardrossan, Marion Bay, and Cape Spencer” (see Tindale 1974, page 214).
The Narungga language has no known distinct dialects, but is closely related to the Kaurna, Ngadjuri and Nukunu languages, which are all memebrs of the Thura-Yura linguistic grouping. It is also related to the Adnyamathanha language.
Since the 1930s, anthropologists and linguists have typically classified Narungga as either “severely endangered” or “extinct”. For example, in 1936, N.B. Tindale from the SA Museum wrote that he had recorded the last speaker of this language and, in 1963, the linguist Stephen Wurm classified the language as “critically endangered.” However, although Narungga has not been spoken fully for several decades, many members of the Narungga community retained some knowledge of it. In particular, the late Narungga Elders – including Gladys Elphick, Phoebe Wanganeen, Doris Graham and Eileen Jovic – maintained a linguistic storehouse of approximately 200 words and some idiomatic phrases. These Elders repeatedly promoted the value and importance of the language (for example see Graham & Graham 1987). As a consequence of their efforts, the language is currently being reclaimed and revived.
On 30 November 2001, at a community meeting held on Narungga land, Narungga people made speeches in their language for the first time in many decades. Narunnga was also spoken as part of the opening of the 2002 Adelaide Festival of Arts. Today, Tania Wanganeen makes regular speeches in the Narungga language, and has published a book Nharangga Wanggadja: Narungga Speaking which is full of speeches she has written for others to share (see Wanganeen for NAPA, 2010).
In the 2006 census, 26 people claimed they speak the Narungga language in their home.
From the 1930s onwards a number of linguists and anthropologists recorded Narungga vocabulary and compiled wordlists. This included N.B. Tindale, A. P. Elkin, Luise Hercus and Catherine Ellis. Hercus and Ellis’ work also involved making sound recordings of the language being spoken and/or sung by Gladys Elphick, Joe Owen, Cliff Edwards and others. In the 1980s, Narungga Elders, including Gladys Elphick, Phoebe Wanganeen, Doris Graham and Eileen Jovic, worked with Brian Kirke to prepare and publish the Narungga Language Kit. In May 2001, the linguist Christina Eira began working intensely with Tania Wanganeen on the Narungga People’s Language Project. Eira’s work was instigated by the Narungga community and is controlled by them through the Narungga Aboriginal Progress Association (NAPA). Over a 12 year period, NAPA has continued to coordinate language revival work in Narungga. Since Eira completed the contemporary Narungga Dictionary and A New Narungga Grammar in 2005, Tania Wanganeen has continued to teach, research and publish books in the Narungga language, through NAPA. Total output includes 13 Narungga publications and three years of training in Narungga for language teachers.
The Narungga Language Kit published in the 1980s contained alternative spellings for Narungga words. Since then, in early 2002, the first of a series of workshops was held to determine a practical spelling system for Narungga. These workshops, conducted as part of the Narungga People’s Language Project, resulted in a practical orthography which is outlined at the beginning of the (2006) Narungga Dictionary. This orthography and recommended spelling system was endorsed by the community and is now used in all subsequent Narungga publications
Some early settlers and missionaries who lived and worked on Narungga land collected examples of the language. This included Edward Snell (1849-59), Wilhelm Kuhn (1886) and T. M. Sutton (1889). In general, most early records containing Narungga language failed to properly acknowledge the expertise and assistance of Narungga people. Nevertheless, it is known that Snell’s wordlist was based on information he received from a Narungga woman whom he identified as Tanne Arrito. The knowledge of another Narungga woman, Louise Eggington, was also very important. First recorded in the 1890s, Eggington’s knowledge informed some important publications, including Johnson (1930-31) and Tindale (1936).
Altogether nearly 1000 Narungga words and phrases are recorded in historical and scientific records. Important early wordlists are found in Snell’s diaries (1849-59), Kuhn (1886), Black (1920), Johnson (recorded 1898-1900, published 1930-31) and Tindale (1936). In the 1980s, as the Narungga community began to reclaim their language some of these wordlists were reprinted (see Wanganeen & Narungga Community College 1987).
One of the main tasks of the Narungga People’s Language Project, which ran from 2001 to 2005, was to collate all the past wordlists and present knowledge of the language into one comprehensive dictionary, along with suggestions of pronunciation. The final product of 207 pages includes an alphabetical listing of all known Narungga words, plus an English-to-Narungga finder list at the back, and a section listing words by topic.
Another product of the Narungga People’s Language Project was the production of a Narungga grammar, through Eira’s comprehensive search of museum and library sources for any available grammatical information. By carefully analysing this information, and combining it with the knowledge of Narungga Elders, and by conducting a comparative analysis of closely related languages, Eira produced A New Narungga Grammar: the fragments of Budderer's waddy in 2006. This was followed by a more technical linguistic grammar explaining the processes undertaken in the reconstruction of the new grammar for Narungga, called Fragments of Budderer's Waddy: a new Narungga grammar (see Eira, 2010).
Since the 1980s, a number of important works have appeared, including Point Pearce: Past and present (Wanganeen & Narungga Community College 1987). In the late 1980s the South Australian College of Advanced Education (now the University of South Australia) funded Brian Kirke, Jillian Sumner and others to work with Narungga Elders to produce a “Narungga Language Kit”. In the late 1980s, the National Aboriginal Language Program provided 12-month funding for a team of teachers and linguists to assist Indigenous communities with the teaching of Aboriginal languages. Towards the end of that project, a songwriting workshop was held in which songs were written in Narungga and two other Nunga languages. These were subsequently published as a songbook and tape recording (Ngarrindjeri, Narrunga and Kaurna Languages Project 1990) and continue to be an important resource for initial language learning. Other language learning materials include: the book Maikuku Birku [Tucker’s Mob] (Varcoe & Amery 1992) and the book and accompanying video for Winda: a Narungga Dreaming Story (1998).
In more recent times, the Narungga People’s Language Project has produced many language booklets and resources, most of which have been funded by the MILR program, and published through Wakefield Press. From 2001 to 2005, Christina Eira and Tania Wanganeen worked together to produce the Narungga Dictionary and A New Narungga Grammar. Since then, NAPA has continued further language revival work and the publication of 13 language books and resources. Tania Wanganeen has produced a number of quality resources with the community, some of which have already been mentioned. Others include: Nharangga Dhura Midji: Narungga family terms (NAPA, 2010); Guungagu Nharangga Warra: children's Narungga dictionary (NAPA, 2006) ; plus a set of eight repetitive children's readers with the children's own illustrations and sentences, for example Ngayi Bammadja: I'm going (see NAPA, 2006).
For more than a decade, Josie Sumner and other members of the Narungga community have taught Narungga in school and kindergartens both in Adelaide and on Yorke Peninsular. Since 2001, Narungga was one of nine Indigenous languages taught in South Australian schools (see DECS statitics by Wilson & Tunstill 2001). In 2010, Narungga was taught in nine schools, including: Curramulka Primary, Edithburgh Primary, Kadina Primary, Maitland Area, Minlaton District, Moonta Area, Point Pearce Aboriginal School, Stansbury Primary, all on Yorke Peninsula, plus in Adelaide at Salisbury North R - 7 School. See the DECS website for more details and statistics.
Today, the Narungga community is actively promoting the wider use of its language. This includes an increasing amount of signage in Narungga at Point Pearce and at other places on Yorke Peninsular. In March 2002, Kevin O’Loughlin made a short speech in Narungga as part of the official opening ceremony for the 2002 Adelaide Festival of Arts.
Since April 2001, the main language development activity has been cordinated by NAPA, initially through the Narungga People’s Language Project. Activities were originally funded by Yaitya Worra Wodli, and later directly from Canberra, through the MILR program. The Project aimed “to restore the language to a level where it can be used independently, for speeches, stories, conversations and written language” and “to provide resources whereby children can claim their Language heritage, and to make the language available to all Narungga people and their descendants” (Lesley Wanganeen, cited in Wanganeen & Eira 2001).
It is a huge credit to Tania Wangannen, Dooky O'Loughlin, Lesley and Michael Wanganeen and many others who have actively participated in the revival of the Narungga language over the last decade or so. The use of the Narungga language has grown enormously in the community, and is now being used for giving speeches, singing songs, writing booklets, for greetings, for use in conducting cultural tours, and increasingly for teaching children and adults in language classes.
Above information written by Mary-Anne Gale with Rob Amery