About the language

Return to main Nawu page

Dialects and closely associated languages

Present number and distribution of speakers

People who have worked on the language

Practical spelling system

Wordlists and Dictionaries


Language Learning Material

Language Programs in schools

Community Language Functions / Activities

Other Material


Dialects and closely related languages:

Nawu is closely related to the nearby Barngarla and Wirangu languages.

Present number and distribution of speakers:

Nil speakers are known. In 1970, Oates & Oates wrote of Nawu as being “Probably extinct” (see 1970, page 91). In 1974, Tindale, noting that all of his data had been collected from “Wirangu and Pangkala [Barngarla] informants,” also listed the language as being “extinct” (see Tindale 1974, page 214).

People who have worked formerly on the language:

Luise Hercus and Jane Simpson have made a close study of all known and many possible sources of Nawu. Their article, “The tragedy of Nauo,” provides the most comprehensive account of this language (see Hercus & Simpson 2001).

Practical spelling system:

Nil is known of any recorded spelling system.

Early records and manuscripts:

Very few definitive examples of Nawu language have so far been identified. The primary sources of these few Nawu recordings are the diaries, papers and publications of Clamor Schürmann, a Dresden missionary, who resided at Port Lincoln in the 1840s. Schürmann's book called The aboriginal tribes of Port Lincoln in South Australia: their mode of life, manners, customs, etc, was first published in 1846, and includes a comparison of 10 Nawu words with their Barngarla equivalents (see these examples in Ted Schurmann's book 1987, page 252).

As Hercus and Simpson note (2001, page 274), “[t]his is the major source of Nauo [Nawu] vocabulary.” Other examples of Nawu, though not explicitly indentified as such, are most probably contained in Schürmann’s diaries (1838-53) and his Parnkalla [Barngarla] vocabulary (1844). An analysis of these materials is found in Hercus and Simpson (2001).

Norman Tindale recorded references to Nawu people and their culture – which he spelt ‘Nauo’ – in various journals and field notes from the 1920s onward, though very few explicit examples of Nauo language. The South Australian Museum maintains an online catalogue of this work. A listing of Tindale’s “Nauo” references can be found at:

Wordlists / Dictionaries:

Nil specific Nawu wordlists known. See, however, comments above and below about comparative lists in Schürmann’s  Parnkalla [Barngarla] vocabulary (1844).

Grammar / sketch grammar:

Nil known

Language learning material:

Nil known

Language Programs in schools:

Nil known

Community language functions / activities:

In April 1997, the Port Lincoln Aboriginal Community Council received funding from the SA Language Centre Yaitya Warra Wodli for the “Traditional Languages Lost Project.” The project aimed to research and record the languages of the Port Lincoln area and the far west coast of South Australia, to collate this information and then return it to its traditional owners.

Other Material:

As Hercus and Simpson note, all potential historical sources of Nawu language are problematic: “authors rarely distinguish between Nauo [Nawu] and Barngarla people as sources of information, or mention the language in which the information was given” (Hercus and Simpson 2001, page274). Nevertheless, they suggest Nawu vocabulary may be found in “places names in the Coffin Bay area, diaries and reports from protectors and mission stations, and accounts of mythology.” On the basis of careful linguistic analysis, Hercus and Simpson provides some examples of likely Nawu place names (2001, pages 284-7).

Searching Mura, the online catalogue of AIATSIS, by “language group” generates a sizeable list of source materials. A number of these, including some not listed in Hercus and Simpson (2001), would seem worthy of closer examination. These include: Bedford (1868); Cawthorne (1858); Condon (1955); Matthews (1893-1918 & 1900); Provis (1886); Richardson (1886).

Researchers should be wary, however, against assuming the above sources necessarily contain examples of the Nawu language. Indeed, some items listed by Mura as containing such Nawu material would appear to concern an Indigenous language spoken in the Northern Territory in which the name of Noah, a Biblical figure, is spelt “Nawu”.