Ngarrindjeri

About the language

Return to main Ngarrindjeri page

Alternative Names and Variant Spellings

Dialects and closely associated languages

Present number and distribution of speakers

People who have worked on the language

Practical spelling system

Wordlists and Dictionaries

Grammar

Literature in the language

Language Learning Material

Language Programs in schools

Community Language Functions / Activities

Location

The Ngarrindjeri language and Ngarrindjeri ‘nation’ are associated with the country (ruwi) in the Lower Murray, Lakes and Coorong region of South Australia. The community of Raukkan on the southern shores of Lake Alexandrina (formerly known as Point McLeay) is seen by many as the hub of Ngarrindjeri country.

The land of the Ngarrindjeri nation, according to Taplin (1879) and Jenkin (1979:11), is “a great triangle of land” extending from the western extremity of Cape Jervis on the tip of Fleurieu Peninsula, north to Swanport near Murray Bridge on the Murray River, and south around Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert, and stretching further south along the Coorong to Kingston. In more recent years, the town of Murray Bridge has become a major centre of Ngarrindjeri activity, as have many towns further upstream on the Murray River in the Riverland.

Alternative Names and Variant Spellings

The following variations have been used in the past for Ngarrindjeri: Narrinyeri, Narinyerrie, Narrin’yerree, Narrinjeri etc.

There are numerous dialects and clan groups within the larger Ngarrindjeri group, along with their many variant spellings and suffixes. These include: Alkaiyana, Jaralde, Jaraldi, Jarildekald, Jarildikald, Kauralaig, Kauralaigal, Kaurareg, Kaurarega, Koiyana, Kokkaiya, Korariga, Kororega, Kowrarega, Lakalinyeri, Malulaig, Maralaig, Morolag, Muralug, Paruru, Ramindjari, Ramindjerar, Ramindjeri, Ramingara, Raminjeri, Raminyeri, Ramong, Rormear, Tarbanawulun, Warawalde, Wathai-yunu, Wirramu-mejo, Yalawarre, Yaralde, Yarilde, Yarildewallin, Yarrildie.

Dialects and Closely Associated Languages

George Taplin's early ethnographic work (see Taplin 1879, page34) divides the Ngarrindjeri nation into 18 clans or Laklinyerar (or singular laklinyeri meaning 'clan'). Each of these clans had their own dialect, plus their own tract of land and ‘Ngaitye’ (or Nga:tji meaning 'totem').
These 18 clans are listed below, using the spelling from Graham Jenkin's 1979 book Conquest of the Ngarrindjeri. (Note Jenkin adopted the spelling conventions of Tindale, substituting the y with j, and the ny with ndj.)

1. Ramindjeri - Encounter Bay - Wattle gum

2. Tanganarin - Goolwa - Pelican

3. Kondarlindjeri - Murray Mouth (west side) - Whale

4. Lungundi - Murray Mouth (east side) - Tern

5. Turarorn - Mundoo Island - Coot

6. Pakindjeri - Lake Coorong - Butterfish

7. Kanmerarorn - Lake Coorong - Mullet

8. Kaikalabindjeri - Lake Albert (south side) - Bull ant

9. Mungulindjeri - Lake Albert (east side) - Chocolate Sheldrake

10. Rangulindjeri - Lake Albert Passage - Wild dog, dark colour

11. Karatinderi - Point Malcolm - Wild dog, light colour

12. Piltindjeri - Lake Alexandrina (east end) - Leeches, Catfish

13. Korowalie - Lake Alexandrina (north side) - Whipsnake

14. Punguratpular - Milang (Lake Alexandrina) - Musk duck

15. Welindjeri - River Murray - Black duck, Red belly black snake

16. Luthindjeri - River Murray - Black snake, Teal, Grey belly black snake

17. Wunyakulde - River Murray - Black duck

18. Ngrangatari - Lacepede Bay - Kangaroo rat

Note the main Ngarrindjeri person Taplin worked with was James Ngunaitponi / Unaipon, who was a Portawalun (or Portaulun) man of the Wellington clan.

By contrast, Ronald Berndt and Catherine Berndt's later ethnographic work distinguishes ten distinct groupings of the Ngarrindjeri in their book A World that Was (see Berndt & Berndt, 1993, pages 303-312). These ten groups include the: Yaraldi, Tangani, Ramindjeri, Malganduwa, Marunggulindjeri, Naberuwolin, Potawolin, Wakend, Walerumaldi and Wonyakaldi. For each of these groups they list many subgroups, or clan groups, with a total of 77 clan names, each of which they said had their own distinct dialect. Interestingly the Berndts used the term Kukabrak for the Ngarrindjeri nation. The main people that the Berndts worked with were Albert Karloan and Pinkie Mack.

Present number and distribution of speakers

There are probably several thousand people who identify as being Ngarrindjeri, with a very large proportion living in the Adelaide metropolitan area or in regional towns such as Murray Bridge, Tailem Bend, Meningie and towns in the Riverland, such as Gerard, Berri, Renmark, Loxton and Glossop. Today there are approximately 100 people living at Raukkan itself.

There are no fluent speakers of the Ngarrindjeri language, however, there still remains a considerable number of older Ngarrindjeri people who have knowledge of up to 500 Ngarrindjeri words plus a number of phrases. These words are regularly incorporated into English speech (along with words from other S.A. Aboriginal languages) to produce a dialect of English commonly known as Nunga English. Through efforts of Ngarrindjeri language revival, over the last decade or so, Ngarrindjeri people of all ages are now constructing sentences using traditional Ngarrindjeri grammar for speeches, songs, poems and other public performances in the Ngarrindjeri language. In the 2006 national Census 160 people responded by claiming they speak the Ngarrindjeri language in their home.

People who have worked on the language

The first systematic linguistic work done on the Ngarrindjeri language was that of the Lutheran missionary H.A.E. Meyer, who worked with the Ramindjeri (or Raminyeri) people Victor Harbor and Encounter Bay region. Meyer published a large and detailed grammar (with example sentences) in 1843. When Rev. George Taplin, established Point McLeay mission in 1859, he immediately commenced formal linguistic work by reversing Meyer’s Ramindjeri-to-English wordlist from English-to-Ramindjeri. He also added further words from the local Yaraldi dialect, noting the few words only used at Encounter Bay. Taplin also commenced writing his own grammar, undoubtedly building on the quality linguistic work already done by Meyer.

Further ethnographic work was conducted by the anthropologist Norman. B. Tindale (of the SA Museum) who worked primarily with Clarence Long, also known as Milerum, who was a Tangani man. The anthropologists Ronald and Catherine Berndt were particularly interested in recording as much as they could about traditional Ngarrindjeri culture, place-names and mythology. As mentioned earlier, they worked primarily with Albert Karloan (a Yaraldi man) and Pinkie Mack, as well as Mark Wilson. Tindale audio-recorded a Ngarrindjeri text (of the Waijungari legend) on two Edison wax cylinders, told by Frank Blackmoor, who was then an “aged full-blooded aborigine of Peltangk.... [who] belongs to the Peltindjeri clan” (see Tindale, 1935, page266).

The research by Tindale and the Berndts was conducted from the 1920s and 1930s respectively, and neither had any formal linguistic training in the recording of Australian languages. Although both Tindale’s and the Berndts' work provide a major source of language material for Ngarrindjeri people today, its consistency and accuracy should be questioned. The Berndts published a huge proportion of their ethnographic work in 1993 in the book A World That Was, which contains a very large number of Ngarrindjeri sentences in long texts in the book’s appendices, all with interlinear word-for-word English glosses, but with no free translation. This is proving to be a valuable resource for Ngarrindjeri language revival work, even though the Berndts’ linguistic analysis is questionable. The original Berndt Collection is held in the Berndt Museum at the University of Western Australia, under the curatorship of John Stanton. (It had a 30 year embargo placed on it at the time of Catherine Berndt’s death in the late 1990s). The Tindale Collection, which is held in the SA Museum archives, is publicly available (with written permission from the Ngarrindjeri community) and contains considerable Ngarrindjeri ethnographic material. The collection’s reference number at the SA Museum is AA338. See the SA Museum website: http://www.samuseum.sa.gov.au/page/default.asp?site=2&archive=tindale.

Other ethnographers, anthropologists and linguists to work in the past on Ngarrindjeri and its dialects include: William Wyatt (1879), J.M. Black (1920), HT Condon (1955), Colin Yallop (1975), Mary Alyce McDonald (1975), Steve Johnson (1986), Barry Alpher (2001), Mark Cerin (1994) and Philip Clarke (1994).

In the mid 1980s, Brian Kirke put together a Ngarrindjeri Yanun language learning kit for schools with assistance from Marlene Stewart, Mark Koolmatrie and Jillian Sumner. In 1994 the Murray Bridge High School began teaching Ngarrindjeri and the teacher David Roe-Simons compiled a wordlist with Connie Love. Another wordlist was compiled by Greg Albrecht (at Glossop High) with Bessie Rigney. The Lower Murray Nungas Club conducted further work in the 1990s, and language resources are being produced by teachers who teach the language in schools, such as Raukkan and Murray Bridge North Junior Primary. Since 2003 a concerted effort has been made through federal funding to produce a set of language resources, through the efforts of Mary-Anne Gale, Dorothy French, Eileen McHughes, Julia Yandell, the late Neville Gollan and Veronica Brodie and many other community members. Much of this work was done with Syd Sparrow and other Nungas staff based at the University of SA. The most recent language publications included: a Dictionary, Picture Dictionary, Alphabet Book, Learners’ Guide and a Language Curriculum for schools. The details of these Ngarrindjeri resources can be seen under the Recent Publications tab in the Ngarrindjeri entry of this website. All these Ngarrindjeri resources are copyrighted to Raukkan Community Council, and can be purchased through Raukkan or at the University of Adelaide's MLT office.

Practical spelling system

In 1985 a group of Ngarrindjeri adults attended the School of Australian Linguistics, now the Centre for Australian Languages and Linguistics (CALL), at Batchelor located 90 kms south of Darwin. While at Batchelor they worked together with the linguist Steve Johnson to develop a practical orthography or alphabet for their language. In November 1989 a meeting was convened during the ‘Ngarrindjeri Yanun Workshop’ held at Raukkan [literally: ‘speaking Ngarrindjeri workshop’]. The following orthography (or alphabet) was endorsed by representatives of the community at this meeting. 

Vowels:
Short vowels a i u e o  Long vowels a: i: u: e: o:          

Consonants:           
Voiceless stops: p th t tj, k
Voiced stops: b dh d dj g
(note: the voiced stops rarely appear, and usually after another voiced consonant)
Nasals: m nh n ny ng
Laterals: lh l rl ly
Rhotics: r rr
Retroflexed sounds: rl rt rn (are rare)
Semi vowels: w y

Although there is a formalised Ngarrindjeri orthography, not every Ngarrindjeri person is aware of it and some prefer to use an irregular Anglicised spelling system, such as the letter u sound for the  ‘a’ sound in ‘nakan’ – which they spell nukkin.

Wordlists

One of the most extensive and consistently spelt wordlists is that of H.A.E. Meyer (1843), prepared on the Ramindjeri language variety. This list is from Ramindjeri to English. The other old list is Taplin (1879), which is an English to Narrinyeri list. Steve Johnson also compiled a short wordlist at Batchelor with his Ngarrindjeri students in the 1980s, which is available from AIATSIS in Canberra.

Connie Love and Dave Roe-Simons more recently compiled an English-to-Ngarrindjeri and Ngarrindjeri-to-English wordlist on the computer for use in school programs. It combinines the Taplin and Meyer wordlists as well as that prepared by Steve Johnson at Batchelor.  This list is available on computer disk from the Lower Murray Nungas Club at Murray Bridge. It does not use the orthography outlined above consistently.

The most comprehensive wordlist which combines the wordlists of all the above sources plus many others is the Ngarrindjeri Dictionary; first edition. It was compiled by Mary-Anne Gale with the assistance of many Ngarrindjeri Elders and commuity members, and was launched in 2009 at the 150 celebrations of the founding of Raukkan. The dictionary project was managed by Syd Sparrow.

Grammar or sketch grammar

Meyer (1843) provides a sketch grammar of Ramindjeri, but there was a need for this grammar to be explained and interpreted for the lay reader. It has many diacritics, some analogous to his own German tongue, and his chosen spelling systemis a littel differnt to the contemporary standard orthography for Ngarrindjeri. Talpin (1879) also provides a sketch grammar of ‘Narrinyeri’, but again it is hard to interpret.

So recently Mary-Anne Gale compiled with Dorothy French a Ngarrindjeri Learners' Guide, which aimed to rewrite in lay terms the grammars provided by Meyer and Taplin. It was launched in in 2008 at Raukkan, and again the project was managed by Syd Sparrow. This guide is available from Raukkan council, or the MLT office, and includes many useful and natural example sentences provided by Meyer, using the traditional grammar.

Language learning material

In the late 1980s, Brian Kirke developed a language learning kit for two Nunga languages: Ngarrindjeri and Narungga. Kirke produced these kits through the South Australian College of Advanced Education, now a part of the University of South Australia. The Ngarrindjeri kit, Ngarrindjeri Yanun, includes large stimulus photos and other useful language learning materials and explanations. Unfortunately not a large number of kits were made, and they are now extremely difficult to come by.

Some language learning material is being generated in schools through the LOTE programs offering Ngarrindjeri (see section “Language Programs in Schools” below). The 2008 Ngarrindjeri Learners' Guide, mentioned above, is also a useful language learning resource.

Literature in the language

There is a reasonably large corpus of literature in the Ngarrindjeri language. Ngarrindjeri was the first Indigenous language of Australia in which to have “extracts” from the Bible published: Tungarar Jehovah. This translation work was done by Rev. George Taplin and James Ngunaitponi (David Unaipon's father) in “Yarildewallin” (literally: ‘Yaralde-becoming’). Together they translated parts of both the Old and New Testament, including: Genesis, chapters I-IV, Exodus, chapters XIX -XX; Matthew, chapters V-VII; and St. John, chapter III & XVIII-XXI. These extracts were first published in 1864, but have since been republished as facsimile editions in 1926, by the British and Foreign Bible Society. In 1986 the Bible Society in Australia reprinted this same translation, then republished a new edition in 2009 for the special occasion of the 150th anniversary of the founding of Raukkan. A further early publication in the “Narrinyeri” language was a “Lessons, Hymns and Prayers” booklet, also published in 1864 by Taplin, for use in his school at Point McLeay.

There is a reasonable amount of Aboriginal Studies materials produced by the Education Department of South Australia in the past, which included books and booklets on the Ngarrindjeri people (for example the 1990 publication The Ngarrindjeri people: Aboriginal people of the River Murray, Lakes and Coorong). There are some Ngarrindjeri words and phrases in these materials. The large Berndt & Berndt 1993 publication has a comprehensive appendices which includes many Ngarrindjeri Dreaming narratives and ethnographic texts in the Ngarrindjeri language, with interlinear glosses in English. The eclectic writings of David Unaipon, recently republished in his own name (Unaipon, 2001) incorporate many Ngarrindjeri words within the English text. Further literature is being generated in the Ngarrindjeri language today, largely in schools. This literature largely takes the form of hand-made books produced by students and teachers as part of their language lessons.

Language programs in schools

Ngarrindjeri is taught in a number of schools in the state. It is the chosen LOTE (Language Other Than English) taught at Raukkan Aboriginal school, Winkie Primary school in the Riverland, Murray Bridge High School, and Murray Bridge North Junior Primary school. It is also taught as a part of the Aboriginal Studies program or the mother tongue program at other schools, including: Fraser Park CPC-7, Glossop High, Murray Bridge North Primary, Murray Bridge South Primary, Renmark JP and Primary, Salisbury North R-7, Victor Harbor Primary, plus Winkie Child Parent Centre.

In the year 2010 there were nine different Indigenous languages taught in South Australian Schools in 70 different programs in schools as part of their Languages Other than English programs. Of these there are 15 programs teaching Ngarrindjeri, which are all classified as Language Renewal programs. See the information provided by Tunstill  on the followignDECS site:

http://www.decs.sa.gov.au/teachingandlearning/pages/Language/indigenous/

The latest DECS figures available are from 2009, with the following schools teaching the Ngarrindjeri language in one form or another:

NAME OF SCHOOL

 

Number of

Aboriginal students

Number of

other students

Raukkan Aboriginal School

25

-

Renmark Junior Primary

Renmark Primary School

9

28

-

Fraser Park Primary

42

-

Gerard-Winkie CPC

3

9

Glossop High

tbc

tbc

Karrendi Primary

7

10

Mansfield Park Primary

47

-

Meningie Preschool

-

-

Murray Bridge High

35

17

Murray Bridge North Junior Prim

Murray Bridge North Primary

20

28

180

-

Murray Bridge South Kindy

20

40

Murray Bridge South Primary

56

-

Salisbury North R-7

47

-

Victor Harbor Kindy

-

-

Winkie Primary

Winkie Child Parent Centre

14

4

34

6

Community Language Functions / Activities

Although the Ngarrindjeri language is not spoken fluently by its custodians, it still serves important functions in the community, especially the way it is incorporated into the speech of Ngarrindjeri people today. Its use within Nunga English by both young and old alike serves to cement the community as a group that share a common identity and a common knowledge of certain vocabulary items. Ngarrindjeri is also used in public performances by the Ngarrindjeri dance troupe Tal-kin-jeri who sing and dance in a ‘traditional’ style at many public functions throughout the state.

Ngarrindjeri is also taught in schools, predominantly to Indigenous students, but also to some non-Indigenous students. It is generally felt in the community that Ngarrindjeri should be taught in schools by Ngarrindjeri language teachers, or at least in a team with Ngarrindjeri Elders.

Since 2007 various trial Ngarrindjeri language courses have been run in collaboration with TAFE SA and the University of Adelaide to teach Ngarrindjeri using elements of the traditional grammar. In 2011 a group of a dozen students, under the guidance of Elders Eileen McHughes and Julia Yandell, among others, have been teaching a trial Certificate III in Learning an Endangered Aboriginal Language in Murray Bridge every Friday. These students hope to be the first graduates of this new TAFE course.

Two Ngarrindjeri choirs have been formed recently who perform songs publicly in the Ngarrindjeri language. One of the choirs, the Rritjarukar (the Willy Wagtails), was formed out of the TAFE class, and only perform in the Ngarrindjeri language. The musician leading this choir is Rita Lindsay jnr. and she is coordinating a Ngarrindjeri song CD project with Mary-Anne Gale, in 2011 - 2012 to record a set of 20 songs in various styles to be recorded solely in the Ngarrindjeri language.

Above Information written by  Mary-Anne Gale