K17: Worrorra

AIATSIS code: 
AIATSIS reference name: 


Thesaurus heading language
Thesaurus heading people
ABN name
Worora language
ABS name
Horton name
Ethnologue name
ISO 639-3 code
Tindale name
Tindale (1974)
Wororra, Wurara, Worrora, Worara (pronunciation of Ngarinjin speakers), Maialnga (supposed name of a northern horde but Lucich [1966 MS] could not confirm it with Worora informants).
O'Grady et al (1966)
Wororra, Wurara
Other sources
Kularri/Gularri 'south-westerners' (regional term used to refer to Wunambal, Gamberre and Worrorra - Perez 1977, Perez, Pratt & Millington 1981, Torres, Pratt & Millington 1986) [Carr 2000:13] Boorooroo (Yngve Laurell) [Boström 2008:150]
Worora, Jaudibaia, Maialnga, Worara, Wororra, Worrara, Wurara, Wo`rora, Worrora, Wurora, Wurura, Variants of the language name:, Yangibaia, Kularri/Gularri south westerners, Woddordda

Worrorra is a non-Pama-Nyungan language of the Worrorran family, specifically western Worrorran, along with Umiida K49; Unggarrangu K55; Unggumi K14; Yawijibaya K53; Winyjarrumi K56 (McGregor and Rumsey, 2009:8).

Clendon (2000:vii) reports that 'a closely related dialect of Worrorra was formerly spoken by the people of the Montgomery Islands, anja Yawijabaaya K53. McGregor (2004:43) says that Yawijibaya is 'sometimes treated as a separate language, sometimes as a dialect of Worrorra'.


  • Clendon, Mark. 2000. A grammar of Worrorra. Halls Creek, WA: Kimberley Language Resource Centre.
  • Harvey, Mark. 2008. Non-Pama-Nyungan Languages: land-language associations at colonisation. AILEC 0802.
  • McGregor, William. 2004. The languages of the Kimberley, Western Australia. New York: RoutledgeCurzon.
  • McGregor, William, & Alan Rumsey. 2009. Worrorran revisited: the case for genetic relations among languages of the Northern Kimberley region of Western Australia: Pacific Linguistics 600. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
  • Tindale, Norman B. 1974. Aboriginal tribes of Australia: their terrain, environmental controls, distribution, limits, and proper names. Berkeley: University of California Press/Canberra: Australian National University Press.
State / Territory: 
Location information: 

At Secure Bay and Walcott Inlet; Collier Bay to Prince Regent River; northern boundary passes up Rothsay Water, inland 25 to 30 miles (40 to 50 km.) along Princess May Ranges to Mount Hann and Mount French and cliff base of the tablelands (Tindale 1974).

[Worora's] country lies north of Walcott Inlet to the Prince regent River (Akerman in Sutton 1995:99).

... originally spoken on the north-West Kimberley coast and adjacent inland areas roughly between the Prince Regent River and the Yampi Peninsula (Clendon 2000).

The general territorial association was to the coast from Rothsay Water in the north to the south-west shores of Collier Bay in the south, extending variably about 50km inland. Worora-speaking families lived traditionally on and near the north-west Kimberley coast between the Rothsay Water in the north, and the south-western shores of Collier Bay in the south. In the south their country extended inland some 40 kilometres from the coast, and in the north, roughly some 60 kilometres inland, and 50 or so kilometres up the Prince Regent River, from where it empties into the St. George Basin. This region includes the lower and middle reaches of the Prince Regent River, Mana Malanduma, the St. George Basin, Ngarlangkarnanya, and the two spectacular mesas on its north shore, Mt. Trafalgar, Ngayangkarnanya, and Mt. Waterloo, Nubungarri. It includes the George Water and the Glenelg River, Arnngarrngoyu, and the Walcott inlet. On the coast Worora country includes Wurrulku aaku ngarlangarlangarri, 'Augustus Island of the talking water,' referring to a well-known fresh-water spring on this large island, as well as many other offshore islands, and the Montgomery Islands and reefs, Yawijaba mana (Clendon as cited in Harvey AILEC 0802).


Handbook of Kimberley Languages (1988): 

Mandjindja (A33 ) in Handbook of Kimberley Languages (1988).

5.2 Worrorra / Worrora / Worora

Names of the language and different spellings that have been used:
Worora (AIAS, Black, Black & Walsh, Capell, Coate, Love, Lucich, Moyle, Oates & Oates, Worms), Wo`rora (Love), Worrara (Thurkle), Worrora (Love), Worrorra (Hudson & McConvell), Wurara, Wurora (Oates, Vaszolyi), Wurura.Variants of the language name: Maialnga, Yangibaia
Classification of the language:
Worrorran family, Worrorric group
Identification codes:
Oates 1973: 47.1
Capell: K20
Present number and distribution of speakers:
Mainly in Mowanjum Community, Derby.
Vaszolyi - 150-200
People who have worked intensively on the language:
J.R.B. Love, 1920s to 1930s, mainly at Kunmunya
Arthur Capell, 1930s, Kunmunya
Howard Coate, since 1930s, mainly at Derby, but also other locations in the Northern Kimberley, including Kunmunya.
Peter Lucich, 1970s, Mowanjum
Michael Silverstein, 1975-6, mainly at Mowanjum
Practical orthography:
In the 1920s Love developed an orthography for use in his linguistic writings, and for his Bible translations. This was not a strictly phonemic system (for example, it did not distinguish retroflexion (which is phonemically distinctive), but distinguished voicing of stops, and more vowels than necessary). However, the major difficulty with this script was that it used too many diacritics (the majority of which have been omitted from the published texts of his Bible translations). Although Love provided some literacy training to Worrorra speakers in this system, no one is a fully 'fluent' user today.
More recently, Coate has used his Ngarinyin orthography in some Worrorra primers, and a slight variant of this system has been proposed (in Anon, nd), which uses y, ee and oo instead of the Ngarinyin j, e and o respectively. Neither of these orthographies appears to have been widely used.
Word lists:
Blundell (1976a, 1976b), Capell (1940), Love (1933-39, 193-, nd a, nd b), Thurkle (nd), Worms (1957)
Textual material:
Bible (1943a, 1943b), Love (nd a), Lucich (1968, 1969), Mowaljarlai (1982), Moyle (1968), Utemorrah (1975, 1979), Woolagoodja (1975)
Grammar or sketch grammar:
Love (1931-1932, 1932, 1934, 1938, 1941, 1945, nd b); Capell & Coate (1984) contains some grammatical information.
Material available on the language:
Anon. nd a. Worora spelling. 10pp. typescript.
Anon. nd b. Grammar and vocabulary of the Worrora tribe. 2 volumes. manuscript. AIAS.
Bible. 1943a. New Testament - Mark. Worora. Wullunnu-wunia Mark nunya. Revised edition. Perth: British and Foreign Bible Society.
Bible. 1943b. New Testament - Luke. Worora. Wullunnu-wunia Luke nunya. Perth: British and Foreign Bible Society.
Blundell, V.J. 1976a. A dictionary of Ngarinyin terms for material culture, environmental features and related items, with Worora equivalents. [With terms recorded by Petri.] v+40pp. typescript. AIAS pMs 506. (A1;B5).
_____ .1976b. A dictionary of Worora terms for material culture, environmental features and related items, with Ngarinyin equivalents. [With terms recorded by Love.] vi+69pp. typescript. AIAS pMs 507. (A1;B5).
Capell, A. 1939. The languages of the northern Kimberley division, W.A. Mankind 2. 169-175.
_____ .1940. The classification of languages in north and north-west Australia. Oceania 10. 241-272, 404-433.
_____ .1949. The concept of ownership in the languages of Australia and the Pacific. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 5. 169-189.
_____ .1972. The languages of the northern Kimberley, W.A.: some structural principles. Oceania 43. 54-65.
Capell, A. & Elkin, A.P. 1937. The languages of the Kimberley division. Oceania 8. 216-245.
Capell, A. & Coate, H.H.J. 1984. Comparative studies in northern Kimberley languages. Canberra: PL, C69.
Dixon, R.M.W. 1968. Noun classes. Lingua 21. 104-125.
Elkin, A.P. 1963. Aboriginal languages and assimilation. Oceania 34. 147-154.
Love, J.R.B. 1927-1940. [Notes on the Worora people of the Kimberleys, W.A.] 187pp. manuscript. AIAS Ms 829. (A1;B1).
_____ .1931-1932. An introduction to the Worrora language. Royal Society of Western Australia. Journal. 17. 53-69; 18. 13-22.
_____ .1932. [Worora grammar.] 109pp. manuscript. AIAS.
_____ .1933-1939. A bird calendar of Kunmunya, 1933: and some odd native notes 1933-1939. lv+183pp. manuscript. AIAS.
_____ .1934. Grammatical structure of the Worora language of north-western Australia. MA thesis, University of Adelaide. AIAS MF 25.
_____ .1935. Mythology, totemism, and religion of the Worora tribe of North-West Australia. Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science. Report 22. 222-231.
_____ .1936. Stone age bushmen of today. London: Blackie.
_____ .1938. An outline of Worora grammar. In Elkin, A.P. (ed.), Studies in Australian linguistics. (Oceania Monograph, 3) Sydney: University of Sydney. 112-124.
_____ .193-. English - Worora vocabulary. 126pp. typescript. AIAS Ms 17b.
_____ .1941. A view of the Worora language. Mankind 3. 33-34.
_____ .1945. The pronoun in Worora and Pitjantjatjara. Oceania 16. 70-78.
_____ .1978. Worora kinship gestures. In Umiker-Sebeok, D.J. & Sebeok, T.A. (eds). Aboriginal sign languages of the Americas and Australia. Volume 2. New York: Plenum Press. 403-405.
_____ .nd a. [Worora - English vocabulary and four Worora stories with translations.] Various pagings. manuscript. AIAS Ms 17a.
_____ .nd b. Worrora grammar and vocabulary. 2 vols. manuscript. AIAS.
Lucich, P. 1968. Children's stories from the Worora. [Draft]. vi+127pp. typescript. AIAS Ms 62. (A2;B1).
_____ .1969. Children's stories from the Worora. Canberra: AIAS.
Mowaljarlai, D. 1982. Walungari and Wurrnganjen songs: Ngarinyin, Wunambul and Worora initiation songs for boys. 64pp. typescript. Transcripts prepared by M. Langton. AIAS Ms 1789.
Moyle, A.M. 1968. Songs from the Kimberleys. Companion booklet for a 12-inch LP disk, Catalogue number AIAS/13. Canberra: AIAS.
Street, C.S. & Street, L. 1972. Report on the survey of languages in the West Kimberleys, W.A. 9pp. typescript. AIAS (A2;B1).
Thurkle, H.E. nd. Vocabulary of the Worrara language. 8pp. typescript.
Utemorrah, D. 1975. Mary's plea. Identity 2. 27.
_____ .1979. The cry of our ancestors. In Weller, H. (ed.), North of the 26th: A collection of writings, paintings, drawings and photographs from the Kimberley, Pilbara and Gascoyne regions. Perth: The Nine Club. 177-181. (Includes two short song texts in Worrorra.)
Vaszolyi, E.G. 1973. Notes on the Aboriginal language situation in the Kimberleys, W.A. 24pp. typescript. AIAS. (A1;B5).
Woolagoodja, S. 1975. Aboriginal poem. [Translated by M. Silverstein.] Sydney: Aboriginal Arts Board. Cover title: Lalai dreamtime.
Worms, E.A. 1957. Australian mythical terms: their etymology and dispersion. Anthropos 52. 732-768.
Language programme:
None. However, moves have been afoot for some time in Mowanjum Community to start a language programme, and the Derby High School has been approached. A language maintenance or language revival programme would be suitable.
Language learning material:
Literacy material:
A couple of primers were produced by Howard Coate in the 1960s; however no further details are available concerning these materials.
Anon. nd. Worora spelling. 10pp. typescript.

McGregor, William. 1988 Handbook of Kimberley Languages. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. © Author.

AIATSIS gratefully acknowledge William McGregor for permission to use his material in AUSTLANG.


Community adult literacy programmes have been run in the past for Worrorra, Wunambal and Ngarinyin. (Carr 2000:22)

Arthur Capell, Mark Clendon, James Love, Daisy Utemorrah (dec.)
Indigenous organisations: 

Kimberley Language Resource Centre

Batchelor Institute https://www.batchelor.edu.au/

Year Source Speaker numbers

Speaker numbers were measured differently across the censuses and various other sources listed in AUSTLANG. You are encouraged to refer to the sources.

Speaker numbers for ‘NILS 2004’ and ‘2005 estimate’ come from 'Table F.3: Numbers of speakers of Australian Indigenous languages (various surveys)' in 'Appendix F NILS endangerment and absolute number results' in McConvell, Marmion and McNicol 2005, pages 198-230 (PDF, 2.5MB).

Type Documentation Status Documentation Score
Word list Medium (100-200 pages) 3
Text Collection Large (more than 200 pages) 4
Grammar Large grammar (more than 200 pages) 4
Audio-visual More than 10 3
Manuscript note: 
tape transcription/field note available

Clendon, Mark. 2000. Topics in Worora grammar. University of Adelaide: PhD.

Clendon, Mark. 2000. A grammar of Worrorra. Halls Creek, WA: Kimberley Language Resource Centre.

Love, J. R. B. 1999. The grammatical structure of the Worora language of north-western Australia. Munich: Lincom Europa.


Clendon, Mark. 2000. A provisional Worrorra dictionary. Halls Creek, WA: Kimberley Language Resource Centre

Source Family Group Sub-group Name Relationship
Ethnologue (2005) Wororan     Worora Worora [dialects: Worora, Unggumi]
Dixon (2002)   NORTH KIMBERLEY AREAL GROUP   Worrorra Worrorra Clendon (1994, 2000), Love (2000) further dialects: Yawidjibara, Windjarumi, Unggumi, Unggarrangu, Umiida
Wurm (1994) Wororan Wororic   Worora  
Walsh (1981) Wororan Wororic   Worora  
Oates (1975) Wororan Wororic   Wurora  
Wurm (1972) Wororan Wororic   Worora  
O'Grady, Voegelin and Voegelin (1966) Wororan Wororic   Worora