K18: Ngarinyin

AIATSIS code: 
AIATSIS reference name: 


Thesaurus heading language
Thesaurus heading people
ABN name
Ngarinjin language
ABS name
Horton name
Ethnologue name
ISO 639-3 code
Tindale name
Tindale (1974)
Gular (name given to hordes between Karunjie and Gibb River Stations by Forrest River people; ['kular] = west), Ungarinjin, Un?arinjin (as spoken by a Worora), Warnarinjin, Angarinjin, Ngarinjin (as articulated by Moreng), Wangarinjinu (language name), Arawari (lit. 'southeastwards,' a Worora name), Ingarinjindja (a man of the tribe), Njingarinjanja (a woman of the tribe), Arkarin-jindja (people of the tribe), Oladjau (language name used by Miriwung tribe; their contacts are through the Kitja to Ola people), Marangana (name applied to all people who speak like the Ngarinjin), Walmidi (Forrest River name), Andedja (northern term), Andidja, Narrinyind, Ungarinyin, Ungarin-jen, Ngaring-ngyan, Ngerringun, Kandjalngari (name of a horde on northern boundary of tribe).
O'Grady et al (1966)
Ungarinjin, Narrinyind
Other sources
Wulanggu (Bardi term for Wunambal and Ungarinyin - Wilfrid Goonak p.c.) [Carr 2000:13]
Ngarinyin, Ungarinjin, Guwij, Munumburru, Ngarinjin, Ngarnawu, Wilawila, Wolyamidi, Andedja, Andidja, Angarinjin, Arawari, Arkarinjindja, Arkarrinyinjia, Gular, Ingarinjindja, Kandjalngari, Marangana, Molyamidi, Narrinyina, Narrinyind, Narrinyindi, Ngaring ngyan, Ngerringun, Njingarinjanja, Ogarinyan, Oladjau, Ungarinin, Ungarinjen, Ungarinyin, Unggarinjin, Unjarinjin, Unnarinjin, Walmidi, Wangarinjinu, Warnarinjin, WolJamidi, Wulanggu, Unarinjin, Arkarin jindja, Ungarin jen, Worrorran

Rumsey says that Ngarinyin can be used to refer to either the language name or the people who speak it, but Ungarinyin can only be used to refer to the language (1982:vii). McGregor also describes the difference between forms, but remarks that 'Ngarinyin has been chosen as the preferred language name' by the community (2004:30).

Spronck reports that there are about a dozen fluent elderly Ungarinyin (K18) speakers and a group of up to 50 younger people with a good passive understanding of the language. He also notes that up to about 15 non-Ngarinyin people are fluent in Ungarinyin K18, as most elderly Worrorra K17 and Wunambal K22 people speak Ungarinyin rather than their own language (Spronck 2013 p.c.).

MacGregor describes Ngarinyin as a member of the Worrorran language group (1988: 98).

Coate and Oates (1970) say that Guwidj K19 is a dialect of Ngarinjin K18.

Dixon places Ungarinjin under the North Kimberley Areal Group; and he lists Guwidj K19 (Orla); Waladja K43; Ngarnawu K52; Andadjin K23; Munumburru K25; Wolyamidi K26; and Waladjangarri K24 as dialects of Ungarinjin (2002: xli).



  • Coate, H. and L. Oates. 1970. A grammar of Ngarinjin, Western Australia: Australian Aboriginal Studies 25, Linguistic Series 10. Canberra: AIAS.
  • Dixon, R. M. W. 2002. Australian languages: their nature and development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Harvey, Mark. 2008. Non-Pama-Nyungan Languages: land-language associations at colonisation. AILEC 0802.
  • McGregor, William. 1988. Handbook of Kimberley Languages. Pacific Linguistics C-105. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. (RS 40/4)
  • McGregor, William. 2004. The languages of the Kimberley, Western Australia. New York: RoutledgeCurzon.
  • Rumsey, Alan. 1982. An intra-sentence grammar of Ungarinjin, north-western Australia. Pacific Linguistics B-86. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. (RS 40/4)
  • 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: 

From Walcott Inlet at Mount Page, southeast along the north face of the King Leopold Range in the Isdell Valley to Isdell Range, thence east to Phillips Range, the headwaters of Chapman River, Blackfellow Creek, and Wood River; north along the Barnett and Harris Ranges; at Gibb River junction with upper Drysdale; on upper waters of Drysdale River to near Maitland Range; on King River headwaters north to about Mount Reid; west to about Mounts Bradshaw and Hann; southeast to Mount French on the highlands, thence south by west to Walcott Inlet opposite Mount Page (Tindale 1974) The general association was to the western half of the Kimberley Plateau. Eastward limit: Mt House homestead, upper Hann River drainage, Gibb River homestead, Gibb River drainage, Dampier Creek drainage, Banjo Creek drainage - all of these are associated with Ngarinyin. Northward limit: Couchman Ranges, King Edward River to upstream of the Mitchell Plateau road crossing - both associated with Ngarinyin. Oombrai Hill, the King Edward River downstream from the Mitchell Plateau road crossing, Morgan River drainage - none of these three were associated with Ngarinyin. Westward limit: King Edward River to upstream of the Mitchell Plateau road crossing, Upper Moran River, Upper Roe River, Upper Prince Regent River, Upper Sale River including Pantijan, Upper Walcott Inlet and Calder River, Isdell River mouth - all associated with Ngarinyin. Southward limit: King Leopold Range, Isdell Range. Bell Creek was associated with Unggumi and not with Ngarinyin (Harvey ASEDA 802)

Handbook of Kimberley Languages (1988): 

Birniridjara (A25 ) in Handbook of Kimberley Languages (1988).

5.8 Ngarinyin / Ungarinyin / Ngarinjin

Names of the language and different spellings that have been used:
Ngarinjin (AIAS, Black, Black & Walsh, Capell, Coate & Oates, Oates), Ngarinyin (Hudson & McConvell), Ungarinjin (Rumsey), Ungarinyin (O'Grady, Oates & Oates), Dialects:, Molyamidi, Wol'jamidi, Yamandil
Capell (1963) claims that Ngarinyin is the name given to the western dialect. According to Rumsey (1982:vii), the name of the language is Ungarinyin, Ngarinyin being the name of the people. The shorter form Ngarinyin, however, seems to have gained currency., Coate & Oates (1970) also identify Munumburu, Wilawila and Kuwij as dialects, while Rumsey suggests that Worla and Walaja are dialects.
Classification of the language:
Worrorran family, Ungarinyinic group
Identification codes:
Oates 1973: 46.1a
Capell: K15
Present number and distribution of speakers:
Mainly in Mowanjum community (Rumsey 1982:vii), also Gibb River, and Mt Elizabeth Station (Oates 1975:52).
Oates - 80, 60 at Mt Elizabeth Station, 20 at Gibb River.
Street - 80 speakers elsewhere.
Rumsey (1987) - about 200 speakers
People who have worked intensively on the language:
Arthur Capell, from early 1930s, Derby and properties from there to Gibb River
Howard Coate, from 1930s to present, mainly at Derby and nearby properties
Alan Rumsey, from mid 1970s, mainly at Derby
Practical orthography:
Coate developed an orthography which used the voiced series of stops; the symbol ? for ng; j instead of y; dj, nj and lj where this book uses j, ny, and ly; and dots under the letters to indicate retroflexion. This system has apparently been used by some native speakers of the language. It is also used in Rumsey's early works (e.g. Rumsey 1982). However, more recently Rumsey has employed a standard North Kimberley orthography (see, for example, Muecke, Rumsey & Wirrunmarra 1985), which dispenses with the diacritics and special letters.
Word lists:
Blundell (1976a, 1976b), Capell (1940), Capell & Elkin (1937), Coate (1947, 1968), Coate & Elkin (1974), Hudson & McConvell (1984), Summer Institute of Linguistics (1971a, 1971b, 1971c), Peile (nd), Worms (1944), Rumsey (1981, 1984 (for kin terms)), Scheffler (1984 (for kin terms)), Street (1972)
Textual material:
Capell (1972a), Coate (1966a, 1970), Mowaljarlai (1982)
Grammar or sketch grammar:
Capell (1940), Coate & Oates (1970), Rumsey (1978, 1982)
Material available on the language:
Blundell, V.J. 1976a. A dictionary of Ngarinjin 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 Ngarinjin 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.
_____ .1960. Language and world view in the Northern Kimberley, Western Australia. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 16. 1-14.
_____ .1962. Aborigines: languages. In Australian encyclopaedia, vol 1. Sydney: Grolier. 21-28.
_____ .1971. Report on Ngarinjin comparative work. 2pp. typescript. AIAS.
_____ .1972a. Cave painting myths: northern Kimberley. (Oceania Linguistic Monographs, 18) Sydney: University of Sydney.
_____ .1972b. The languages of the northern Kimberley, W.A.: some structural principles. Oceania 43. 54-65.
_____ .1976a. Rapporteur's introduction and summary. In Dixon, R.M.W. (ed.), Grammatical categories in Australian languages. Canberra: AIAS. 615-625.
_____ .1976b. Simple and compound verbs: conjugation by auxiliaries in Australian verbal systems; Ngarinjin. In Dixon, R.M.W. (ed.), Grammatical categories in Australian languages. Canberra: AIAS. 625-629.
Capell, A. & Coate, H.H.J. 1984. Comparative studies in northern Kimberley languages. Canberra: PL, C-69.
Capell, A. & Elkin, A.P. 1937. The languages of the Kimberley division. Oceania 8. 216-245.
Coate, H.H.J. 1947. Birds [Ngarinjin vocabulary]. 3pp. typescript. AIAS pA3 10. (A3a;B1).
_____ .194-. [Ngarinjin verbs.] 55pp. manuscript. AIAS (A3a;B1).
_____ .1966a. The Rai and the third eye: north-west Australian beliefs. Oceania 37. 93-123.
_____ .1966b. Report [to AIAS] on linguistic work northwest Australia 18.12.1965. 4pp. typescript. AIAS Doc 66/323.
_____ .1967? Notes on 3 dead languages. typescript. AIAS pA3 12. (A3a;B1).
_____ .1968. Interim report [to AIAS]. March 1968. 1p. manuscript. AIAS Doc. 68/687.
_____ .1970. Ngarinjin: stress and intonation. (Tape transcription series, 1) Canberra: AIAS.
Coate, H.H.J. & Elkin, A.P. 1974. Ngarinjin-English dictionary. (Oceania Linguistic Monographs, 16) Sydney: University of Sydney.
Coate, H.H.J. & Oates, L. 1970. A grammar of Ngarinjin, Western Australia. Canberra: AIAS.
Hudson, J. & McConvell, P. 1984. Keeping language strong: report of the pilot study for the Kimberley Language Resource Centre. Broome: KLRC.
Love, J.R.B. 1930-1931. An introduction to the Worrora language. Royal Society of Western Australia. Journal 17. 53-69, 18. 13-22.
Mowaljarlai, D. nd. Walungari and Wurrnganjen songs: Ngarinyin, Wunambul and Worora initiation songs for boys. Transcripts prepared by M. Langton. typescript. AIAS Ms 1789.
Muecke, S, Rumsey, A. & Wirrunmarra, B. 1985. Pigeon the outlaw: history as texts. Aboriginal History 9. 81-100.
Nekes, H. & Worms, E.A. 1953. Australian languages. (Micro-Bibliotheca Anthropos, 10) Fribourg: Anthropos-Institut. 1058pp. AIAS MF 4.
Peile, A.R. nd. Field notes Warayngari. 182pp. manuscript. AIAS Ms 322.
Rumsey, A.L. 1978. A grammar of Ungarinjin with special reference to the structure of discourse. PhD thesis, University of Chicago. AIAS Ms 1176. (A1;B1).
_____ .1979. Lative and translative in Ungarinjin. 2pp. manuscript. Handout for paper delivered to Australian Linguistic Society Conference, Newcastle. AIAS Ms 1307 (17). (A1;B3).
_____ .1981. Kinship and context among the Ungarinyin. Oceania 51. 181-192.
_____ .1982. An intra-sentence grammar of Ungarinjin, north-western Australia. Canberra: PL, B-86.
_____ .1984. Meaning and use in Ngarinyin kin classification: a rejoinder to Scheffler. Oceania 54. 323-331.
_____ .1987. Lative and translative in Ungarinyin. In Laycock, D. & Winter, W. (eds), A world of language: papers presented to Professor S.A. Wurm on his 65th birthday. Canberra: PL, C-100. 603-611.
Scheffler, H.W. 1984. Meaning and use in Ngarinyin kin classification. Oceania 54. 310-322.
Street, C.S. 1972. [Ngarinjin word list.] 11pp. manuscript. AIAS pMs 2384. (A2;B1).
Street, C.S. & Street, L. 1972. Report on the survey of languages in the west Kimberleys, W.A. 9pp. typescript. AIAS (A2;B1).
Summer Institute of Linguistics. 1971a. AIAS word list for N.E. Kimberleys survey: Nganau language. AIAS tapes A2183,2184,2186,2187. 18pp. AIAS.
_____ .1971b. AIAS word list for N.E. Kimberleys survey: Ngarinyin language. AIAS tape A2189. AIAS pMs 1805.
_____ .1971c. AIAS word list for N.E. Kimberleys survey: Yeidji language. AIAS tape A2190. 5,2pp. typescript. AIAS.
Testart, A. 1977. Moieties, genders and noun classes in Australia. Mankind 11. 52-54.
Vaszolyi, E. 1970. Report [to AIAS] on research work in anthropological linguistics during the period June 1st - September 1st, 1970. 2pp. typescript. AIAS.
_____ .1973. Notes on the Aboriginal language situation in the Kimberleys, W.A. 24pp. typescript. AIAS (A1;B5).
Wolff, H. 1938. Nachrichten von der 2 Frobenius Expedition in Nordwest-Australien. Paideuma 1. 89-99.
Worms, E.A. 1944. Aboriginal place names in Kimberley, Western Australia. Oceania 14. 284-310.
Language programme:
Mowanjum Community have asked for a community school (1977), but this was refused by the Education Department. They now run language classes in the community in Worrorra, Ngarinyin, and Wunambal. A language maintenance or revival programme would be suitable.
Language learning material:
Literacy material:
Mowaljarlai, D. nd. Walungari and Wurrnganjen songs: Ngarinyin, Wunambul and Worora initiation songs for boys. Transcripts prepared by M. Langton. typescript. AIAS Ms 1789.

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 (K18). (Carr 2000:22) Stef Spronck is working with Ngarinyin people to begin a school language program in the Mt. Barnett community some time in 2013, with support from the native title group and local rangers. (Spronck 2013 p.c.)

Howard Coate, Alan Rumsey, Kimberley Language Resource Centre, Stef Spronck
Indigenous organisations: 
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 Large (more than 200 pages) 4
Text Collection Small (20-100 pages) 2
Grammar Large grammar (more than 200 pages) 4
Audio-visual More than 10 3
Manuscript note: 
tape transcription/field note available

Rumsy, Alan. 1978. A grammar of Ungarinjin with special reference to the structure of discourse, University of Chicago: PhD.


Coate, H. H. J. 1974. Ngarinjin-English dictionary. Sydney:University Of Sydney.

Source Family Group Sub-group Name Relationship
Ethnologue (2005) Wororan     Ngarinyin Ngarinyin [dialects: Wilawila, Wolyamidi, Guwidj, Wurla (Worla, Worlaja, Wula, Ola, Walar, Wuladja, Wuladjangari)]
Dixon (2002)   NORTH KIMBERLEY AREAL GROUP   Ungarinjin Ungarinjin Rumsey (1982a) further dialects: Guwidj (Orla), Waladja, Ngarnawu, Andadjin, Munumburru, Wolyamidi, Waladjangarri
Wurm (1994) Wororan Ungarinjinic   Ungarinjin  
Walsh (1981) Wororan Ungarinjinic   Ungarinjin (Ngarinjin)  
Oates (1975) Wororan Ngarinjinic   Ngarinjin  
Wurm (1972) Wororan Ngarinyinic   Ngarinyin(Ungarinyin)  
O'Grady, Voegelin and Voegelin (1966) Wororan Ungarinyinic   Ungarinyin