N155: Garrwa^

AIATSIS code: 
AIATSIS reference name: 


Thesaurus heading language
Thesaurus heading people
ABN name
Garwa language
ABS name
Horton name
Ethnologue name
ISO 639-3 code
Tindale name
Tindale (1974)
Karawa (valid alternative pronunciation), Karrawar, Garawa, Kurrawar, Korrawa, Grawa, Leearawa, Kariwa (Iliaura pronunciation), Wulungwara (horde at Wollongorang), Wollongorang (place name).
O'Grady et al (1966)
Karwa, Karrawar, Kurrawar, Korrawa, Leearrawa
Other sources
Karrwa, Garawa, Korrawa [Top End Handbook] Karrawa (Power), Karawa (Spencer and Gillen 1904) [Basedow 1907:3]
Garawa, Garawa, Karawa, Karawa; Garawa, Grawa, Kariwa, Karrawar, Kar'wa, Korrawa, Kurrawar, Leearawa, Wollongorang, Wulungwara, Karwa, Leearrawa, Korrwa, Garawa; Karawa, Garuwa, Garrawa, Karrwa

Garrwa (N155) and neighbouring Waanyi G23 belong to the Garrwan language family. There are two known varieties: Heavy Garrwa, also called Eastern Garrwa or Gunindirri/Kunindirri C23; and Light Garrwa also called Western Garrwa (Mushin, 2012:5).

Breen's examination of grammatical structures in Garrwa and Wanyi G23 leads to the conclusion they are closely related but separate languages. Breen indicates that relationships with other languages are not clear, but 'correspondences with the West Barkly languages especially are worth further study' (2003:456).

The Garrwan language family is located in the Gulf of Carpentaria and is the 'only family which has explicitly been analysed as having an indeterminate or intermediate status' regarding its classification as non-Pama Nyungan or Pama Nyungan (Harvey, 2009:197-198). Harvey argues 'the evaluation of the overall evidence shows Garrwan to be a PN family, within the terms of the criteria for the hypothesised opposition' (2009:198).

In contrast, earlier analyses by Blake, (1990) and Evans (2005) classify Garrwan as non-Pama Nyungan (in Mushin, 2012:6).


  • Breen, Gavan. 2003. Wanyi and Garrwa comparative data. In The Non-Pama-Nyungan languages of Northern Australia. Comparative studies of the continent's most linguistically complex region. Nicholas Evans (ED). Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.Harvey, Mark. 2009. The Genetic Status of Garrwa. In Australian Journal of Linguistics, Vol 29, no 2. pp 195-244.
  • Mushin, Ilana. A grammar of (Western) Garrwa. Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.
  • 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: 

On the rocky inland dissected plateau country from Foelsche River and Robinson River Homestead south to headwaters of Robinson River and to Seigalls Creek Homestead; east to Wollogorang and to Westmoreland outstation only; northward only to edge of coastal plain about 40 miles (65 km.) inland from the sea; Calvert Hills. In early historic times they ventured to the coast at Tully Inlet where they mixed with Janjula (Tindale 1974).

The general associations extended on the coast from Massacre Inlet to just west of the mouth of Robinson River and thence inland to Warby Outstation. Garrwa extended some considerable distance inland, but the precise limits of its inland extent are uncertain. Southward limits: Calvert Hills, Wollogorang, and Westmoreland all appear to have been associated with Gunindirri. It is not known how far downstream from Wollogorang and Calvert Hills, the change from Gunindirri to Garrwa associations occurred. Westward limits: The entire Robinson River drainage was associated with Garrwa. Garrwa was not associated with any part of the lower McArthur River drainage. However, the status of Kiana station area is unclear. Kiana station could have been Garrwa, Gudanji or Gunindirri (Harvey AILEC 0802).


Sourcebook for Central Australian Languages (1981): 

Gurduwanga (A24 ) in Sourcebook for Central Australian Languages (1981).


Names of the language and different spellings that have been used:
Garawa (AC,Hale,AIAS), Karawa (T,SAW,O'G,RLS, Oates & Healey), Karrawar (AL), Karwa (i.e. Karrwa) (Hale), Korrwa (AL), Kurrawar (AL), Leearrawa (AL)
Classification of the language:
Garawan (Karawan) Family, Garawic (Karwic) group
Identification codes:
Oates '73: 31
AIAS: N.155
Capell: N30
Present number and distribution of speakers:
Borroloola, Wollogorang, Calvert Hills, Elliott
Milliken, 1972 -- 310
Black, 1979 -- over 300
People who have worked intensively on the language:
Furby & Furby, Borroloola.
Practical orthography:
Experimental orthography, under testing at Borroloola.
Word lists:
Furby ms.
Grammar or sketch grammar:
Furby & Furby publications.
Material available on the language:
Breen, J.G. 1967-77. Garawa field notes and transcriptions. about 100p. ms. (Ms 1138, AIAS)
Furby, Christine E. 1972. The pronominal system of Garawa. Oceanic Linguistics 11.1:1-31.
---------- 1974. Garawa phonology. Pacific Linguistics A.37:1-11.
---------- & Edward S. Furby. 1973. Garawa word list for two month surveys. 24p. SIL.
---------- & ---------- 1976. Garawa compass directions. Talanya 3:1-14.
---------- & ---------- 1968-72. Garawa word list. 25p. SIL. (about 350 words)
Furby, Edward S. 1974. Categories of inflection of Garawa. ms. (pre-publication) SIL.
---------- & Christine E. Furby. 1977. A preliminary analysis of Garawa phrases and clauses. viii+101p. Pacific Linguistics B.42.
---------- & ---------- 1977. Some Garawa sentence types. Talanya 4:10-23.
Hale, Kenneth L. 1966. Barkly word list. 7p. mimeo. Dept. of Anthropology, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona. (15 March 1966)(113 words in 4 languages)
Keen, Sandra (Newland). 1968. Phonetic script (of tapes). Normanton and Burketown. various pagings. (f 6046, pMs 228, AIAS). (wordlists and sentences of Gurdjar or Gunggara, Wikmunkan, Gugadji, Wangji, Lardil, Janjula, Garawa; names of informants)
---------- 1968. Report of a linguistic survey of the Normanton-Burketown area of north-west Queensland. 11p. ts. (AIAS)
---------- Field notes, word lists. (includes Garawa) (f 6046, AIAS) 16p. xeroxed ts. (IAD)
Leeding, Velma J. 1964. Notes on Garawa. 20p. (wordlist may be mixture of Janjula and Garawa) (vocabulary of about 300 words)
---------- 1974. Garawa ergative, locative and instrumental case inflections. SIL. (prepared for 1974 AIAS Biennial Conference)
Oates, W.J. & A. Healey. 1966. Karawa. 4p. xeroxed ts. (vocabulary of about 220 words)
Osborne, Charles. 1966. Garawa personal pronouns.
---------- 1966. Wanji text 2. 13p. ms. (AIAS) (conversation between 2 speakers at Doomadgee, with interjections by other speakers in Garawa)
Wells, E.A. Sketch dictionary of Dalabon and related languages of central Arnhem Land. 228p. ts. map. (23 languages included)
Literacy material:
Some transfer from English material;
perhaps others in testing stage.

Kathy Menning (comp.) and David Nash (ed.) 1981. © IAD Press

AIATSIS gratefully acknowledges IAD Press for permission to use this material in AUSTLANG.


Summer Institute of Linguistics produced a few materials in mid-80's. Bible translation work has been carried out by Wycliffe Bible Translators.

Hugh Belfrage, Gavan Breen, Christine Furby, Ken Hale, Sandra Keen, Ilana Mushin, Charles Osborne, Peter Sutton, Katherine Regional Aboriginal Language Centre, Papulu Apparr-Kari Language Centre
Indigenous organisations: 
Year Source Speaker numbers
1984Senate300 - 400
2004NILS140-200 (ave 125)

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 Small (20-100 pages) 2
Text Collection Medium (100-200 pages) 3
Grammar   4
Audio-visual More than 10 3
Manuscript note: 
tape transcription/field note available

Belfrage, Hugh. 1992. Aspects of verb and pronoun morphology, semantics and syntax in Garrwa, University of Melbourne: BA (Hons).

Mushin, Ilana. c2012. A grammar of (Western) Garrwa. Boston, [Mass.] : De Gruyter Mouton


Belfrage, Hugh. 1997. Garrwa Jangkurr: Garrwa dictionary draft, ms.

Source Family Group Sub-group Name Relationship
Ethnologue (2005) Garawan     Garawa Garawa [dialects: Wanji (Wainyi, Waanyi)]
Dixon (2002)   WAANJI/GARRWA SUBGROUP*   Garrwa (or Garawa) Garrwa (or Garawa) Furby and Furby (1977), Belfrage (1992)
Wurm (1994) Garawan Garawa   Garawa  
Walsh (1981) Garawan Garawa   Garawa  
Oates (1975) Garawan Garawic   Garawa  
Wurm (1972) Karawan Karawic   Karawa  
O'Grady, Voegelin and Voegelin (1966) Karwan Karwic   Karawa