N121: Ngarnka

AIATSIS code: 
AIATSIS reference name: 


Thesaurus heading language
Thesaurus heading people
ABN name
ABS name
Horton name
Ngewin (alternative of both Alawa and Ngawun)
Ethnologue name
Gudanji [Ngarnga]
ISO 639-3 code
Tindale name
Tindale (1974)
Gnuin, ? Leeillawarrie.
O'Grady et al (1966)
Other sources
Ngangdji, Ngarnji, Ngarndji, Angee, Ngarnga, Ngewin [Top End Handbook] Gnanji [Spencer and Gillen 1904, and Basedow 1907] Angee (and Anga)[Basedow 1907] Ngarndji [Chadwick 1971]
Ngarnga, Ngarndji, Gudanji, Ngewin, Gnuin, Leeillawarrie, Ngarngu, Ngarndji

Ngarnka (N121) is a non-Pama Nyungan language from the Barkly Tableland in the Northern Territory, classified as a member of the Eastern Mirndi group.

The Mirndi languages are spread across two geographically non-contiguous areas: Eastern Mirndi, with Ngarnka, Jingulu C22 and 'Wambayan' (see Binbinka N138, Gudanji C26 and Wambaya C19); and Western Mirndi, with 'Jaminjungan' (see Jaminjung N18, Ngaliwurru N19) and Nungali N28 (Harvey, 2008:1-3). Nordlinger described groups located in the geographic west: Jaminjung N18, Naliwuru N19 and Nungali N28; in the geographic east the 'West Barkly' set consisting of Jingili C22 and the 'Eastern Group' of Ngarnga (N121) and the McArthur language (aka 'Wambayan') (1998:4).

This language has been referred to as Ngarnji. Laughren and Pensalfini explain that Ngarnji people are affiliated with Ngarnka (N121) language (paper at ALS 2004).

The AIATSIS code N121 is listed with Ngewin in Oates and Oates (1970). The name Ngarndji appears in Wurm as a member of the Wambayic group (1972:119), in a different family from Ngewin, which Wurm indicates was only known by name (1972:118).

Tindale (1974) lists Ngarnji as an alternative name of Kotandji C26. There appears to be no record explaining when and why Ngarndji and thus Ngarnka came to be assigned to code N121. Ngewin and Ngarndji / Ngarnka are grouped together in the New Top End handbook (Baker, c1996). In this database, Ngewin is treated as referring to the same language as Ngarnka (N121), spoken by Ngarnji people.


  • Baker, Brett. New Top End Handbook (FileMaker database). AILEC 0626.
  • Chadwick, Neil. 1979. The West Barkly languages: an outline sketch. In Australian linguistic studies, ed. S. A. Wurm, 653-711. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
  • Harvey, Mark. 2008. Proto Mirndi: a discontinuous language family in northern Australia. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
  • Nordlinger, Rachel. 1998. A grammar of Wambaya, Northern Territory (Australia): Pacific Linguistics C-140. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
  • Oates, William J., and Lynette F. Oates. 1970. A revised linguistic survey of Australia: Australian Aboriginal Studies 33, Linguistic Series 12. Canberra: AIAS.
  • 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.
  • Wurm, S. A. 1972. Languages of Australia and Tasmania. The Hague: Mouton.
State / Territory: 
Location information: 

O.T. Downs and Beetaloo, N.W. Barkly Tablelands and forest country north of the Tablelands (Chadwick) (Oates 1975:27).

On upper Limmen Bight River (i.e., upper Spillen Creek south of the Four Archers); southeast to Old Bauhinia Downs (Tindale 1974).

There was little precise information on the limits of Ngarnka country in 2007. In the southwest, the area around Mundah Waterhole and Mungabroom waterhole was the changeover area from Ngarnka to Jingulu. OT Downs homestead was affiliated with Ngarnka, and Tanumbirini homestead appears also to have been affiliated to Ngarnka. There was no precise information in 2007 as to whether Old Tanumbirini homestead was associated with Ngarnka or Alawa (Harvey AILEC 0802).


Sourcebook for Central Australian Languages (1981): 

Widjandja (A38.1 ) in Sourcebook for Central Australian Languages (1981).


Names of the language and different spellings that have been used:
Gnanji (Spencer & Gillen), Ngaanji, Ngarndji (AIAS, Chadwick), Ngarnga (Chadwick, Heath), Ngarnji
Classification of the language:
Djingiluan (Jinguluan) Family, Barkly group.
Identification codes:
Oates '73: 30.2
Present number and distribution of speakers:
Traditionally, O.T. Downs and near Beetaloo. Language nearly extinct; has not been in daily use for 15 to 20 years. A couple of speakers live at Elliott.
Milliken, 1976 --
Black, 1979 --
People who have worked intensively on the language:
Chadwick continues work on Barkly languages.
Practical orthography:
None established; Jingilu or Wampaya orthography probably suitable.
Word lists:
Chadwick, 197?.
Grammar or sketch grammar:
Material available on the language:
Chadwick, Neil. 1970. Ngarndji wordlist and phonological key. 20p. ms. (material collected 1967)
---------- 197?. pp.34-45 in Papers on the Languages of Australian Aboriginals. Australian Aboriginal Studies No. 38.
---------- 1975. (Basic data (morpho-syntactic) analysis: Djingili, Wambaya, Gudandji, Binbinga and Ngarnga). 48p. ms. Canberra.
---------- 1979. The West Barkly languages: an outline sketch, pp.653-711 in Australian Linguistic Studies, ed. by S.A. Wurm Pacific Linguistics C.54.
Gillen, F.J. 1894-98. Notes on some manners and customs of (Australian) Aborigines, 1894-98. 5vol. ms. folio notebooks. Sydney University. (comparative table of 200 words, English-Arunta, Kaitish, Waramangu, Chingili, Umbaia, Gnanji).
Literacy material:

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

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

Neil Chadwick, Papulu Apparr-Kari Language Centre
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 Less than 20 pages 1
Text Collection None 0
Grammar None 0
Audio-visual Less than 1 1
Manuscript note: 
tape transcription/field note available (vocabulary, sentences)
Source Family Group Sub-group Name Relationship
Ethnologue (2005) West Barkly     Gudanji [Ngarnga] Gudanji [dialects: Binbinka, Ngarnga]
Dixon (2002)   MINDI SUBGROUP East Mindi subgroup* Ngarnga (=Ngarndji) Ngarnga (=Ngarndji)
Wurm (1994) Djingili-Wambayan Wambayan   Ngarndji  
Walsh (1981) Djingili-Wambayan Wambayan   Ngarndji  
Oates (1975) Djingili-Wambayan Wambayan   Ngewin  
Wurm (1972) Djingili-Wambayan Wambayic   Ngarndji, Ngewin  
O'Grady, Voegelin and Voegelin (1966)