Traditional Tiwi is a non-Pama Nyungan (polysynthetic) language, typologically similar to the languages of north-west Australia, sharing similar sound, pronoun systems and verbal construction, although Tiwi is not known to be closely related to other Australian languages.
Tiwi verbs have complex internal structure and carry affixes, mainly prefixes, indicating subject, object, indirect object; tense, aspect and mood; time and location. (1-2). In modern forms of Tiwi complex verbal inflection is absent, replaced by analytic verb forms and isolating morphology. Nominals, adverbs etc are expressed with free form words. (Lee, 1987: 1-3).
Modern Tiwi incorporates influences from English and other languages, it is constantly evolving; Traditional Tiwi is spoken by older people; Tiwi Land Council Chairman Robert Tipungwuti expressed the view that 'It is the Tiwi's job to teach the Tiwi Language at home to their children not at school.' reinforcing the value of language to transmit culture, and the responsibility of the community to maintain Tiwi language.
Melville and Bathurst islands (Tindale 1974).
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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).
Osborne, Charles. 1974. The Tiwi language : grammar, myths and dictionary of the Tiwi language spoken on Melville and Bathurst islands, northern Australia. Canberra: AIAS.
Lee, Jennifer. 1993. Ngawurranungurumagi nginingawila ngapangiraga: Tiwi - English dictionary. Bathurst Island, NT: Nguiu Nginingawila Literature Production Centre.