N3: Murrinh-Patha

AIATSIS code: 
AIATSIS reference name: 


Thesaurus heading language
Thesaurus heading people
ABN name
Murrinhpatha language (Previously Murrinh-Patha language)
ABS name
Murrinh Patha
Horton name
Ethnologue name
ISO 639-3 code
Tindale name
Tindale (1974)
Murinbada, Karama (probably means 'water folk'), Garama, Karaman, Murinkura (formerly a tribe, now a linguistic group within the tribe; means 'water language'), Nagor (a horde name), Nangu, Mariwada, Mariwuda.
O'Grady et al (1966)
Other sources
Murrinh-patha, Murinypata, Murinjpata, Murinbada, Murinjbada, Murinbata, Marri-wutha (name used by speakers of Marrithiyel) [Top End Handbook] Garramung (the Jaminjung name for the Murrinh-patha) (Kofod) [Sutton 1995:113] Murriny Patha [Murriny Patha Song Project]
Murrinh patha, Murinbata, Muringura, Murrinhkura, Murinjbada, Murinypata, Murinypatha, Murrinh diminin, Murrinh gurra, Murrinhpatha, Murinjpata, Murinbada, Marri wutha, Karama, Garama, Karaman, Murinkura, Nagor, Nangu, Mariwada, Mariwuda, Daly language.

Murriny Patha (N3) has become a lingua franca in the Wadeye community and the surrounding Thamarrurr area - the coastal region between the Moyle and Fitzmaurice rivers in the Northern Territory; this has impact on other languages in the community. All children grow up speaking Murriny Patha (N3) as their first language at Wadeye, with some lexical items from the other languages (Blythe 2009:26, 30).

Black and Walsh (1989) say that Karama N34 is used by the Jaminjung N18 as a cover term for Murrinh-Patha (N3); and most likely used to refer specifically to the Murinykura N158 dialect. Black and Walsh (1989) list Murrinhdiminin N159 and Murrinhkura N158 as dialects of Murrinhpatha (N3), but Walsh (2007) says that, without further extensive research, it cannot be certain these names really refer to dialects.

Green and Nordlinger classify Murrinhpatha as a Southern Daly language closely related to Murrinh Kura N158 with more distant ties to Ngan'gikurunggurr N8, Ngan'giwumirri N17 and Ngan'gimerri N160 (viewed November 2020).


  • Black, Paul and Michael Walsh. 1989. Guide to the languages of the Aboriginal Australians. MS 1618.
  • Blythe, Joe. 2009. Doing referring in Murriny Patha conversation, University of Sydney: PhD.
  • Green, Ian & Nordlinger, Rachel. The Daly Languages (Australia). Web Resource http://dalylanguages.org

  • Harvey, Mark. 2008. Non-Pama-Nyungan Languages: land-language associations at colonisation. AILEC 0802.
  • Oates, William & Lynette F. Oates. 1970. A revised linguistic survey of Australia: Australian Aboriginal Studies 33, Linguistic Series 12. Canberra: AIAS.
  • Walsh, Michael J. 1976. The Murinypata language of north-west Australia, Australian National University: PhD. (MS 1074).
  • 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: 

The coastal associations of Murriny-Patha extended from Tree Point to the mouth of the Victoria. Between Tree Point and the mouth of the Fitzmaurice, associations extended inland to the drainage basin limits. On the Fitzmaurice, Madjellindi Valley and Alligator Creek drainage were associated with Murriny-Patha. There is no precise evidence as to the limits of Murriny-Patha associations on the Fitzmaurice. However, the available evidence, collected 1996-2004, indicated that Murriny-Patha associations extended to the Yambarran Range and included the Laurie Creek drainage. There is no precise evidence as to how far upstream Murriny-Patha associations extended on the northern side of the Victoria. The major ecological zone change is in the Yabby Creek area. Language zone changes are generally associated with ecological zone changes. This suggests that the change from Murriny-Patha to Jaminjung was in the Yabby Creek area (Harvey ASEDA 802). Port Keats; east to the Macadam Range and south to Keyling Inlet at the mouth of Fitzmaurice River (native name Kemol); a coastal tribe with eight hordes extending inland for about 20 miles (30 km) (Tindale). Wadeye community (previously Port Keats) (Blythe 2009:29-30).

Handbook of Kimberley Languages (1988): 

Tyitiyamba (A42 ) in Handbook of Kimberley Languages (1988).

7.2 Murrinh-patha / Murinbada

Names of the language and different spellings that have been used:

Murinbada (AIAS, Capell, Oates & Oates), Murinbata (Stanner, Street & Mollinjin, Capell, Wurm), Murinjbada (Oates, Walsh), Murinypata (Walsh), Murinypatha (Walsh), Murrinh-patha (Black)

Dialect names:, Murrinh-gurra, Murrinh-diminin

The language name means 'good language', from murrinh 'language', and patha 'good'. The two dialect names, Murrinh-gurra and Murrinh-diminin, which refer to northern and southern dialects, mean respectively 'water language' and 'gravel language'. These terms allude to perceived speech qualities (Michael Walsh pers.comm.).

Alternative names: Garama (Capell, AIAS), Karaman (Tindale), Linygugu, Mariwuda (name used by Brinken speakers; see Oates 1973:41), According to Black & Walsh (forthcoming), Garama is the Jaminjungan name for Murrinh-patha; Karaman is most likely a variant spelling of this. Linygugu is the Jaminjungan term for the Murrinh-gurra dialect; this term also means 'water language' in Jaminjung.

Classification of the language:

Murrinh-pathan family

Identification codes:


Oates 1973: 41a (Oates & Oates 1970: 37.1, and 37.2)

Capell: N61

Present number and distribution of speakers:

Mainly Port Keats; there are a handful of speakers in Kununurra and the surrounding region.

Black and Walsh - upwards of 800 speakers in Port Keats

Milliken - 1000 speakers

Street - about 1100 speakers

People who have worked intensively on the language:

Michael Walsh, since early 1970s, Port Keats

Chester and Lyn Street, from 1973, Port Keats

Practical orthography:

A practical orthography developed by Street is currently in use. This orthography is like the standard North Kimberley orthography, except that it uses p, t and k, in addition to b, d and g.

Word lists:

Capell (1940), Street (1983, 1987), Street & Mollinjin (1981); according to Oates & Oates (1970:21), Stanner had an extensive unpublished vocabulary - however, this seems not to be the case, and the vocabulary is in fact quite small (Michael Walsh, pers.comm.).

Textual material:

Kulamburut & Walsh (1986), Walsh (1976a). Apparently Stanner had collected a number of myths and translations, which remain unpublished (Oates & Oates (1970:21), Michael Walsh, pers.comm.).

Grammar or sketch grammar:

Walsh (1976a)

Material available on the language:

Capell, A. 1940. The classification of languages in north and north-west Australia. Oceania 10. 241-272, 404-433.

Kulamburut, H.P. & Walsh, M.J. 1986. Strange food. In Hercus, L. & Sutton, P. (eds), This is what happened: historical narratives by Aborigines. Canberra: AIAS. 47-61.

Stanner, W.E.H. 1936. Murinbata kinship and totemism. Oceania 7. 186-216.

Street, C.S. 1976. Spelling problems with voiced and voiceless stops in Murinbata. Read 11 (4). 117-118.

_____ .1980a. The relationship of verb affixation and clause structure in Murinbata. In Street, C.S. et al. Papers in Australian Linguistics, 12. Canberra: PL, A-58. 83-113.

_____ .1980b. Reduplication in Murinbata. In Street, C.S. et al. Papers in Australian Linguistics, 12. Canberra: PL, A-58. 1-21.

_____ .1982. Toward a Murrinh-patha defined need for repentance. Nelen Yubu 1982, 12. 12-21.

_____ .1983. Dictionary of English/Murrinh-patha. Port Keats: Woddey Press.

_____ .1987. An introduction to the language and culture of the Murrinh-Patha. Darwin: SIL.

Street, C.S. & Kalampurut, H.P. 1978. The Murinbata mode of existence. In Brandenstein, C. et al. Papers in Australian Linguistics, 11. Canberra: PL, A-51. 133-141.

Street, C.S. & Mollinjin, G.P. 1981. The phonology of Murinbata. In Waters, B. (ed.), Australian phonologies: collected papers. (Work Papers of SIL-AAB A-5) Darwin: SIL. 183-244.

Walsh, M.J. 1976a. The Murinypata language of north-west Australia. PhD thesis, ANU.

_____ .1976b. Ergative, locative and instrumental case inflections: Murinjpata. In Dixon, R.M.W. (ed.), Grammatical categories in Australian languages. Canberra: AIAS. 405-408.

_____ .1976c. The derivational affix 'having': Murinjpata. In Dixon, R.M.W. (ed.), Grammatical categories in Australian languages. Canberra: AIAS. 287-290.

_____ .1976d. The bivalent suffix -ku: Murinjpata. In Dixon, R.M.W. (ed.), Grammatical categories in Australian languages. Canberra: AIAS. 441-444.

_____ .1987. The impersonal verb construction in Australian languages. In Steele, R. & Threadgold, T. (eds), Language topics. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 425-438.

Language programme:

Since 1976 there has been a bilingual education programme in Port Keats run by the Northern Territory Department of Education.

Language learning material:

Street, C. 1987. An introduction to the language and culture of the Murrinh-Patha. Darwin: SIL.

Literacy material:

A large amount of literacy material has been published by SIL. The following is a brief selection:

Chula, M.P. & Street, L. (eds). 1981. Murrinh ku ngugumingki. Translated by Narndu, T.D. Darwin: SIL.

Murrinh Nganki. (Murrinh-patha Primer series) Darwin: SIL.

Street, C. & Street, L. 1978. Murrinh Parililnu 2. Darwin: SIL.

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

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

Chester Street, Michael Walsh, Wadeye Aboriginal Language Centre, Mirima Dawang Woorlabgerring Language Centre, Wycliffe Bible Translators
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 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

Walsh, Michael. 1976. The Murinypata language of north-west Australia, Australian National University, PhD.

Blythe, Joe. 2009. Doing referring in Murriny Patha conversation, University of Sydney, PhD.


Street, Chester. Murrinh Patha Dictionary, ASEDA 0203.

Source Family Group Sub-group Name Relationship
Ethnologue (2005) Murrinh-Patha Daly   Murrinh-patha Murrinh-patha [dialects: Murrinhpatha, Murrinhkura, Murrinhdiminin]
Dixon (2002)   DALY RIVER AREAL GROUP Southern Daly group Murrinh-patha Murrinh-patha Walsh (1976), Street (1987)
Wurm (1994) Murringpatha     Murrinhpatha  
Walsh (1981) Murrinhpathan     Murrinhpatha Murrinhpatha (Murinbata) [dialects: Murrinhpatha, Murrinhdiminin]
Oates (1975) Murinbadan     Murinjbada  
Wurm (1972) Murinbatan (Garaman)     Murinbata (Garama)  
O'Grady, Voegelin and Voegelin (1966) Garaman     Murinbata