N92: Alawa

AIATSIS code: 
AIATSIS reference name: 


Thesaurus heading language
Thesaurus heading people
ABN name
Alawa language
ABS name
Horton name
Ethnologue name
ISO 639-3 code
Tindale name
Tindale (1974)
Alaua, Allawa, Allaua, Allua, Allowa, Alowa, Leealowa, Kallaua, Allowiri, Allaura, Galleewo, ? Woo-looami.
O'Grady et al (1966)
Allawa, Allua, Allowa, Alowa, Leealowa, Kallana, Allowiri, Allaura
Other sources
Alawa, Allawa,Galawa, Warliburru [Top End Handbook] Alowa (Power), Alowa (Spencer and Gillen 1904) [Basedow 1907]
Galawa, Warliburru, Wilingura, Ngewin, Alawa; Alaua, Allaua, Allaura, Allawa, Allowa, Allowiri, Allua, Alowa, Galleewo, Kallaua, Leealowa, Woolooami, Kallana, Walkonda, Walooka, Alaua, Galleewa, Woo looami

Alawa, also known as Galawa or Wal̩ibur̆u, is a non-Pama Nyungan language (Sharpe, 1972).

Several sources describe it as belonging to a subgroup with Marra N112 and Warndarrang N120 (Sharpe 1972; Heath 1978 in Sharpe 2008:59).

Merlan (1989, 2003) argues for the addition of Mangarrayi N78 to this subgroup, known as Maran and Marra-Alawic.

Baker (2006) questions the validity of the subgroup, due to the apparently unrelated finite verb forms. Sharpe examines the evidence in favour of their relatedness, and suggests, 'While Baker may be right in saying these languages are not from one linguistic family, the most plausible hypothesis at the present time is that they are related at a considerable time depth, even if a number of their features may have other sources' (2008:61).


  • Baker, Brett. New Top End Handbook (FileMaker database). (ASEDA 0626).
  • Basedow, Herbert. 1907. Anthropological notes on the western coastal tribes of the Northern Territory of South Australia. Royal Society of South Australia -- Transactions 31:1-62.
  • Harvey, Mark. 2008. Non-Pama-Nyungan Languages: land-language associations at colonisation. AILEC 0802.
  • Merlan, Francesca. 2003. The genetic position of Mangarrayi: evidence from nominal prefixation. In The Non-Pama Nyungan languages of Northern Australia, ed Nicholas Evans, 353-367. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
  • Sharpe, Margaret. 1972. Alawa phonology and grammar: Australian Aboriginal Studies 37, Linguistic Series 15. Canberra: AIAS.
  • Sharpe, Margaret. 2008. Alawa and its neighbours: enigma variations 1 and 2. In Morphology and language history, eds Claire Bowern, Bethwyn Evans and Luisa Miceli, 59-69. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • 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: 

Hodgson Downs, Nutwood Downs, Tanumbirini stations, south of the Roper River and the east of the Stuart Highway (Sharpe 1972/Top End Handbook). west of the Binbinga, in the Limmen River district (Basedow 1907:3). Southern tributaries of Roper River upstream from the mouth of the Hodgson River west to Roper valley; south to Mason Bluff (Mount Mueller) and Hodgson Downs; east to the headwaters of Mountain Creek where in the year 1922 they had a refuge cave with buried stores of water lily seeds, examined by this author (Tindale 1974). The general territorial associations were to the Hodgson River drainage, the upper Towns River drainage, and the Cox River drainage. The Cox River was associated with Alawa until the point where it turns to flow east-west close to the junction with the Limmen Bight River. The east-west running reach of the Cox was associated with Marra. The headwaters fo the Arnold River appear to have been associated with Ngarnka. The following places were associated with Alawa: Cox River homestead, Nutwood Downs homestead, Hodgson River homestead, Minyerri, Old St Vidgeon homestead (on Mountain Creek). There was no precise information in 2007 as to whether Old Tanumbirini homestead was associated with Alawa or Ngarnka (Harvey ASEDA 802).

Sourcebook for Central Australian Languages (1981): 

Mardo (A100* ) in Sourcebook for Central Australian Languages (1981).


Names of the language and different spellings that have been used:
Alawa (AC, Elkin, Berndt, O'G,RLS,SAW,Sharpe,AIAS), Allawa (T), Allwa, Allowa, Alowa, Allowiri, Allaura, Kallana, Leealowa (recorded in RLS), Galawa) names used by speakers, Warliburru )
Classification of the language:
Maran Family, Alawic Group
Identification codes:
Oates '73: 26
AIAS: N.092
Capell: N1
Present number and distribution of speakers:
A few dozen; Hodgson Downs, Katherine, Ngukurr (Roper River), Bamyili, Elliott
Milliken, 1972 -- 192
Oates, 1973 -- between 30 and 100
Black, 1979 -- 30 (fully fluent)
People who have worked intensively on the language:
Margaret Sharpe, Armidale, NSW.
Practical orthography:
Word lists:
Sharpe (in preparation)
Grammar or sketch grammar:
Sharpe, 1972.
Material available on the language:
Capell, A. 1942. Languages of Arnhem Land, north Australia. Oceania 12.4:364-392, 13.1:24-50. maps. tbls. (comparative vocabs.)
Cunningham, M.C. 1967. Alawa word list. 13p. ts. Brisbane. AIAS.
Sharpe, Margaret C. (nee Cunningham). 1970. Voice quality: a suggested framework for description and some observations, p.115-134 in Pacific Linguistics Studies in honour of A. Capell, ed. by D.C. Laycock and S.A. Wurm. Pacific Linguistics.
---------- 1970. Alawa case relationships, p.29-50 in Linguistic Trends in Australia, ed. by D.C. Laycock. Australian Aboriginal Studies No.23. Linguistic series, 9. AIAS.
---------- 1972. Alawa Phonology and Grammar. Australian Aboriginal Studies No.37. Linguistic series, 15. xii+189p. AIAS.
---------- 1976. Alawa, p.257-262 in Grammatical Categories in Australian Languages, ed. by R.M.W. Dixon. AIAS. (derivational affix 'having')
---------- Alawa bird list, 8p. Alawa invertebrates, 4p. Alawa reptiles, 3p. Alawa fish, etc., 4p. tss.
---------- (in preparation) Alawa dictionary and stories. ms. Armidale College of Advanced Education. AIAS.
Tindale, Norman B. 1928. Native of Groote Eylandt and the west coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria, part 3. Languages of eastern Arnhem Land. Transactions, Royal Society of South Australia
52:5-27. (table of vocabs. of 8 languages, with brief notes)
West, L. 1964. Sketch dictionary of Dalabon and related languages of central Arnhem Land. 228p. ts. map. tbls. AIAS. (23 languages included)
Literacy material:
Sharpe, Margaret C. (comp.) 1976. Ninda Nanggaya Alawirryunu. (Alawa/English/Kriol triglot supplementary reader) 4 booklets. (11p.,11p.,11p.,15p.) SAL.

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

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

Margaret Sharpe, Greg Dickson
Indigenous organisations: 

Ngukurr Language Centre https://ngukurrlc.org.au/

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 Small grammar (100-200 pages) 3
Audio-visual More than 10 3
Manuscript note: 
tape transcription/field note available

Sharpe, Margaret. 1972. Alawa phonology and grammar. Canberra: AIAS.


Sharpe, Margaret. 2001. Alawa Nanggaya Nindanya Yalanu rugalarra = Alawa-Kriol-English dictionary. Prospect, SA: Caitlin Press.

Source Family Group Sub-group Name Relationship
Ethnologue (2005) Gunwingguan Maran Alawic Alawa  
Dixon (2002)   ARNHEM LAND GROUP   Alawa (= Galawa, Warliburru) Alawa (= Galawa, Warliburru) Sharpe (1972)
Wurm (1994) Maran Mara   Alawa  
Walsh (1981) Maran Alawic   Alawa  
Oates (1975) Maran Alawic   Alawa  
Wurm (1972) Maran Alawic   Alawa  
O'Grady, Voegelin and Voegelin (1966) Maran Alawic   Alawa