RegionSouth Australia
Extinctby 1960[1]
Revivalfrom 2012
Language codes
ISO 639-3bjb
Wirangu Map.jpg
Lang Status 01-EX.png
Barngarla is an extinct language according to the classification system of the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger

Barngarla, formerly known as Parnkalla, is an Aboriginal language of Eyre Peninsula, South Australia, Australia. The last native speaker of the language died in 1964. However, the language has been revived due to work of a German Lutheran pastor Clamor Wilhelm Schurmann who worked at a mission in 1844 and recorded 3,500 words to form a Barngarla dictionary.[2]

"In 2011 an Israeli linguist, working with Adelaide University and the chair of linguistics and endangered languages, Professor Ghil'ad Zuckermann, contacted the Barngarla community about helping to revive and reclaim the Barngarla language. This request was eagerly accepted by the Barngarla people and language reclamation workshops began in Port Lincoln, Whyalla and Port Augusta in 2012" (Barngarla man Stephen Atkinson, 2013).[3] The reclamation is based on 170-year-old documents.[4][5]

In October 2016 a mobile app featuring a dictionary of over 3000 Barngarla words was publicly released.[6]


Barngarla is written phonetically using an alphabet of 25 letters, consisting of both single characters and digraphs from the English alphabet.[7]

Letter IPA Pronunciation Guide
a /a/ As in the English words "papa", "visa"
ai /ai/ As in the English words "pie", "sky"
aw /aw/ As in the English words "power", "town"
b /b/ A normal English "b"
d /d/ A normal English "d"
dh // A "d" pronounced with the tongue between the teeth, as in between the sound of the English words "this" and "dust"
dy /ɟ/ As in the English word "judge", except with the tongue against the roof of the mouth
g /ɡ/ A normal English "g"
i /i/ As in the English words "bit", "sit", "pit"
ii /ii/ As in the English words "tea", "key", "ski"
l /l/ A normal English "l"
ly /ʎ/ As in the English words "million", "will-you", with the tongue against the roof of the mouth
m /m/ A normal English "m"
n /n/ A normal English "n"
ng /ŋ/ As in the English words "ringing", "singing", "Long Island"
nh // As in the English word "tenth", with the tongue between the teeth
ny /ɲ/ As in the English word "onion", with the tongue against the roof of the mouth
oo /u/ As in the English words "put", "butcher"
r /ɹ/ As in the English word "roaring"
rd /ɖ/ A "d" pronounced with the tongue tip curled back behind the teeth
rl /ɭ/ An "l" pronounced with the tongue tip curled back behind the teeth
rn /ɳ/ An "n" pronounced with the tongue tip curled back behind the teeth
rr /ɾ~r/ The tap/flap of Japanese "r", which is also heard in the American pronunciation of the "t" in "water".

Alternatively, when spoken slowly or for emphasis, rr is pronounced as a rolled "r" trill as in Italian or Spanish.

w /w/ A normal English "w"
y /j/ A normal English "y"

Despite being considered letters of Barngarla, "ai", "aw", and "ii" do not denote distinct phonemes. On the contrary, they are in fact nothing more than the sum of their parts. The sound of "ai" is literally just the sound of "a" followed by the sound of "i"; similarly with "aw" and "ii".

One important thing to note is that when there is a sequence of two dental phonemes ("dh", "nh"), the "h" is only written once rather than twice. That is, the sequence /d̟n̟/ is written "dnh" and not "dhnh". Similarly with palatal phonemes ("dy", "ny", "ly") with the "y", ("dny" instead of "dyny"), and with retroflex phonemes ("rd", "rl", "rn") with the "r", ("rdn" instead of "rdrn").



Barngarla has the following consonant phonemes:[7]

Bilabial Interdental Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar
Nasal m n ɳ ɲ ŋ
Plosive b d ɖ ɟ ɡ
Approximant central ɹ j w
lateral l ɭ ʎ
Tap / Trill ɾ~r

The phonemes /d̟/ and /n̟/ are interdental, they are pronounced with the tongue in between the teeth. The phoneme /ɾ~r/ is usually realised as [ɾ], but it is realised as [r] in careful speech or for emphasis. The plosive /ɟ/ is usually realised as an affricate [ɟʝ] or as a plosive with approximant release [ɟj] when followed by a vowel.


Barngarla has the following vowel phonemes:[8]

Front Back
Close i u
Open a


The stress always falls on the first syllable of each word.

Grammatical features

Grammatical number

Barngarla has four grammatical numbers: singular, dual, plural and superplural.[9]: 227–228  For example:

Matrilineal and patrilineal distinction

Barngarla is characterized by a matrilineal and patrilineal distinction. For example, the matrilineal ergative case first person dual pronoun ngadlaga ("we two") would be used by a mother and her child, or by a man and his sister’s child, while the patrilineal form ngarrrinyi would be used by a father and his child, or by a woman with her brother’s child.[8]: 7 

Naming children according to their birth order

In traditional Barngarla, birth order was so important that each child within the family was named according to the order in which s/he was born. Barngarla has nine male birth order names and nine female birth order names, as following:[7]: 42 

Male: Biri (1st), Warri (2nd), Gooni (3rd), Mooni (4th), Mari (5th), Yari (6th), Mili (7th), Wanggooyoo (8th) and Ngalai (9th).
Female: Gardanya (1st), Wayooroo (2nd), Goonda (3rd), Moonaga (4th), Maroogoo (5th), Yaranda (6th), Milaga (7th), Wanggoordoo (8th) and Ngalaga (9th).[7]: 42 

To determine the suitable name for the newborn Barngarla child, the parents first found out the number of the newborn within the family, and only then selected the male/female name, according to the gender of the newborn. So, for example, if a baby girl was born after three boys, her name would have been Moonaga (4th born, female) as she was the fourth child within the family.

Language resources

Scholarly articles

Media items


  1. ^ a b L6 Barngarla at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  2. ^ Hamilton, Jodie (26 June 2021). "Kindy kids learning Barngarla Indigenous language, spread joy as they talk". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 6 October 2021.
  3. ^ Language lost and regained / Barngarla man Stephen Atkinson, The Australian, 20 September 2013
  4. ^ Australia’s unspeakable indigenous tragedy / Lainie Anderson, 6 May 2012
  5. ^ See Section 282 in FEDERAL COURT OF AUSTRALIA: Croft on behalf of the Barngarla Native Title Claim Group v State of South Australia (2015, FCA 9), File number: SAD 6011 of 1998; John Mansfield (judge).
  6. ^ Harrison, Billie (2016-10-12). "Barngarla app to share language | GALLERY". Port Lincoln Times. Retrieved 2017-05-09.
  7. ^ a b c d Zuckermann, Ghil‘ad (2019). Barngarlidhi Manoo (Speaking Barngarla Together) (Barngarla Alphabet & Picture Book) - Part 1.
  8. ^ a b Zuckermann, Ghil‘ad; Vigfússon, Sigurður; Rayner, Manny; Ní Chiaráin, Neasa; Ivanova, Nedelina; Habibi, Hanieh; Bédi, Branislav (2021). "LARA in the Service of Revivalistics and Documentary Linguistics: Community Engagement and Endangered Languages" (PDF). ComputEL-4: Proceedings of the 4th Workshop on Computational Methods for Endangered Languages.
  9. ^ a b Zuckermann, Ghil'ad 2020, Revivalistics: From the Genesis of Israeli to Language Reclamation in Australia and Beyond, Oxford University Press. (ISBN 9780199812790 / ISBN 9780199812776)