RegionSouth Australia
Extinctby 1960[1]
Revivalfrom 2012
Language codes
ISO 639-3bjb

Barngarla, formerly known as Parnkalla, is an Aboriginal language of Eyre Peninsula, South Australia. It was formerly extinct, but has undergone a process of revival since 2012.


Barngarla is written phonetically using an alphabet of 27 letters, consisting of both single characters and digraphs from the English alphabet.[2][3]

Letter IPA Pronunciation Guide
a /a/ As in the English words "papa", "visa"
aa /aː/ As in the English words "father"
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 /iː/ As in the English words "tea", "key", "ski"
l /l/ A normal English "l"
lh // A normal English "l" but with the tongue between the teeth
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 /uː/ As in the English words "boot", "new"
r /ɾ/ The tap/flap of Japanese "r", which is also heard in the American pronunciation of the "t" in "water".
rd /ɖ/ A "d" pronounced with the tongue tip curled back behind the teeth
rh /ɻ/ As in the English word "roaring"
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 /r/ Alternatively, when spoken slowly or for emphasis, rr is pronounced as a rolled "r" trill as in Italian or Spanish.
u /u/ As in the English words "put", "butcher"
w /w/ A normal English "w"
y /j/ A normal English "y"

Despite being considered letters of Barngarla, "ai" and "aw”, 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".

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 /d̪n̪/ 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:[3]

Labial Velar Dental Palatal Alveolar Retroflex
Plosive b ɡ ɟ d ɖ
Nasal m ~ bm ŋ ~ ɲ ~ ɟɲ n ~ dn ɳ ~ ɖɳ
Lateral ~ ʎ ~ ɟʎ l ~ dl ɭ ~ ɖɭ
Rhotic trill r
tap ɾ
Approximant w j ɻ


Barngarla has the following vowel phonemes:[3]

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.[4]: 227–228  For example:

Matrilineal and patrilineal distinction

Barngarla is characterised 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.[5]: 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:[2]: 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).[2]: 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.[citation needed]

Language revival

The last native speaker of the language died in 1964. However, the language has been revived thanks to the work of a German Lutheran pastor Clamor Wilhelm Schürmann, who worked at a mission in 1844 and recorded 3,500 (or 2000?[6]) words to form a Barngarla dictionary,[7] entitled A Vocabulary of the Parnkalla [Barngarla] Language, Spoken by the Natives Inhabiting the Western Shores of Spencer’s Gulf.[8]

In 2012[8] the chair of linguistics and endangered languages at the University of Adelaide, Ghil'ad Zuckermann, started working with the Barngarla community to revive and reclaim the Barngarla language, based on Schürmann's work.[9][10] Language revival workshops are held in Port Augusta, Whyalla, and Port Lincoln several times each year, with funding from the federal government's Indigenous Languages Support program.[8]

In October 2016 a mobile app featuring a dictionary of over 3000 Barngarla words was publicly released.[11]

Wardlada Mardinidhi / Barngarla Bush Medicines, a 24-page book, was published in July 2023. It is the third book co-written by Zuckermann and members of the Richards family of Port Lincoln, this time represented by Evelyn Walker. It records the names a number of native plants from around Port Lincoln in Barngarla, Latin, and English, and describes their use as bush medicine. Walker hopes that the book will form part of a program to help youth and others affected by the Stolen Generations to reconnect with their culture and language, improving their mental health.[6]


  1. ^ a b L6 Barngarla at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  2. ^ a b c d Zuckermann, Ghil‘ad (2019). Barngarlidhi Manoo (Speaking Barngarla Together) (Barngarla Alphabet & Picture Book) - Part 1.
  3. ^ a b c Clendon, Mark (2015). Clamor Schürmann's Barngarla grammar: A commentary on the first section of "A vocabulary of the Parnkalla language". Adelaide: University of Adelaide Press.
  4. ^ 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)
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ a b Hamilton, Jodie (24 July 2023). "Barngarla bush medicine book healing hearts and helping stolen children reconnect with country". ABC News (Australia). Retrieved 27 July 2023.
  7. ^ Hamilton, Jodie (26 June 2021). "Kindy kids learning Barngarla Indigenous language, spread joy as they talk". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 6 October 2021.
  8. ^ a b c Goldsworthy, Anna (1 September 2014). "Voices of the land". The Monthly. Retrieved 27 July 2023.
  9. ^ "Australia's unspeakable indigenous tragedy / Lainie Anderson, 6 May 2012". Archived from the original on 8 May 2012. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  10. ^ 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).
  11. ^ Harrison, Billie (12 October 2016). "Barngarla app to share language". Port Lincoln Times. Retrieved 9 May 2017.

Further reading

Language resources

Media articles