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Language

Anangu mainly speak Pitjantjatjara (pronounced as pit-jan-jah-jarra) and Yankunytjatjara (pronounced as yan-kun-ja-jarra)

Language

Before European colonisation, Indigenous Australians spoke an estimated 700 dialects. These languages are as different and distinct from each other as English is to Russian and Chinese. Many of these languages are no longer used or are under threat of disappearing.

It is estimated that there are only 20 to 50 languages still described as ‘healthy’ - that is, they are spoken to and used by children. 

What language do the local Aboriginal people of Uluru speak?

Anangu mainly speak Pitjantjatjara (pronounced as pitjan-jah-jarra) and Yankunytjatjara (yan-kun-ja-jarra) and some people speak up to six Aboriginal languages. Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara are dialects of the Western Desert language, the largest language group of Aboriginal Australia. The group includes about 4,000 speakers, and stretches northwest to Balgo, west to Port Hedland, south to Kalgoorlie, Yalata and Oodnadatta and northeast to Alice Springs.

Pitjantjatjara literally means the people who use ‘pitjantja’ to say ‘to come’ while Yankunytjatjara are the people who use ‘yankunytja’ to say ‘to come’. Anangu means ‘people’ in Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara.

The grammar and structure of the Western Desert languages are very different to English. There are 17 consonants. The sounds s, z, v, sh or th do not exist, and the dialects do not distinguish between a ‘b’ and a ‘p’, or a ‘d’ and a ‘t’. The letters t, n, l and r can be written with a line underneath, this is called a retroflex. A retroflexed letter is pronounced by slightly curling the tongue back in the mouth. This produces a sound similar to an ‘r’ sound e.g. ‘walpa’ is pronounced ‘wharl-pah.

Some ‘old’ words are adapted for new situations such as the word tourist, ‘minga’, meaning ‘ants’ because visitors look like a line of ants as they walk up and down Uluru. Anangu also incorporate English words such as ‘mutuka’ for ‘motor car’.

Local Speak Pronunciation Meaning
Uluru
ool-or-roo 
No literal translation of Uluru.
It's a name like Sydney, Paris or Rome.
Kata Tjut
catta-jew-tah Many heads
Anangu
Arn-ung-oo Aboriginal people of Western Desert
Manta
- landscape/country/earth
Palya
pahl-yah hello/goodbye/thank you/welcome
Wiru wih-roo beautiful
Walpa
wharl-pa wind
Pira
pi-rha moon
Tjungu tjoo-ngoo
meeting together
Mayu
mah-yoo
flavours/taste
Tjukurpa
chook-orr-pa
creation time, law, way of life, story

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