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Gurindji Kriol language

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Gurindji Kriol language

Gurindji Kriol
Region Kalkaringi and Dagaragu, Northern Territory, Australia
Native speakers
1,000  (2012)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 None (mis)
Glottolog guri1249[2]

Gurindji Kriol[1] is a mixed language which is spoken by Gurindji people in the Victoria River District of the Northern Territory (Australia). It is mostly spoken at Kalkaringi and Daguragu which are Aboriginal communities located on the traditional lands of the Gurindji. Related mixed varieties are spoken to the north by Ngarinyman and Bilinarra people at Yarralin and Pigeon Hole. These varieties are similar to Gurindji Kriol, but draw on Ngarinyman and Bilinarra which are closely related to Gurindji (Eastern Ngumpin languages).

Gurindji Kriol emerged in the 1970s from pervasive code-switching practices. It combines the lexicon and structure of Gurindji and Kriol. Gurindji is a highly endangered language of the Ngumpin-Yapa subgroup (Pama-Nyungan family) and Kriol is an English-lexifier creole language spoken as a first language by most Aboriginal people across northern Australia (with the exception of Arnhem Land and Daly River area).

Gurindji Kriol exhibits a structural split between the noun phrase and verb phrase, with Gurindji contributing the noun structure including case-marking, and the verb structure including TAM auxiliaries coming from Kriol. In this respect, Gurindji Kriol is classified as a verb-noun (V-N) mixed language. Other examples of V-N mixed languages include Michif and Light Warlpiri. The maintenance of Gurindji within the mixed language can be seen as the perpetuation of Aboriginal identity under massive and continuing cultural incursion.

Structural feature Language of origin Lexical feature Language of origin
word order Kriol N-body parts Gurindji
TAM auxiliaries Kriol N-colours Kriol
verb suffixes Kriol N-artefacts traditional (Gurindji), new (Kriol)
case suffixes Gurindji N-people Kriol/Gur
other noun suffixes Gurindji N-kin parents and their siblings (Kriol), siblings, grandparents, in-laws (Gurindji)
negation Kriol N-food Kriol/Gur
regular pronouns Kriol/Gur N-plants Gurindji
emphatic pronouns Gurindji N-animals Kriol/Gur
possessive pronouns Gurindji V-state Kriol/Gur
interrogative pronouns Kriol V-motion Gurindji
demonstratives Kriol/Gur V-bodily functions Gurindji
conjunctions Kriol/Gur V-impact Gurindji
interjections Gurindji V-basic Kriol
determiners Kriol V-verbalising Kriol/Gur


Gurindji Kriol originated from contact between non-Indigenous colonists and the Gurindji people. From 1855 onwards, the traditional lands of the Gurindji and neighbouring groups were seized by colonists who were searching for good cattle pastures. After initial attempts to cull the original inhabitants, cattle stations were set up and the remaining Gurindji people were brought to work on the stations in slave-like conditions with other Aboriginal groups. In 1966, the Gurindji initiated a workers' strike to protest against their poor conditions of employment and ultimately regain control of their traditional lands. Their campaign was called the Wave Hill Walk-off and went on for nine years, resulting in the first successful land claim by an Aboriginal group in Australia. Today the Gurindji continue to live on their traditional lands in two main communities - Kalkaringi and Daguragu.[3]

The linguistic practices of the Gurindji are closely tied to these social circumstances. Before colonisation the Gurindji were multilingual, speaking the languages of neighbouring groups with whom they had familiar and ceremonial connections. The establishment of the cattle stations by colonisers saw the introduction of the cattle station pidgin and later Kriol into the linguistic repertoire of the Gurindji. In the 1970s Patrick McConvell[4][5] observed that code-switching between Kriol and Gurindji was the dominant language practice of Gurindji people. It is likely that this code-switching and a certain amount of levelling between Gurindji and closely related neighbouring languages such as Ngarinyman and Bilinarra provided fertile ground for the formation of the mixed language. At this time, similar changes to local linguistic ecologies occurred in other places in northern Australia with Kriol becoming the dominant language in many areas such as Timber Creek and Katherine. Yet in Kalkaringi, a mixed language emerged from this situation.[6] Felicity Meakins [7][8] argues that maintenance of Gurindji elements in the mixed language relates closely to the land rights movement and can be considered an expression of the persistence of their ancestral identity. Additionally McConvell [9] suggests that the homogeneity of the linguistic situation (one traditional language spoken at Kalkaringi) may have also aided the maintenance of Gurindji.

Current Linguistic Situation

Gurindji Kriol is situated within a complex picture of multilingualism, contact and code-switching. Gurindji continues to be spoken by older people and a neighbouring traditional Australian language, Warlpiri is also used by people of Warlpiri heritage. Standard Australian English is the language of government services and the school, though its use is generally restricted to these domains. Kriol and Aboriginal English are spoken with Aboriginal visitors from other communities.[10] In this respect, Gurindji Kriol continues to be spoken alongside Gurindji and Kriol, and is a 'symbiotic' mixed language. In addition, code-switching continues to be an everyday practice at Kalkaringi, and it is common to find code-switching between Gurindji and Kriol, and between Gurindji Kriol and its source languages.


Lexically there is a mix between Kriol and Gurindji. Despite the verb-noun structural split, some verbs are derived from Kriol and others from Gurindji. Similarly nouns from both languages are present. In general, based on a 200 word Swadesh list, 36.6% of vocabulary is derived from Kriol and 35% finds its origins in Gurindji. The remaining 28.4% are synonymous forms from both languages, where the choice of word depends on a number of factors including the interlocutors. For example more Gurindji vocabulary is used when addressing older Gurindji people or in the presence of outsiders.[11] Some lexical specialisation can be noted, for example karnti which means "branch", "stick" or "tree" in Gurindji is generally only used to mean "branch" or "stick" in Gurindji Kriol whereas the Kriol form tri is used to mean "tree".


The phonological system of Gurindji Kriol is relatively stratified, i.e. it has maintained separate Gurindji and Kriol phoneme inventories, syllable structures and many phonological processes.[12]

In terms of vowels, Gurindji Kriol has a 5 vowel system. All Gurindji words contain only 3 vowel phonemes /ɪ/, /ɐ/ and /ʊ/ with diphthongs the result of combinations of vowels with glides in fast speech, for example /ɐw/ > [ɐʊ]. Kriol words make use of five vowel phonemes /ɛ/ and /ɔ/ in addition to /ɪ/, /ɐ/ and /ʊ/, plus diphthongs and long vowels.

Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid e ɔ
Open a

The consonant inventory is a complex fusion of Gurindji and Kriol consonants. Words of Gurindji origin contain a three-way coronal contrast for stops, nasals and laterals, and a distinction between a post-alveolar rhotic and an apical trill (sometimes pronounced as a tap). Kriol-derived words contrast with those from Gurindji in containing fricatives. No voicing distinction is made for stops or fricatives in either Gurindji- or Kriol-derived words; voicing depends on position within word or utterance, and place of articulation.

Bilabial Alveolar Post-alveolar Alveopalatal Velar
Stop p t ʈ ɟ k
Fricative f s ʃ
Nasal m n ɳ ɲ ŋ
Lateral l ɭ ʎ
Rhotic r, ɹ ɻ
Glide j w

Stress is word initial for words of both Gurindji and Kriol origin. The maintenance of the two phonological systems is more obvious in syllable structure. A range of structures are permissible in words of both origins, e.g. CV and CVC, however VC syllables are only allowed in Kriol words. Gurindji and Kriol source words also diverge in their use of stop-final consonant clusters. Gurindji words allows syllable-final consonant clusters, though the cluster combination is rather restricted. The first consonant must be a liquid and the final consonant, a non-coronal stop or velar nasal. Even in the more acrolectal forms of Kriol words, final consonant clusters are never present at the surface level. Finally different phonological processes apply to the different component languages of Gurindji Kriol. For example in Kriol words, the plosive series is occasionally hypercorrected to fricatives of a similar place of articulation. This process never occurs in words of Gurindji origin.

Noun Phrase

The Gurindji Kriol noun phrase consists of a head plus a number of potential modifiers. Potential heads are: nouns, nominalised adjectives, emphatic pronouns and demonstratives (this/that); and modifiers are determiners (in/definite, plural/singular) and adjectives. Heads and modifiers can be distinguished by their ability to take case marking. Heads are case-marked, and modifiers are not. The order of noun phrase constituents is relatively fixed: DET - MOD - HEAD. Finally Gurindji Kriol is an optional ergative language where the transitive subject is optionally marked ergative and objects are unmarked.[13]

dat yapakayi karu-ngku i bin gon ged-im-bat dat karu
the small child-ERG 3SG.SBJ PST go get-TR-PROG the child

"The small kid goes to get the (other) kid." [14]

(Note that in all examples Gurindji-derived words are italicised and Kriol-derived words are in plain font).

Gurindji Kriol contains many nominal suffixes, most of which are derived from Gurindji. These include case suffixes, number marking and derivational morphology. A number of these suffixes have Kriol-derived periphastic counterparts. For example the privative suffix -murlung can also be expressed by gat no 'has no'.

Type Form Origin Type Form Origin
Ergative -ngku, -tu Gurindji And -purrupurru Gurindji
Locative -ngka, -ta Gurindji Privative -murlung Gurindji
Dative -yu, -wu, -ku Gurindji Comparative -marraj Gurindji
Allative -ngkirri, -jirri Gurindji Factive -k Gurindji
Ablative -nginyi(ng) Gurindji Alone -wariny(j) Gurindji
Comitative -jawung, -yawung Gurindji Another -kari Gurindji
Plural -rrat Gurindji Nominaliser -wan Kriol
Dual -kujarra Gurindji Adjective -bala Kriol
Paucal -walija Gurindji Focus =na Kriol
Associative -nganyjuk, -mob Gur/Kriol Topic =ma Gurindji
Dual Assoc -kuwang Gurindji Restrictive =rni Gurindji


Regular pronouns distinguish person (1st, 2nd and 3rd) and number (singular, dual and plural), and further make a distinction between inclusive and exclusive 1st person pronouns, though syncretism exists between subject forms. All subject pronouns are derived from Kriol and object pronouns find their origins in both languages. A general reflexive/reciprocal pronoun is derived from the Kriol reflexive pronoun. Emphatic pronouns are derived from Gurindji and are classified as nominals because they can be case-marked. Possessive pronouns are drawn from Gurindji and are also used as dative objects, e.g. nyununy 'your, to you'. (Note that this paradigm needs some work).

Subject Object Emphatic Possessive
1SG.EXC ai ngayu ngayu ngayiny
1SG.INC wi ngali ngali
1PL.EXC wi ngaliwa ngaliwa ngaliwany
1PL.INC wi ngantipa ngantipa ngantipany
2SG yu yu nyuntu nyununy
2DU yutu(bala) yutu(bala)
2PL yumob yumob nyurru(lu) nyurruluny
3SG i im nyantu nyanuny
3DU tu(bala) tu(bala)
3PL dei dem nyarru(lu) nyarruluny
RR mijelp

Verb phrase

The verb phrase consists of a tense auxiliary1 followed by a modal auxiliary2 and the main verb3. The auxiliary verbs are derived from Kriol and the main verb can come from either Gurindji or Kriol:

i bin1 labta2 ged-im3 im nyanuny mami-ngku na

"His mother had to get him." [15]

Gurindji Kriol distinguishes between past (bin) and present tense (zero-marked for nouns, -m for pronouns) and marks future time using a potential marker (garra) which is also used to express obligation. Many of the auxiliaries also have reduced forms which attach to subject pronouns, such as ai-rra > ai garra 'I will'.

Category Form Etymology Function
tense bin, in been past
-m I'm, am present
-l I'll, will future
aspect olweis always present habitual
yusta used to past habitual
til still progressive
stat start inceptive
modal garra, -rra got to potential
beta had better necessative
haba have a
habta, labta have to necessative
kan can ability
shud should possibility
traina trying to attempt
wana, -na wanna, want to desire
voice ø active
git get passive
negation don don't imperative
kaan can't ability/permission
neba never simple
top stop imperative
not not simple

Bound verbal morphology is also predominantly Kriol-derived.

Category Form Etymology Function
adverbial -abat about idiosyncratic
-abta after idiosyncratic
-an on spatial, inceptive
-ap up space, telic
-(a)ran around spatial
-(a)wei away spatial
-at out telic
-bek back spatial, telic
-dan down spatial
-oba over spatial, telic
-op off telic
progressive -in -ing lexicalised
-bat about Kriol trans verbs
-karra Gurindji in/trans verbs
-ta Gurindji intrans verbs
transitive -im him, them Kriol trans verbs

Simple sentences

Verbless clauses:

Ascriptive clauses consist of a subject noun and nominalised adjective.

ankaj dat karu im yapakayi-wan
poor.thing the child 3SG small-NMLZ

"Poor thing, that child is only a baby." [16]

Existential clauses contain a subject with locative phrase.

dat warlaku im andanith jiya-ngka
the dog 3SG underneath chair-LOC

"The dog is underneath the chair." [17]

Possessive constructions consist of a nominal acting as a predicates, taking another nominal argument. In these clauses the head is marked dative. Inalienable nominals (body parts and kinship) are only optionally marked dative.[18]

wartarra yu bin kirt dat ngakparn-ku hawuj
hey 2SG PST break the frog-DAT house

"Hey you broke the frog's home (the bottle)." [19]

Verbal clauses:

Intransitive clauses consist of a verb and a subject with no object. Adjuncts may be added to express the location or time of an action.

warlaku i=m makin atsaid shop-ta
dog 3SG.SBJ=PRS sleep outside shop-LOC

"A dog sleeps outside the shop." [20]

Transitive clauses consist of an optionally-ergative marked subject (66.5%) and an absolutive object. Word order is predominately SVO (87.6%) and the ergative marker is more likely to appear when the agent nominal is postverbal.[21]

an kengkaru i bin kil-im kurrupartu-yawung dat karu-ngku
and kangaroo 3SG.S PST hit-TR boomerang-COM the child-ERG

"And the kangaroo he hit with a boomerang, the child did." [22]

Semi-transitive clauses are composed of an optionally-ergative marked subject and a dative object.

naja-wan kajirri jing-in-at-karra bo nyanuny karu
another-NMLZ old.woman call.out-PROG-out-PROG DAT 3SG.DAT child

"Another woman calls out to her child." [23]

Ditransitive clauses consist of an accusative object and dative indirect object, and alternate with a clause with two accusative objects.

dat malyju gib-it dat man jumok
the boy give-TR the man cigarette

"The boy gives the man a cigarette." [24]

Passive clauses consist of an auxiliary verb git (< get) and the loss of the transitive marker from the main verb. The agent also loses ergative case marking as an adjunct and acquires ablative case instead.

man i bin get bait warlaku-nginyi wartan-ta
man 3SG.SBJ PST get bite dog-ABL hand-LOC

"The man got bitten by a dog on the hand." [25]

Complex sentences

Conjoined clauses are often zero-marked such as the following sentence which was uttered within one prosodic contour. The link between the clauses is implied.

[warlaku i-m lungkarra-karra nganta] [i-m tai-im-ap nyantu kuya nek-ta]
dog 3SG.S-PRS cry-PROG DUB 3SG.S-PRS tie-TR-up 3SG thus neck-LOC

"The dog might be crying (because) he tied him up by the neck like that." [26]

A number of Kriol-derived conjunctions can be used to join verbal or nominal clauses such as an (and) and o (or). Others are only used to relate verbal clauses such as dumaji (because), bikos (because), bat (but), ib (if), den (then).

dat marluka bin trai jidan jiya-ngka bat i bin kirt
the PST MOD sit chair-LOC but 3SG.SBJ PST break

"The old man tried to sit on the chair but it broke." [27]

Subordination is mostly performed by marking the verb in the subordinate clause with a case-marker. This style of subordination is derived from Gurindji. For example, the locative marker can be used in a switch reference construction to indicate that the agent of the subordinate clause is the same as the object of the main clause.

wan karu-ngku i gib-it la-im keik kajirri-yu makin-ta
a child-ERG 3SG.SBJ give-TR OBL-3SG.O cake woman-DAT lie-LOC

"A child gives a cake to the woman who is lying down." [28]

Gurindji Kriol also contains asymmetrical serial verb constructions. There are three potential parts to the asymmetrical serial verb construction: auxiliary1, minor verb2 and main verb3.[29]

i garra1 put-im2 makin3 yard-ta
3SG.SBJ POT put-TR lie.down yard-LOC

He will lay him down in the yard.[30]


  1. ^ a b This page is based on Meakins 2012b
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Gurindji Kriol". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Meakins 2008a and see also Frank Hardy's 'The Unlucky Australians' and Deborah Roses' 'Hidden Histories'
  4. ^ McConvell's home page:
  5. ^ see McConvell 1985, 1988
  6. ^ see McConvell and Meakins 2005; McConvell, 2008; Meakins 2011c
  7. ^ Meakins's home page:
  8. ^ Meakins 2008b:86-87
  9. ^ (McConvell 2007)
  10. ^ see Meakins 2008b
  11. ^ Meakins & O’Shannessy, 2005:45
  12. ^ see Jones, Meakins, and Buchan 2011; Jones, Meakins, and Muawiyath to appear
  13. ^ Meakins 2009; Meakins and O'Shannessy 2010; O'Shannessy and Meakins to appear
  14. ^ Meakins, 2012b
  15. ^ Meakins, 2012b
  16. ^ Meakins, 2012b
  17. ^ Meakins, 2012b
  18. ^ Meakins and O'Shannessy 2005
  19. ^ Meakins 2011c: 157
  20. ^ Meakins 2012b
  21. ^ Meakins 2009; Meakins and O'Shannessy 2010
  22. ^ Meakins 2011c: 140
  23. ^ Meakins 2012b
  24. ^ Meakins 2012b
  25. ^ Meakins 2011c: 44
  26. ^ Meakins 2012b
  27. ^ Meakins 2012b
  28. ^ Meakins 2012b
  29. ^ Meakins 2010
  30. ^ Meakins 2010: 2


  • Charola, Erika. (2002). "The verb phrase structure of Gurindji Kriol Unpublished Honours". Melbourne University, Melbourne. 
  • Jones, Caroline; Meakins, Felicity & Buchan, Heather (2011). "Citation-speech vowels in Gurindji Kriol and local Australian English". Australian Journal of Linguistics 31 (3): 305–327.  
  • Jones, Caroline; Meakins, Felicity & Muawiyath, Shujau (to appear). "Learning vowel categories from maternal speech in Gurindji Kriol". Language Learning 62. 
  • McConvell, Patrick (1985). M. Clyne, ed. "Australia, Meeting Place of Languages". Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. pp. 95–125. 
  • McConvell, Patrick (1988). M. Heller, ed. "Codeswitching: Anthropological and Sociolinguistic Perspectives". Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. pp. 97–124. 
  • McConvell, Patrick (2007). "Paper presented at the International Symposium on Bilingualism". Hamburg, Germany. 
  • Meakins, Felicity (2008a). M. Meyerhoff & N. Nagy, ed. "Social Lives in Language". Amsterdam: John Benjamins. pp. 69–94. 
  • Meakins, Felicity (2008b). J. Simpson & G. Wigglesworth, ed. "Children’s Language and Multilingualism: Indigenous Language Use at Home and School". New York: Continuum. pp. 247–264. 
  • Meakins, Felicity (2009). J. Barddal & S. Chelliah, ed. "The Role of Semantics and Pragmatics in the Development of Case". Amsterdam: John Benjamins. pp. 59–91. 
  • Meakins, Felicity (2011c). "Case marking in Contact: The Development and Function of Case Morphology in Gurindji Kriol". Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 
  • Meakins, Felicity (2012b). S. Michaelis, P. Maurer, M. Haspelmath & M. Huber, ed. "Atlas of Pidgin and Creole Structures, vol II: The language surveys". Oxford: Oxford University Press. 
  • Meakins, Felicity; O'Shannessy, Carmel (2005). "Possessing variation: Age and inalienability related variables in the possessive constructions of two Australian mixed languages". Monash University Linguistics Papers 4 (2): 43–63. 
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