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Martu Wangka


Martu Wangka speaker Maureen Dunn records words and example sentences for the Martu Wangka Sound and Picture Dictionary. (Photo by Debbie Moon)

About the Language

Martu Wangka means 'Aboriginal language' and it is spoken by about 800-1,000 Martu people in and around the Gibson and Great Sandy Desert area of Western Australia. The communities where a significant number of Martu Wangka speakers live are Jigalong, Parnngurr, Punmu, Newman and Nullagine. Martu people have also moved to other towns and communities in the Pilbara, including Port Hedland, Warralong and Strelley.


Martu Wangka is a language that has developed from a combination of other languages. When the Western Desert language group communities moved in to Jigalong in the mid 20th century, members of the Kartujarra and Manyjilyjarra language groups lived side by side with other groups and Martu Wangka developed. The Martu Wangka language combines elements of Manyjilyjarra and Kartujarra with some Putijarra, Warnman and Nyiyaparli.


Martu Wangka is a relatively strong language and is in widespread use on the Martu lands in the Western Desert region of the Pilbara. It is often the first language of Aboriginal children in their communities.


Language Resources and Recordings

In 2005, Wangka Maya published the Martu Wangka Dictionary, which can also be seen in an on-line version. The dictionary was based on work done by Martu speaker Joshua Booth with linguist James Marsh and also includes material compiled by Ken Hansen. The Martu Wangka Interactive Dictionary was released on CD Rom in 2007. Wangka Maya has also published two short stories in Martu Wangka: Yalapara-Kamu Parnaparnti and Yalaparuku-ra Ngurra. These are Muuki Taylor's stories recorded by Bruce Thomas and with illustrations by Nyaparu (William) Gardiner.


In 2011, Wangka Maya has worked with the Jigalong school and community to produce Ol Jikalong, a bilingual story of the students visit to the Old Jigalong Rations Depot. Wangka Maya is also working on the Martu Wangka Sound and Picture Dictionary, which will improve the Interactive Dictionary through the addition of audio and visual material.


Written Example of the Language

(from the Martu Wangka Dictionary 2005)


Wantilu jawarnu pirti wanakurlulu.

The woman dug a hole with her digging stick.


Jarntulu maru-marulu pajarnu murtilya.

The black dog bit the boy.


Nyaarti-nyurra pakarnu nyunturtinpa?

When did you all arrive?


Jikilwara kalyu.

He was drinking water.


Kalyulurni pungu.

It rained on me.