The People and their Traditional Country
Ngarla country stretches eastwards along the coast from near the town of Port Hedland and includes the DeGrey and Pardoo pastoral stations.
Today there are very few Ngarla speakers left in the Pilbara. There are many more Ngarla people who have a passive understanding of the language. Other people identify as being of Ngarla heritage and do not speak the language or speak other languages after marriages into other language groups.
As late as the 19th century, the language had hundreds of speakers. Factors affecting the language’s demise include intermarriage with stronger languages, movement into the town of Port Hedland where Nyangumarta is widely spoken and the effect of school-based English curricula on younger generations.
Language Resources and Recordings
The earliest work on the language was done by von Brandenstein and Klokeid in 1964 and 1967 respectively. Ngarla elder Mr Brown (dec) spent more than two decades following his retirement in the late 1980s recording his language for future generations, working with linguist Brian Geytenbeek and with assistance from Wangka Maya. The Ngarla Sketch Grammar was produced in 2007 by Swedish linguist Tjorborn Westerlund working with Mr Brown and Geytenbeek. Westerlund continued to work with Mr Brown prior to his passing away in late 2010 and plans to complete a more detailed description of the language.
In 2005, Brown and Geytenbeek completed the book Ngarla Songs, which won the national indigenous prize for poetry, the Kate Challis RAKA Award 2005. Ngarla Songs records in Ngarla and English 68 anecdotal songs that Mr Brown collected during his lifetime. Wangka Maya recorded Mr Brown singing the songs and released the CD recording to accompany the book.
In 2011, Wangka Maya published an illustrated wordlist with audio CD: Nganiman,Yularri. See It, Say It. Wangka Maya continues to work toward publication of the Ngarla Bird Book.
The De Grey River nears the coast on Ngarla traditional country
Ngarla is part of the Pama-Nyungan language family; a large group of languages spread over much of the Australian continent. It belongs to the Ngayarta subgroup of languages along with Nyamal, Palyku, Banjima, Kurrama, Yindjibarndi, Ngarluma, Kariyarra, Martuthunira, Nhuwala, Jurruru and possibly Yaburarra. Ngarla people have a very close relationship with Nyamal people and intermarriage is very common.
Past spellings and names of Ngarla include Ngurla, Ngerla, Gnalla, Wanbarda, Nalawanga and may also be known as Wanbarda and Kudjunguru.
Written Examples of the Ngarla Language
Nyapirilu mujarri kayinyu nganu kunyjarta.
Nyapirir secretly took my woman.
Jilya jartun ngarriyan.
The child is leaping upwards.
Jurni kayinyu ngayu palkapalka.
I laughed uproariously.
Palakarnilu nganyjarranya yangkayangka marnu.
That fellow was rocking us.
Kurralka ngayinyu ngayu pajirnanguru karlumpu.
I burped from eating karlumpu.
Ngarla Birds and Animals