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The People and their Traditional Country

Warnman people are traditionally from the central Great Sandy Desert region of Western Australia. People moved from the desert areas, mostly to Jigalong Mission, as late as the 1960s due to welfare resettlement, extensive drought conditions, natural migration and a variety of other reasons. However, Warnman people have maintained very strong ties to traditional lands and culture.


In 2004, a Wangka Maya survey identified less than 30 full Warnman speakers. There are many more partial speakers, people with a passive understanding of the language or people who identify as being of Warnman heritage. Most people now live in Parnngurr, Punmu, Parnpajinya and Jigalong Communities and the towns of Nullagine, Port Hedland and Newman.


Language Resources and Recordings

In 1974 Norman Tindale documented and mapped the language group. In 1994 Nick Thieberger and Janet Sharp included a chapter on Warnman in the Wangka Maya production ‘Bilybara’. Several other linguists have had input to the work on Warnman and they include Brian Geytenbeek, Albert Burgman, Barbara Jones and Vicki Webb.


Speaker Desmond Taylor has worked extensively with his family on recordings, transcriptions and documenting the language over a twenty-year period.


In 2010, Wangka Maya published the Warnman Dictionary (which can also be viewed as an on-line e-Book Dictionary) and Warnman Sketch Grammar. A Warnman Interactive Dictionary (2006 edition) is also available.


Wangka Maya published Jumangkarni Wimi - Dreaming Stories from the Desert in 2003. These stories from the Great Sandy Desert are written in Warnman and Manyjilyjarra with English translations. Nyamilu Piniwarta Wimi Yirrangkajingka: Nanas' Stories of Nullagine features some stories in Warnman and Kartujarra with English translations.


Wangka Maya linguist Albert Burgman works with Warnman speaker Desmond Taylor and family to produce language resources for the community

The DVD How the West was Lost, which tells the story of the 1946 strike by Pilbara Aboriginal pastoral workers, includes dialogue in Warnman and other Pilbara languages, with English subtitles.


Language Information

Warnman is a Pama-Nyungan language of the South-west Nyungic group, Wati family. Other closely related languages include Kartujarra, Manyjilyjarra, Nyiyaparli, Pintupi, Wangkajunga and Yulparija. There don’t appear to be any dialects of Warnman.


Warnman is closely related to Yulparija language spoken at Bidyadanga Community, and to Kukatja, spoken at Balgo Community.


In the past Warnman has been spelt Wanman, Wanmanba, Wanmin, Warumala and has been called Nanidjara Nenidjara Njanidjara, Nyarnijarra, Nyaanijarra, Martu Wangka and Martu.


Written Example of the Language


Two Snakes Dreaming Story by Frank French (dec)

Kanaji kujarra

Wapirtukurangu wimi


Warnmanpaya nyarni jila kujarrapula yaninyarni kakarrarni. Warnmanpaya nyarni patu yana yarrkal, milkujurnikarrinyiya. Kakarrarnipula yaninyarni jila kujarra. Nyarniyarraya patuparaku kakarrarni yaninyarni kutungka milkujurnikarrinyiya. Punmungka nyarrakarti kurlunyarninyaya.

Milkujurnikarrinyiya patuparakulu nyarniyarralu, Warnmanju patuluya milkujurnikarrinyiya.


Karrpataparakuya nyarniyarra murrukarrinyaya jinangka nyarni jila kujarrangka, karrpataparakuya tipartipapungayinya. Minyarnaya nyarniyarralu patuparakulu murrukarrinya karrpata jila kujarrangka jinangka. Yalayarraya tipartipapunganyiya; minyarnaya tipartipapunganyiya kuwarriyukuji nyarniyarra. Yanaya nyarniyarra minyanjawalayi minyarnaya, nganampa yalangka tipartipapunganyi.


They saw that the spears had stuck in the tracks of two snakes.

Warnman people tell this story, about how two pythons came from the east. Some Warnman men went hunting, hurling their spears out in front of them as they went. The two pythons were coming from the east. The men went on towards them, travelling into the east, throwing their spears out ahead of them. They met up with them on the other side of Punmu.


The men travelled along, hurling their spears out in front of them. Then one time when they threw them, their spears stuck in the ground in the tracks of the two pythons, and the shafts stood up erect and swaying in the air. The men saw the spears stuck in the ground where the pythons' tracks went. They were swaying back and forth, they saw them swaying, although the spears had not done that when they had been thrown before. They went over to find out, to see what it was that was swaying back and forth over there. Then they saw that their spears had stuck in the tracks of two pythons.


Kinship Terms

jamu grandfather/grandson
jamurarra a pair of males in grandfather/grandson relationship
japunyurra men in generation above one's own (father, father's brothers, mother's brothers)
jiji child
jingarti cousin/brother
jirlpi old man/ grey haired
juwarirra pair of females on same generation level; cousins
kaja son or nephew
kami grandmother/granddaughter
kamuru uncle (a man's mother's brother)
kamururra pair of males in an uncle/nephew relationship
kapurlu older sister
kirriji bachelor
kirta man
kupu older brother
makurta male cousins
mamararra man and his child
mamarnpa father, father's brothers
marlangu younger brother or sister
marlurlu initiate, novice
marruku mother-in-law, son-in-law, a man's father's sisters/ a woman's brother's son, an avoidance relationship
murrkangunya first born
murtilya boy
ngunyarri niece, daughter-in-law, aunt
nyami grandmother/granddaughter
nyamu grandfather/grandson
nyarrumpara pair of siblings
nyirti youngest in the family
nyupa spouse
pipinyurra women in generation above one's own (mother, mother's sisters, father's sisters)
pipirnpa mother; mother's sisters
turnturnpa girl, young
yipirarra a mother and her child
yungkuri brother-in-law
yurntalpa daughter


In her book Some of the Ladies... They Still Crying, Warnman woman Lizzie Daglish tells her life story from her early days at Jigalong Mission, her removal to Perth for medical reasons and her long journey home

Skin Groups

Every Warnman person is born into a skin group which is determined by the skin group of their mother (in most cases). Traditionally this system meant that people knew which group of people their husband or wife would come from. The four groups for Warnman people are Panaka, Milangka, Purungu and Karimarra.


  • A Purungu man marries a Milangka woman and their children are Karimarra.
  • A Milangka man marries a Purungu woman and their children are Panaka.
  • A Panaka man marries a Karimarra woman and their children are Milangka.
  • A Karimarra man marries a Panaka woman and their children are Purungu.


Warnman Texts

A short story in Warnman:


Nyarnilangka, jijiyarna yanarni. Wantinyayarna, nyarni langka jiji yarna yana ni. Wantinya yarna.

In this very place, we came here as children. We stopped here.


Jumajinya nyarningka ngulyu. Kulpamanyiyarna.

We grew up right here. We are returning now.


Pipirnju parrajarralu mamarnju kanganyinyangananya parrarnu karrukarru

All around, back and forth, father used to take us all around.


Nyukuwartakartiyarna nyarni kakarra yarra Nyukuwarta

To Nyukuwarta in the east


Nyukuwartangkayarna wantinya, kulpayarna kayili.

We stayed at Nyukuwarta, we returned north.


Yarrayarna warlangka Ngayartakujarrakarti nyarrangka kayiliyarna nyarra.

We'd go to the salt water Lake Dora and north.


Yintayarna wanarninya.

We followed waterholes.