Nhanda language

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Native to Australia
Region Geraldton to Shark Bay area of Western Australia
Native speakers
A "handful" (2001)[1]
  • Nhanta
  • Watchandi
  • Amangu
  • ? Nanakarti (Nhanhagardi)
  • ? Ngukaja
Language codes
ISO 639-3 nhainclusive code
Individual code:
xnk – ? Nganakarti
Glottolog nhan1238  Nhanda[2]
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Nhanda, also known as Nhanta and Nhandi is an Australian Aboriginal language from the Midwest region of Western Australia, between Geraldton and the Murchison River, from the coast to about 20 kilometres (12 mi) inland. The language is now spoken, or semi-spoken, by only a few people.

While Nhanda is usually considered a member of the Kartu branch of the Pama–Nyungan family,[3] distinctive features of Nhamda, relative to neighbouring languages have caused some linguists to question this classification,[4][5] and/or classify Nhanda as an isolate.

A controversial hypothesis, first raised by historian Rupert Gerritsen, suggests that the unusual features of Nhanda may result from undocumented language contact during the early modern era, with Dutch – in the form of shipwrecked seafarers stranded in Australia before European settlement had officially begun.[6] Gerritsen's hypothesis has been rejected by linguist Juliette Blevins,[7] an authority on Nhanda.

The Yamaji Language Centre has commissioned research on Nhanda since 1992 and has produced an illustrated wordlist and a dictionary (as yet unpublished). Blevins has carried out work since 1993; her published works include a sketch grammar of Nhanda, as well as papers on its phonology and history.


The Nhanda word for 'man, human being' is arnmanu. It appears that when Norman Tindale collected information on Nhanda (or on the closely related variety thought to have been spoken in Geraldton) he was given this word, which he recorded as 'Amangu' and believed to be the 'tribal name' for this group.


Nhanda differs somewhat from its neighbouring languages in that it has a phonemic glottal stop, is initial-dropping (i.e. it has lost many initial consonants, leading to vowel-initial words) and the stop consonants show a phonemic length contrast.


Front Back
High i iː u uː
Low a aː


Peripheral Laminal Apical Glottal
Bilabial Velar Palatal Dental Alveolar Retroflex
Stop p k c t ʈ ʔ
Nasal m ŋ ɲ n ɳ
Lateral ʎ l ɭ
Rhotic r ɻ
Semivowel w j


Cited references[edit]

  1. ^ a b Nhanda at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Nhanda". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ Bowern, Claire. 2011. "How Many Languages Were Spoken in Australia?", Anggarrgoon: Australian languages on the web, December 23, 2011 (corrected February 6, 2012)
  4. ^ Blevins, Juliette (December 1999). "Nhanta and its position within Pama–Nyungan". Oceanic Linguistics. University of Hawai'i Press. 38 (2): 297–320. doi:10.2307/3623295. JSTOR 3623295. 
  5. ^ Bowern & Koch (2004) Australian Languages: Classification and the Comparative Method
  6. ^ Gerristen, Rupert (1994). And their ghosts may be heard. Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Centre Press. 
  7. ^ Blevins, Juliette (1998). "A Dutch influence on Nhanda? Wanyjidaga innga!". Journal of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies: 43–46. 

Other references[edit]

  • Blevins, Juliette; Marmion, Doug (1994). "Nhanta historical phonology". Australian Journal of Linguistics. 14 (2): 193–216. doi:10.1080/07268609408599509. 
  • Blevins, Juliette; Marmion, Doug (1995). "Nhanta glottal stop". Oceanic Linguistics. University of Hawai'i Press. 34 (1): 139–160. doi:10.2307/3623116. JSTOR 3623116. 
  • Blevins, Juliette (2001). Nhanda: An aboriginal language of Western Australia. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.