Warlpiri - Orientation

Identification. Warlpiri country lies in central Australia, with its center about 180 kilometers northwest of Alice Springs.

Location. Traditionally the Warlpiri-speaking people occupied the Tanami Desert; today they live mainly in various towns and on the Aboriginally-owned cattle station of willowra. A number of Warlpiri live in Alice Springs and others can be found scattered across the top of northern Australia and the Kimberly region.

Demography. Prior to colonization, it is estimated that there were around 1,200 Warlpiri. By 1976 the estimated number was put at 2,700, perhaps somewhat generously, but it can confidently be assumed that there are upwards of 2,500 speakers today. These people all have Warlpiri as their first language and English as only their second, third, or even fourth language.

Linguistic Affiliation. Warlpiri belongs to the Pama Nyungan Language Family, which includes the languages of Cape York and the southern three-quarters of the continent. As with all other Australian languages, the genetic relationship with languages outside the continent is now lost. Because widows had to observe a one-to-two-year speech taboo following the death of a husband, the Warlpiri women have developed a highly elaborated sign language still in use among the older people.

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