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Arrernte (or Aranda) is a dialect cluster spoken in and around Alice Springsmarker (Mparntwe in Arrernte) in the Northern Territorymarker, Australia. This group includes the following: Opinions vary as to their status as dialects or distinct languages.



Peripheral Coronal
Laminal Apical
Bilabial Velar Uvular Palatal Dental Alveolar Retroflex
Stop p pʷ k kʷ c cʷ t̪ t̪ʷ t tʷ ʈ ʈʷ
Nasal m mʷ ŋ ŋʷ ɲ ɲʷ n̪ n̪ʷ n nʷ ɳ ɳʷ
Prestopped nasal pm p kŋ kŋʷ cɲ cɲʷ n̪ʷ tn t ʈɳ ʈɳʷ
Lateral ʎ ʎʷ l̪ l̪ʷ l lʷ ɭ ɭʷ
Approximant w ɰ~ʁ j jʷ ɻ ɻʷ
Tap/Trill r rʷ
 is described as velar ( ) by Breen (2005), and as uvular ( ) by Henderson (2003).

Stops are unaspirated.


Front Central Back
All dialects have at least .

The vowel system of Arrernte is unusual in that there are only two contrastive vowel phonemes, and . Two-vowel systems are very rare worldwide, but are also found in some Northwest Caucasian languages. It seems that the vowel system derives from an earlier one with more phonemes, but after the development of labialized consonants in the vicinity of round vowels, the vowels lost their roundedness/backness distinction, merging into just two phonemes. There is no allophonic variation in different consonantal contexts for the vowels. Instead, the phonemes can be realized by various different articulations in free variation. For example, the phoneme can be pronounced in any context.


The syllable structure of Arrernte is argued to be VC(C), with obligatory codas and no onsets. Plural morphemes are suppletive for monosyllabic and bisyllabic words in the structure of VC and VC(C)VC respectively. Stress falls on the first nucleus preceded by a consonant, and the frequentative is formed by reduplicating the final VC portion of the verb stem.


Peripheral Coronal
Laminal Apical
Bilabial Velar Uvular Palatal Dental Alveolar Retroflex
Stop p pw k kw ty tyw th thw t tw rt rtw
Nasal m mw ng ngw ny nyw nh nhw n nw rn rnw
Prestopped nasal pm pmw kng kngw tny tnyw tnh/thn tnhw/thnw tn tnw rtn rtnw
Lateral ly lyw lh lhw l lw rl rlw
Approximant w h y yw r rw
Tap/Trill rr rrw
Front Central Back
High (i/ey) (u/we)
Mid e
Low a

Arrernte in schools

In most primary schools in Alice Springs, students (of all races and nationalities) are taught Arrernte (or in some cases Western Arrernte) as a compulsory language, often alongside the French or Indonesian languages. Additionally, most Alice Springs high schools give the option to study Arrernte language throughout high school as a separate subject, and it can also be learned at Centralian College as part of a TAFE course. Future plans are that it will be included as a university subject.


Arrernte has fairly free word order but tends towards SOV. It is generally ergative, but is accusative in its pronouns. Pronouns may be marked for duality and skin group.

Suffixes (Eastern/Central Arrernte)
suffix gloss
+aye emphasis
+ewe stronger emphasis
+eyewe really strong emphasis
+ke for
+le actor in a sentence
+le instrument
+le location
+le-arlenge together, with
+nge from
-akerte having
-arenye from (origin), association
-arteke similarity
-atheke towards
-iperre, -ipenhe after, from
-kenhe belongs to
-ketye because (bad consequence)
-kwenye not having, without
-mpele by way of, via
-ntyele from
-werne to
+ke past
+lhe reflexive
+me present tense
+rre/+irre reciprocal
+tyale negative imperative
+tye-akenhe negative
+tyeke purpose or intent
+tyenhe future
Ø imperative


Pronouns decline with a nominative rather than ergative alignment:
Non-skin-group-marking pronouns (Eastern/Central Arrernte)
person number subject object dative possessive
1 singular ayenge/the ayenge/ayenhe atyenge atyenhe/atyinhe
dual ilerne ilernenhe ilerneke ilernekenhe
plural anwerne anwernenhe anwerneke anwernekenhe
2 singular unte ngenhe ngkwenge ngkwinhe
dual mpwele mpwelenhe mpweleke mpwelekenhe
plural arrantherre arrenhantherre arrekantherre arrekantherrenhe
3 singular re renhe ikwere ikwerenhe
dual re-atherre renhe-atherre

ikwere-atherre ikwere-atherrenhe
plural itne itnenhe itneke itnekenhe

Body parts normally require non-possessive pronouns (inalienable possession), though younger speakers may use possessives in this case too (e.g. akaperte ayenge or akaperte atyinhe 'my head').

Arrernte in workplaces

Many Alice Springs workplaces require that employees to learn at least basic Arrernte in order to communicate effectively with the large numbers of Arrernte people (approximately 25% of Alice Springs residents speak Arrernte as their first language ). Many workplaces offer learning of Arrernte as an option and will fund the course.


Eastern and Central Arrernte examples
Arrernte English
G'day, what's up?
Nothing much
Unte mwerre?
Ye, ayenge mwerre
Are you alright?
Yes, I'm alright
Urreke aretyenhenge
Kele aretyenhenge
See you later
OK, See you later


  1. Green (1994)
  2. Ladefoged and Maddieson (1996)
  3. Breen and Pensalfini (1999)
  4. Arrernte on Omniglot
  5. Green 2005, pp. 46-47.
  6. Green 2005, p. 54.
  7. Green 2005, p. 55.


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