There are about 1,800 speakers of Eastern/Central Arrernte, making this dialect one of the widest spoken of any Indigenous language in Australia, the one usually referred to as Arrernte and the one described in detail below. It is spoken in the Alice Springs area and taught in schools and universities, heard on media and used in local government.
The second biggest dialect in the group is Alyawarre. Some of the other dialects are spoken by very few people, leading to efforts to revive their usage; others are now completely extinct.
Glottolog defines the Arandicgroup of languages/dialects as comprising 5 Aranda (Arrernte) dialects, plus two distinct languages, Kaytetye (Koch, 2004) and Lower Southern (or just Lower) Aranda, an extinct language.Ethnologue defines 8 Arandic languages and classifies them slightly differently.
Two dialects are more widely spoken than any of the others:
Eastern Arrernte (also known as Central Arrernte) dialects include Akarre, Antekerrepenh, Ikngerripenhe, Mparntwe Arrernte. Spoken in the Alice Springs area and others, there were 1,910 speakers in the 2016 census, making it the most widely spoken Arrernte, and Australian Aboriginal, language. This is the dialect most often referred to as "Arrernte" and the strongest of all in the group. There is a project encouraging its use, Apmere angkentye-kenhe,
Alyawarra dialect is spoken by the Alyawarra people, in the Sandover and Tennant Creek areas as well as Queensland. In 2016 there were 1,550 speakers of the language, giving it a status of "Developing". It is similar to Western Arrernte. (Kaytetye is related to this dialect, but is classed as a separate language.)
All of the other dialects are either threatened or extinct:
Ayerrerenge, (also known as Yuruwinga, Bularnu and other variations) was spoken by the Yuruwinga/Yaroinga people is the north-easternmost member of the Arrernte group of languages, and the least studied. It was spoken across the Queensland border in the Headingly, Urandangi, Lake Nash, Barkly Downs and Mount Isa areas, and near Mount Hogarth, Bathurst, and Argadargada in the NT. It is now extinct.[a] Breen (2001) says that the language was regarded as the same or similar to Andegerebinha/Antekerrepenhe by some speakers, and Glottolog regards it as a dialect of it.
Anmatyerre, divided into Eastern and Western, is spoken by the Anmatyerre (or Anmatjirra) people. The Eastern form seems more closely related to Eastern Arrernte and Southern Alywarre than Western Anmatyerre, which is noticeably different phonetically from other Arandic languages. it is spoken in the Mount Allen and northwest Alice Springs regions. With only 640 speakers in the 2016 census, it is regarded as threatened.
Western Arrernte (or Western Aranda, Akara, Southern Aranda, possible sub-dialect Akerre), spoken west of Alice Springs, is nearly extinct, being only spoken by 440 people in 2016. Other terms are Tyuretye Arrernte and Arrernte Alturlerenj.[b][c] Breen distinguishes Tyurretye Arrernte (which he initially called Mbunghara) from Western Arrernte, saying that two speakers first recorded, from the Standley Chasm and Mbunghara, was not known until the mid-1980s, and that it may have been the "real" Western Arrernte, before the latter was mixed with Southern Arrernte (Pertame) at the Hermannsburg Mission. Anna Kenny has noted that the people of the Upper Finke River prefer their language to be known as Western Aranda. This dialect has similarities with Alyawarre and Kaytetye.
The Arrernte also have a highly developed sign language, also known as Iltyeme-iltyeme.
Current usage and tuition
The Northern Territory Department of Education has a program for teaching Indigenous culture and languages, underpinned by a plan entitled Keeping Indigenous Languages and Cultures Strong – A Plan for Teaching and Learning of Indigenous Languages and Cultures in the Northern Territory with the second stage of the plan running from 2018 to 2020).
Stops are unaspirated. Prenasalized stops are voiced throughout; prestopped nasals are voiceless during the stop. These sounds arose as normal consonant clusters; Ladefoged states that they now occur initially, where consonant clusters are otherwise forbidden, due to historical loss of initial vowels; however, it has also been argued that such words start with a phonemic schwa, which may not be pronounced (see below).
The vowel phonemes of Central Arrernte, from Breen & Dobson (2005:251). The positioning of the vowels is only approximate, as they possess a wide range of allophones. /u/ may not be a phoneme but rather just one of the allophones of /ə/.
The vowel system of Eastern/Central Arrernte is unusual in that there are only two contrastive vowel phonemes, /a/ and /ə/. 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 labialised 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 realised by various different articulations in free variation. For example, the phoneme /ə/ can be pronounced [ɪ ~ e ~ ə ~ ʊ] in any context.
The underlying syllable structure of Eastern/Central Arrernte is argued to be VC(C), with obligatory codas and no onsets. Underlying phrase-initial /ə/ is realised as zero, except before a rounded consonant where, by a rounding process of general applicability, it is realised as [ʊ]. It is also common for phrases to carry a final [ə] corresponding to no underlying segment.
Among the evidence for this analysis is that some suffixes have suppletive variants for monosyllabic and bisyllabic bases. Stems that appear monosyllabic and begin with a consonant in fact select the bisyllabic variant. Stress falls on the first nucleus preceded by a consonant, which by this analysis can be stated more uniformly as the second underlying syllable.
And the frequentative is formed by reduplicating the final VC syllable of the verb stem; it does not include the final [ə].
Central/Eastern Arrernte orthography does not write word-initial /ə/, and adds an e to the end of every word.
Western and Southern Arrernte were used in parts of the libretto for Andrew Schultz' and Gordon Williams' Journey to Horseshoe Bend, based on the novel by Ted Strehlow.
^According to Glottolog: "E17/E18/E19 has a separate entry for Ayerrerenge [axe]. But Ayerrerenge is an Arandic variety subsumed under the entry Andegerebinha [adg] (Breen, Gavan 2001, Breen, J. Gavan 1971)".
^In Western Arrernte lands the preferred spelling for their language is 'Arrarnta' or 'Aranda'.
^'The Arandic group whose culture Carl Strehlow documented in great detail identify themselves today as Western Aranda or Arrarnta. They call themselves sometimes Tyurretyerenye, meaning 'belonging to Tyurretye', and refer to their Arandic dialect as Western or Tyurretye Arrernte.' '
^ abcdeBreen, Gavan (2001). "Chapter 4: The wonders of Arandic phonology"(pdf). In Simpson, Jane; Nash, David; Laughren, Mary; Austin, Peter; Alpher, Barry (eds.). Forty years on: Ken Hale and Australian languages. Pacific Linguistics 512. ANU. Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies. (Pacific Linguistics). pp. 45–69. ISBN085883524X.
Breen, Gavan (2000). Introductory Dictionary of Western Arrernte. Alice Springs: IAD Press. ISBN978-0-949659-98-9.
Breen, Gavan (2001). "The wonders of Arandic phonology". In Simpson, Jane; Nash, David; Laughren, Mary; Austin, Peter; Alpher, Barry (eds.). Forty Years On: Ken Hale and Australian Languages. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. pp. 45–69.
Breen, Gavan; Dobson, Veronica (2005). "Illustrations of the IPA: Central Arrernte". Journal of the International Phonetic Association. 35 (2): 249–254. doi:10.1017/S0025100305002185.
Green, Jenny (2005). A learner's guide to Eastern and Central Arrernte. Alice Springs: IAD Press. ISBN978-1-86465-081-5.
Henderson, John (1988). Topics in Eastern and Central Arrernte grammar. PhD dissertation. University of Western Australia.
Henderson, John; Veronica Dobson (1994). Eastern and Central Arrernte to English Dictionary. Alice Springs: IAD Press. ISBN978-0-949659-74-3.
Henderson, John (2003). "The word in Eastern/Central Arrernte". In R. M. W. Dixon; Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald (eds.). Word: A Cross-Linguistic Typology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 100–124.
Wilkins, David P. (1988). "Switch-reference in Mparntwe Arrernte (Aranda): form, function, and problems of identity". In Austin, P. K. (ed.). Complex sentence constructions in Australian languages. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. pp. 141–176.
Wilkins, David P. (1989). Mparntwe Arrernte (Aranda): studies in the structure and semantics of grammar. PhD dissertation, Australian National University.
Wilkins, David P. (1991). "The semantics, pragmatics and diachronic development of "associated motion" in Mparntwe Arrente". Buffalo Working Papers in Linguistics. 91: 207–257.
Yallop, C. (1977). Alyawarra, an Aboriginal language of central Australia. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. ISBN978-0-85575-062-6.