Modified 21 March 2021


The Warlpiri spelling system has been used in Warlpiri schools since 1974.
                         apico-   apico-  lamino-   dorso-
              bilabial  alveolar  domal   alveolar  velar

stops         p         t       rt       j         k
nasals           m         n       rn       ny        ng
laterals                   l       rl       ly
flap                       rr rd
glides           w                 r        y
The vowels are i, a, u. Long vowels are written ii, aa, uu.

Word-initially, and usually after a hyphen, rl, rn, rt are written l, n, t respectively.

The clusters rl
rt, rn rt are written rlt, rnt respectively, and lyj, nyj are often written lj, nj respectively.

The above standard orthography was settled around July 1974. Apart from one small change (initial rd), the new orthography was that developed by Lothar Jagst (1934–76), the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) linguist at Lajamanu.
This way of writing Warlpiri was worked out by †Lothar Jagst, †Paddy Patrick Jangala and †Maurice Luther Jupurrurla at Lajamanu in the late 60’s and 70’s. (Anon. 'Warlpiri karna Yirrarni. I can write Warlpiri. Puku 2'. n.d.)

Comparison with previous orthographies

From Hale’s first records of Warlpiri in 1959 until 1974, Warlpiri was written with several different orthographies. Some letters did not change value throughout the decades: p, m, t, n, l, k, w, y, a, i, u. The equivalence of the other letters and digraphs is set out in the rows of the table.
1959 to early 1967 late 1967 to 1974 1974 onwards, ‘practical’
r r rr
rd (rr initially, in 1974)
R r
rt (t initially)
rn (n initially)
rl (l initially)
ty tj j
ny nj ny (n, before j)
ly lj ly (l, before j)
ŋ ŋ ng
a: a: aa
i: i: ii
u: u: uu

Meggitt (1962)'s and Munn (1973)’s influential ethnographies used a b-d-g orthography which did not distinguish retroflex consonants, and used j for the palatal glide (y). That convention continued to an extent in anthropological writings, and the spelling Walbiri conforms to that orthography. (Earlier spellings such as Wailbry and Wailbri were not derived from a systematic orthography.)


Meggitt, Mervyn J. 1962. Desert people: A study of the Walbiri Aborigines of central Australia. Sydney: Angus and Robertson.
Munn, Nancy D. 1973. Walbiri iconography: graphic representation and cultural symbolism in a central Australian society. Symbol, Myth, and Ritual Series. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.

Suffixes and enclitics


Australia languages

Created by 6 February 2012
Modified 21 March 2021