Tiwi is an language isolate spoken by about 2,500 people on the Tiwi Islands off the north coast of Northern Territory of Australia. There are eight dialects: Jikilawuru, Wurankuwu, Malawu, Munupi, Marrikawuyanga, Wulirankuwu, Yimpinari, and Mantiyupi.

Mantiyupi is spoken on both Bathurst and Melville island, and in the island's largest city, Warrumiyanga. All of the resources and documentation on the Tiwi language are on the subject of the Mantiyupi dialect, and it has the greatest number of speakers, at around 600. It is also spoken in the communities of 4 Mile Camp, Paru, and Pickertaramoor. Marrikawuyanga is spoken on Melville island in and around the Milikapiti community, and also has several hundred speakers. Malawu, Wurankuwu, and Jikilawuru are spoken on Bathurst Island, and each have under 300 speakers, as do Yimpinari, Wulirankuwu, and Munupi, on Melville Island. Tiwi was once considered a Pama-Nyungan language, but today is recognised as a language isolate, despite several loanwords from Yolngu Matha.

The history of the Tiwi language is largely unrecorded, but it is generally agreed to have been separate from mainland Pama-Nyungan languages for at least several millennia. While Traditional Tiwi, the form of the language spoken by those over the age of 50, is polysynthetic, the modern form of the language is much more influenced by English. Hence, the language can change between polysynthetic and isolating, largely depending on the age and personal preference of the speaker. The modern dialect has also lost some complexity of tense.

The first dictionary for the language was devised along with its first orthography in 1974 by C. R. Osborne.

Tiwi alphabet

Tiwi alphabet


Download an alphabet chart for Tiwi (Excel)

Sample text

Tayikuwapimulungurrumi wutailapwarrigi-jiki arnuka kiyi wutaakiyamama kwiyi tiwi-ma kiyi rayit. Wuta-wurlimi pungintaga kiyi punyipunyi kiyi wiyi tuwim-ajirri nginingaji pirajuwi.


All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

Information about the Tiwi compiled by Evan

Sample video in Tiwi


Information about Tiwi

Language isolates

Adaizan, Ainu, Basque, Burushaski, Candoshi-Shapra, Chitimacha, Eskayan, Hadza, Haida, Karuk, Kawésqar, Keres, Kuot, Kusunda, Kutenai, Natchez, Nihali, Nivkh, Páez, Purepecha, Sandawe, Seri, Sumerian, Tartessian, Ticuna, Tiwi, Tonkawa, Tunica, Urarina, Waorani, Wardaman, Washo, Yaghan, Yuchi/Euchee, Zuni

Languages written with the Latin alphabet

Page last modified: 15.01.24


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