A sample text of Tiwi. Photo from Language Museum.
La Cañada High School

Opinion: Tiwi, an intriguing Australian language

Tiwi, an Australian language isolate, is spoken on the Tiwi Islands which are near the Northern Territory of Australia, according to Omniglot. Some of Tiwi’s different names are Diwi, Wongak, and Wunuk, according to Sorosoro.

Tiwi was once considered a Pama-Nyungan language, but today is recognized as a language isolate, despite several loanwords from Yolngu Matha,” according to Omniglot.

The eight dialects of Tiwi are Mantiyupi, Yimpinari, Wulirankuwu, Jikilawuru, Wurankuru, Malawu, Munupi, and Marrikawuyanga according to Omniglot.

According to Omniglot, in the 2006 census, there were 1,720 Tiwi speakers.

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,” according to Omniglot.

I found this to be quite fascinating, given that there are seven other dialects of Tiwi.

Marrikawuyanga has several hundred speakers, while Malawu, Jikilawuru, and Wurankuru all have under 300 speakers. The other dialects Yimpinari, Wulirankuwu, and Munupi also have under 300 speakers.

There are two general types of Tiwi: Traditional and Modern. According to Omniglot, the Traditional dialect is spoken by people who are 50 years old and up.

The Modern dialect of Tiwi has been influenced by English much more than the Traditional dialect, and has “also lost some complexity of tense,” according to Omniglot.

“The language can change between polysynthetic and isolating, largely depending on the age and personal preference of the speaker,” according to Omniglot.

This aspect of the language is the one I found to be the most intriguing.

I personally find Tiwi to be one of the most intriguing Australian languages, and I hope that you take an interest in it as well. There are more aspects to the language that I haven’t covered in this article, but I hope that this story has sparked your interest in a truly wonderful language.