The richness and beauty of the Warlpiri language



I’ve used the song Bridge Over Troubled Waters many times. Its symbolism gets me every time.

I see the recently released Warlpiri Encyclopaedic Dictionary to be such a bridge.

It was launched at Yuendumu School on Wednesday.

Work on this mammoth tour de force started over half a century ago.

Hundreds of Warlpiri speakers from Yuendumu, Nyirrpi, Lajamanu, Willowra, Alice Springs and a few other places and scores of non-Warlpiri linguists, teachers and others contributed to this magnificent labor of love.

Yamurna Oldfield opened the speeches.  She said this made her both happy and sad as she held up the heavy volume.

All those friends and family whose photos are on the cover, many of them no longer with us.  This happy sadness was echoed by Mary Laughren, the chief compiler, in her speech.

There were visitors who had lived in Yuendumu many years ago. They invariably told me that those were the best years of their life.

Their attendance was met by expressions of welcome and friendship which had endured years of separation. The mutual respect and affection were palpable.

The them/us paradigm which has crept into Yuendumu society during these difficult times vanished.

We were ngalipa all of us together, as we expressed our pride and gratitude for this powerful symbol of Warlpiri cultural and linguistic strength that we all were a part of.

Many speakers referred to the volume as being for our children and grandchildren.

The Warlpiri own the book and are immensely proud of it.

As Mary said, reading a dictionary is not everyone’s cup of tea.

Every word has contextualising Warlpiri text, but don’t worry, it is all translated into English.

Just pick words at random and glimpse into the Warlpiri mind.  Savour the richness and beauty of the Warlpiri language.  Maybe this book can become your cup of tea.


  1. Thank you for this post, Frank! Huge congratulations to Mary and to everyone else involved in the creation of the encyclopaedic dictionary – so many smart, wonderful people.
    This has been such a long time coming. Long live the Warlpiri language.

  2. Congratulations to everyone involved in this huge contribution to language diversity in this country.

  3. Congratulations to the Warlpiri who made this dictionary / encyclopaedia possible and thank you to Mary Laughren for your tenacity and hard work over many years.
    And thank you to Frank and Wendy Baarda for your lifetime of service to the Warlpiri people at Yuendumu.

  4. Well done, everyone. What a terrific dictionary and resource. I’m looking forward to buying it.


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