Alyawarr is the main language spoken by the older people at Murray Downs. It is an Arandic language spoken by approximately 1500 people in around 15 communities. Speakers of Alyawarr are often also competent in other Arandic languages, as well as other Aboriginal languages, Kriol, varieties of Aboriginal English and Standard Australian English.
Arrernte is a Central Australian language, and belongs to the Arandic subgroup of Pama-Nyungan languages. It has approximately 2000 speakers, who recognise Central, Eastern, Western, Northern and Southern dialects. Ltyentye Apurte is associated with the Eastern dialect, though speakers of other dialects and other Aboriginal languages live there too. People also speak standard and other varieties of English. Central and Eastern Arrernte are mutually intelligible, and have comprehensive grammatical descriptions (Henderson, 1998; Wilkins, 1989), a technical dictionary (Henderson & Dobson, 1994), a learner’s guide (Green, 2005) and picture dictionary (Broad, 2008).
Kriol is a English-based creole spoken throughout the northern parts of Australia. Kriol retains significant regional variation, the result of its early development at several separate sites, particularly the Roper River Mission and the cattle stations of the Kimberley. Today, Kriol continues to spread and merge, and is the first language for many thousands of Aboriginal people.
At Murray Downs the younger people speak a variety of Kriol or possibly a new mixed language. Over the course of this research, comparisons will be made to the Kriol spoken in other parts of the country and to emergent mixed languages to further clarify the status of the variety developing at Murray Downs.
Tiwi is the language spoken by the Tiwi Islanders. It differs from mainland Australian languages to such a degree that it was considered to be an isolate – a language that lacks any relatives. Recent improvements in historical linguistic techniques however, indicate that Tiwi may be related to the Gunwinyguan family – one of Australia’s largest family of languages extending from western Arnhem Land through to Katherine.
Since the founding of the Roman Catholic Mission on Bathurst Island, Tiwi has undergone significant changes to the language. These changes were so severe that it is now considered a different language – Modern Tiwi. Tiwi children grow up with Modern Tiwi and learn it as their first language. In addition, they learn English in school, and most Tiwi adults are fluent in both Tiwi and English.