Centre for Australian Languages and Linguistics


Arrernte language landscape

Prior to European contact in Central Australia, Arrernte speaking people enjoyed exclusive ownership of the landscape and its resources surrounding the MacDonnell ranges – the region now occupied by the town of Alice Springs.

Arrernte people use spoken language along with sign language and narrative forms such as tyepetye, the telling of ‘sand stories’ in which a storyteller uses oral language and drawings in the sand. Performance of song and dance is also an important practice. Arrernte people pass on their traditions through these different verbal and performance arts. Since the days of European contact Arrernte writing has also become important. There are different threads in this history, which reflect the different kinds of contact relationships between Arrernte people and the outsiders who came to their country. For example, the Lutheran mission at Hermannsburg developed a writing system which is still used for Western Arrarnta. Many people in town and those based at Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa) use a different writing system.

Achilpa Street (from atyelpe ‘native cat’ )
Achilpa Street (from atyelpe ‘native cat’ )

To learn more about the way Arrernte is written, read this guide written for the Central Land Council by linguist Myfany Turpin.

Throughout this history there have been many dedicated language workers who have worked to write their language. There are many books and other kinds of text that are written in Arrernte, and others that are written in English, but include Arrernte language. Another place where we see Arrernte writing is on street signs, organisation names and on buildings in and around Alice Springs.

Follow the links below to see examples of Arrernte signs in Alice Springs through photographs and captions. We hope you enjoy looking through the signs on this page – look out for them as you walk, cycle and drive around the town. One thing you might notice is the many and varied spellings of Arrernte words on signs. This reflects different historical periods and different influences on spelling systems throughout this history. Some spellings reflect the fact that sometimes people just need to write something down and have come up with their own way of writing something. In these cases they might rely on the way English is spelt to write these words. For this project we are using the Eastern and Central Arrernte dictionary to check the meanings and spellings of words.

Stay tuned – more signs coming!