Ngan'gimerri is a variety of the Ngan’gi language that no longer has any speakers. The name is now known because the American anthropological linguist Gerhardt Laves travelled to the Daly region in about 1930 and collected what we now know to be the first ever recordings of Ngan’gi. These materials came to light in about 1985 and were forwarded to AIATSIS where they have since been archived and analysed.
Laves’ collection of materials on Ngan'gimerri includes several hundred pages of notes, verb samples, and some texts. He was careful to name his consultants as ‘Nipper' and ‘King’, two men remembered by the present day Ngan’gi community. Ngan'gimerri was the variety of Ngan’gi spoken by a single estate known as rak-Merren. These days descendants of that clan grouping largely affiliate with the rak-Lafuganying estate, and no-one speaks Ngan'gimerri any more. Laves’ Ngan'gimerri materials have proved particularly interesting because they have shed light on how the distinctive verb structure of Daly languages has developed over the last century - see Reid (2003) for further information.
Ngan'gimerri has two sister dialects, Ngan'gikurunggurr (about 150 speakers) and Ngen'giwumirri (about 30 speakers). There is no traditional cover name for these three dialects. Nick Reid’s 1991 grammar used the name Ngan’gityemerri as a cover term for all three varieties, but in recent years the standard practice has been to simply use Ngan’gi instead.
Ngan'gimerri belongs to the Southern Daly group. It is very closely related to Ngan'gikurunggurr and Ngen'giwumirri, with which it shares highly similar sounds, verb structure, and about 90% of words in common. Speakers of any one variety can understand the others fairly easily, and linguists would describe these as dialects of a single language. These three varieties are also more distantly related to Murrinhpatha. Despite only very low levels of shared vocabulary, the clues to their distant relationship can be found in shared irregular verb forms. For community speakers, Ngan’gi and Murrinhpatha are completely separate languages, but historical linguists see in them evidence of having descended from a common ancestral language.
The Ngan'gimerri estate lies within the Ngen’giwumiri bloc, between the rak-Lafuganying and rak-Nudik estates, bordered on the northern side by Marramaninjsji.
To learn more about Ngan'gimerri, please see Nick Reid's Talking Ngan’gi website.
Text by Associate Professor Nick Reid, University of New England.