Mara yurriku: Western Desert sign languages

Elizabeth Ellis, Jennifer Green, Inge Kral, Lauren Reed

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    In the Ngaanyatjarra Lands of the Western Desert the phrase mara yurriku 'moving the hands' is used to describe communication by manual signing. This paper introduces some of the forms and functions of sign, based on previous documentations of sign in the Western Desert, as well as on new research supported by an ARC-funded research project on Western Desert Verbal Arts (2015-19).1 We describe the contexts of sign language use, illustrating how sign fits into the communicative ecology of Ngaanyatjarra Lands communities. The paper discusses some linguistic features of sign, including the handshapes used, the semantic domains represented in the lexicon and the development of new signs for contemporary concepts. The paper also situates sign language within the spectrum of multimodal communicative practices in the Western Desert, including the innovation of 'air writing'. The paper provides a Western Desert perspective on sign, as the first author is a Ngaanyatjarra/Ngaatjatjarra speaker and is knowledgeable about signing practices.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)89-111
    JournalAustralian Aboriginal Studies
    Publication statusPublished - 2019


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