Language of the Week: Week Twelve - Pitta Pitta

Welcome to Week Twelve of the A-Z of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages!

This week's language of the week is Pitta Pitta, a language spoken in North-West Queensland, particularly in the Boulia district extending north towards Mt Isa. Pitta Pitta is also known as Bitta Bitta, Bitha Bitha, Pitapita, etc. - linguistically, Blake believes Ringu-Ringu, Mayawarli, Kunkalanya, Ngulupulu, Karanya, and Rakaya are related dialects with many shared words.

Western Queensland Languages,Breen (1990).

The above map from Breen (1990) shows the location of Pitta Pitta and neighbouring languages. Breen and Blake have undertaken recent linguistic work in the region, while there are historical wordlists from the 1870's. Pitta Pitta is considered endangered with minimal speakers; however, it is undergoing a revival process by Traditional Owners to bring it back to life in the community and ensure language knowledge is passed onto future generations. The North-West Queensland region was marked by frontier violence with the Burke River Native Mounted Police stationed just outside Boulia. The officer in command was Ernest Eglington and with the assistance of local pastoralists, the group were responsible for several massacres in the region. 

Curr No 104 Bitta Bitta Tribe, Boulia (1887).

Eglington, who later became a Police Magistrate, also provided the above wordlist to Curr who included the text in his 1887 publication The Australian Race. The full list contains ~112 everyday words from Pitta Pitta, mainly words relating to parts of the body, animals, family terms, landscape and artefacts. As per many of Curr's wordlists, the informant is not identified.

Extract of Pitta Pitta wordlist, Blake (1981).

Blake and Breen provide the most comprehensive studies of Pitta Pitta with an extended vocabulary and basic grammar. In 2013, Desert Channels Queensland Inc at Longreach undertook a language project with traditional owners to map the the languages of the Lake Eyre Basin, with the outcome being the publication of several pictorial dictionaries, including a Pitta Pitta Dictionary based on the work of Blake and Breen. The State Library collections hold publications by Blake, Breen and Desert Channels. 

Desert Channels Queensland resources.

On the State Library Spoken exhibition webpages, view a digital story from Central West Queensland featuring community members from neighbouring languages to Pitta Pitta sharing their language journeys.


Join State Library for next week's Language of the Week - Saibai from the Top Western Torres Strait!


Desmond Crump

Indigenous Languages Coordinator, State Library of Queensland

State Library of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages Webpages

State Library of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages Map


Spoken: Celebrating Queensland languages exhibition

Spoken Virtual Tour

Jarjum Stories exhibition

Minya Birran: What next for Indigenous Languages?



Camel train in front of Fielding's general store in Boulia, Queensland. C. 1893. Negative number: 146128

Map of Western Queensland Languages, Breen (1990) J 499.15 BRE

Extract of No 104 Bitta Bitta Tribe, Boulia from Curr (1887).

Section of Pitta Pitta vocabulary from Blake, (1981).

Desert Channels Queensland language resources.


References and Further Reading

State Library collections have some material relating to Pitta Pitta; however, some of these are part of texts or items referring to Aboriginal languages of  North-West Queensland, particularly work undertaken by Barry Blake and Gavan Breen.

Relevant items in the collections include the following:

Blake, B.J. (1979) “Pitta-Pitta”. In Dixon, R. M. W. & Blake, B. (Eds), The handbook of Australian languages 1, 182-242. G 499.15 1979

Blake, B.J. (1991) Australian Aboriginal languages : a general introduction. 2nd Edn. J 499.15 BLA

Breen, J.G. (1990) Salvage Studies of Western Queensland Aboriginal Languages. Pacific Linguistics Series B – No. 105. Australian National University: Canberra. J499.15 BRE

Curr, E. M. (1887) The Australian Race: its origins, languages, customs, place of landing in Australia and the routes by which it spread itself over that continent. John Ferres Government Printer: Melbourne. RBF 572.994 cur

Desert Channels Queensland (2013) Pitta Pitta Pictorial Dictionary. JUVQ 499.9915 PIT

Oates, W. J. and Oates, L. (1970) A revised linguistic survey of AustraliaQ 499.15 OAT

Tindale, N. B. (1974) Aboriginal tribes of Australia: their terrain, environmental controls, distribution, limits and proper namesQ 994.0049915 tin


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