Structure dataset 25: Kriol

This language is described more fully in survey chapter 25.

Kriol is spoken as a first or second language by over 20,000 indigenous people across the north of Australia from the Gulf of Carpentaria in the East to the Kimberley area in the West, and from Darwin (North) to Tennant Creek (South). Like other English-lexified creole languages of the Pacific, Kriol originates in the English-based pidgin used between the first colonizers and the indigenous inhabitants of the Sydney area, which subsequently spread inland and north. Many authors assume that creolization occurred abruptly early in the 20th century at an Anglican mission at Roper River (close to the present-day Ngukurr) through children from different language backgrounds who had been brought together in dormitories; for this reason Kriol is often referred to as Roper River Kriol. There is however evidence that the pidgin had already stabilized and linguistically expanded at that time, due to the need for communication between the increasing numbers of Aboriginal people working on cattle stations, the (primarily) English-speaking pastoralists, and the non-English-speaking (e.g. Chinese) colonists in a wider area. Kriol is mainly used in oral communication and only has a limited role in other domains.

While the lects spoken at Roper River and nearby Bamyili (Barunga) remain the best documented, the description in APiCS (default lect) aims to be representative of all documented lects. In addition to Roper River Kriol these include Kriol spoken in the township of Katherine, Westside Kriol spoken in the northern Victoria River District, and Kimberley Kriol further west around Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek. These varieties mostly do not exhibit differences with respect to the APiCS features; where they do, this is stated explicitly (e.g. Roper River Lect). The region is also indicated for each example.

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No. Feature Value lect Details Source
No. Feature Value lect Details Source


Pulmonic Consonants
Place → Labial Coronal Dorsal Laryngeal
↓ Manner Bilabial Labio­dental Linguo­labial Dental Alveolar Palato-
Retroflex Alveolo-
Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal
/ Epiglottal
Nasal m n ɳ ɲ ŋ
Stop p b t d ʈ ɖ c ɟ k g
Sibilant affricate t͡ʃ
Non-sibilant affricate
Sibilant fricative s z ʃ
Non-sibilant fricative f θ ð h
Approximant l ɻ ɭ j
Flap or tap ɾ
Trill r
Lateral affricate
Lateral fricative
Lateral approximant
Lateral flap


Front Near-front Central Near-back Back Close Near-close Close-mid Mid Open-mid Near-open Open ihigh front unrounded vowel long high front unrounded vowel ɨhigh central unrounded vowel uhigh back rounded vowel long high back rounded vowel ɪlowered high front unrounded vowel ʊlowered high back rounded vowel ehigher mid front unrounded vowel long higher mid front unrounded vowel ohigher mid back rounded vowel long higher mid back rounded vowel əmid central unrounded vowel ɛlower mid front unrounded vowel ɛːlong lower mid front unrounded vowel ɔlower mid back rounded vowel ɔːlong lower mid back rounded vowel æraised low front unrounded vowel æːlong raised low front unrounded vowel alow central unrounded vowel long low central unrounded vowel

Special segments

Other segments
 w  voiced labial-velar glide


       Exists (as a major allophone)
       Exists only as a minor allophone
       Exists only in loanwords
No. Feature Value lect Details Source