World’s First Indigenous-Language Game Helps Keep Dying Language Alive

A small, endless runner game named ‘Tjinari‘ (meaning “someone always on the go” in the Western Desert language Ngaanyatjarra) is being developed by linguists, artists, and programmers from the Australian National University and ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, with the hopes of keeping the Indigenous language alive.


Tjinari is simple, starring a boy seeking out a special plant to pass along to a Traditional Healer in order to save the life of a little girl. However, the entire game is spoken in Ngaanyatjarra, an Indigenous language spoken throughout the 600,000 square kilometre area of an area named the Western Desert, spanning South Australia, Western Australia, and the Northern Territory. It’s being developed for mobile and tablet devices to try and keep some Indigenous words in circulation throughout the younger community.

Linguistic anthropologist Dr. Inge Kral said:

“Kids in remote communities have all got mobile phones, they’re playing games, but all of those games are in English. We [wanted] to develop a game that’s about fun — not didactic, not language teaching, but about fun.”

The game features the voices of young students from the Warakurna Campus of Ngaanyatjarra Lands School in Western Australia.

“We have recorded the children’s voices for the game so when they go to play the game, it will be their own voice or a friend’s voice that gives the warning ‘palayi’, meaning ‘watch out'”,

Ngaanyatjarra linguist Elizabeth Marrkilyi Ellis stated, ”

“And when they successfully complete a task or navigate the obstacle they will hear their own voice saying ‘walykumunun’ meaning ‘excellent’.”


Dr. Inge Karl and Elizabeth Ellis showing children the game

Tjinari is set in the Western Desert landscape, with the local flora and fauna making an appearance as you make your way through the different areas; from the creek lands, woodlands and scrub.

“The flora and the fauna are in the game so the children are learning the words for the habitats and the animals.”, states Elizabeth Ellis “A lot of the animals are extinct now … so we are using the words so the children will be able to say the words of those animals that they haven’t seen.”