The Arrernte region is large and traditionally, there are many different family areas within it, each with their own dialect. Language is strongly connected with family membership and the relationships to land and Dreamings that go with this. Identifying as a speaker of a particular language or dialect can be very important for Arrernte people in a way that goes beyond just the actual language. It is a way of expressing membership in a particular family, or association to particular country. The differences between dialects, even when they are only small differences, are often very significant to speakers.
The coming together of speakers of different dialects of Arrernte in Alice Springs, in government and mission settlements, and on cattle stations, has also resulted in some confusion about the traditional dialect distinctions within the area. There have been quite large changes in some dialects form older generations to younger, and there are many words that only the oldest speakers now know. Arrernte people still know the different family areas, but it is sometimes less clear which ones a particular word belongs in. Rather than trying to identify exactly which family dialect a word belongs to in this dictionary, we identify the part of the Eastern and Central Arrernte region where is from using the following map.
From time immemorial - that is, as far back as traditions go - the boundaries of the tribes have been where they are now fixed. Within them their ancestors roamed about, hunting and performing their ceremonies just as their living descendants do at the present day. There has never apparently been the least attempt made by one tribe to encroach upon the territory of another.