Kalaw Lagaw Ya

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Kalaw Lagaw Ya
Western Torres Strait
Region Western and Central Torres Strait Islands, Queensland
Ethnicity Torres Strait Islanders
Native speakers
1,200  (2006 census)[1]
Pama–Nyungan
  • Kalaw Lagaw Ya
Dialects
Kala Lagaw Ya
Kalaw Kawaw Ya
Kulkalgaw Ya
Kawalgaw Ya
Western Torres Strait Islander Sign Language
Language codes
ISO 639-3 mwp
AIATSIS[2] Y1
Glottolog kala1377[3]
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Range of Kalaw Lagaw Ya (orange) in the Torres Strait
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Kalaw Lagaw Ya (Kala Lagaw Ya), or the Western Torres Strait language (several other names, see below), is the language indigenous to the central and western Torres Strait Islands, Queensland, Australia. On some islands it has now largely been replaced by Brokan (Torres Strait Creole English).

Before colonisation in the 1870s–1880s, it was the major lingua franca of the area in both Australia and Papua, and is still widely spoken by neighbouring Papuans and by some Aboriginal people. However many second (or nth) language speakers it has is unknown. It also has a "cut-it-short" (simplified/foreigner) form, as well as a pidginised form. The simplified form is fairly prevalent on Badu [Badhu] (Kala Lagaw Ya territory) and neighbouring Moa, particularly among younger people.

Names[edit]

The language is known by several names besides Kalaw Lagaw Ya, most of which (including Kalaw Lagaw Ya), are strictly speaking names of dialects, spelling variants, dialect variants, and the like - and include translations of the English terms, Western Island Language and Central Island Language. The following list includes the commonest:

  • Kalaw Lagaw Ya/Kala Lagaw Ya [Western Island Language: back/west.GEN place.GEN speech], Kalaw Kawaw Ya/Kalau Kawau Ya [Western Island Language], Lagaw Ya/Lagau Ya [Place/Home/Home Island Language], Kala Lagaw Langgus/Kala Lagau Langgus [id.], Kalaw Kawaw Langgus/Kalau Kawau Langgus [Western Island Language], Langus [Language], Lingo, Kawalgaw Ya/Kaywalgaw Ya/Kaiwaligau Ya [Islanders' Language], Kowrareg (Kaurareg) (strictly speaking Kaurareg/Kauraraig ['Islander'] is the person, not the language, which is/was Kauraregau/Kauraraigau Ya [Islanders' Language]), Kulkalgau Ya [Blood-Peoples' Language (Kulka 'Blood' was an important cult figure)], Mabuiag (the name of one of the islands where it is spoken), Westen or West Torres or Western Torres Strait, Dhadhalagau Ya [Mid-Island/Central Island Language], Sentrel or Central Islands. One term used by Eastern islanders and neighbouring Papuans for Kala Lagaw Ya is Yagar Yagar, from the word yagar ( speech, etc. + gár sympathy clitic ('dear', 'please', etc.), often used by Western and Central Islanders in speech to show a sympathetic or nostalgic frame of mind.

In literature on the language the abbreviations KLY (Kalaw Lagaw Ya), KKY (Kalau Kawau Ya), KulY (Kulkalgau Ya), MY (Muwalgau Ya) and KY (Kaiwaligau Ya) are often used as abbreviations. According to Ober (2007), the preferred term in English is Kala Lagaw Ya.[4]

When speaking to each other, speakers generally refer to the language as Langgus Language or use phrases such as KLY/KulY ngalpudh muli, MY-KY ngalpudh/ngalpadh muli, KKY ngalpadh muliz, e.g. KLY/KulY ngalpudh muuli, thanamunungu tidailai!, MY-KY ngalpudh/ngalpadh muuli, thanamuningu tidailai!, KKY Ngalpadh muli, thanamulngu tidaile! Speak in our language so they don't understand!. Ngalpudh/ngalpadh literally means like us. The construction X-dh mula+i- speak X-like is used to refer to speaking in a language, e.g. KKY markaidh muliz speak [in] English, zapanisadh muliz speak [in] Japanese, dhaudhalgadh muliz speak [in] Papuan, mœyamadh muliz speak [in] Meriam Mìr, thanamudh muliz speak like them, speak [in] their language. It is otherwise common for speakers to use nominal phrases like KLY/KulY ngalpun ya, MY-KY ngalpun//ngalpan ya, KKY ngalpan ya our language to refer to the language when speaking to each other.

The other languages spoken on the Torres Strait Islands are the Meriam language and Torres Strait Creole.

Geographic Distribution[edit]

Map of the Torres Strait Islands.

Kalaw Lagaw Ya is spoken on the western and central islands of Torres Strait, between Papua New Guinea (Naigaydœgam Dhaudhai "North-side Mainland/Continent", alt. Mœgi Dhaudhai, KKY Mœgina Dhaudhai "Small Mainland/Continent") and the Australian mainland (Zeyadœgam Dhaudhai "South-side Mainland/Continent", alt. Kœi Dhaudhai "Big Mainland/Continent"), though on some islands it has now been largely replaced by Brokan (Torres Strait Creole).

Before Colonisation in the 1870s-1880s, the language was the major lingua franca of the area in both Australia and Papua, and there is some folk history evidence that the language was spoken as a first language in a few villages neighbouring Torres Strait in Papua. It was also formerly spoken by the Hiámu (alt. Hiámo, Hiáma) of Daru (Dhaaru) to the north-east of Torres Strait, who were originally settlers from Yama [Yam Island] in Torres Strait, Hiámu/Hiámo/Hiáma being an early Kiwai pronunciation of Yama (or an earlier form of Yama). The main body of the Hiámu moved to the Thursday Island group to escape the Kiwai colonisation of the area some centuries ago.

Classification and External Comparison[edit]

Kalaw Lagaw Ya is classified among the Pama–Nyungan languages. Mitchell (1995, 2011, 2012) regards it as a mixed language with an Australian core (Pama-Nyungan) substratum and Papuan and Austronesian overlays, while Capell (1956) and Dixon (2002) reclassify it among the Papuan languages. The personal pronouns are typically Australian, most kin terms are Papuan, and significant sea and agricultural vocabulary is Austronesian.

Kalaw Lagaw Ya has only 6% cognation with its closest Australian neighbour, Urradhi, with a further 5% "common" vocabulary [loans of various origins]) - and about 40% common vocabulary with its Papuan neighbour, Meriam Mìr (Mitchell 2012). Of the 279 Proto-Paman forms given in Sommer 1969:62-66, only 18.9% have definite realisations in Kalaw Lagaw Ya, with a further 2.5% which may be present. One word that illustrates the problems of 'may-be' relationship is kùlbai (KKY kùlba) old, which may be a metathetic realisation of CA *bulgan big; old. Thus, where vocabulary is concerned, potentially 80% of the vocabulary of the language is non-Australian, and includes Papuan and Austronesian items (Mitchell 1995:9).

The following are a few examples of different word stock in Kalaw Lagaw Ya.

Australian
(Common Australian)
Papuan
(Proto–East Trans-Fly)
Austronesian
(Proto–Central District)
*nya-ga look
naga+i- id.
*sipi root
sipi id.
*gamo belly
gamu body, torso
*jana they
thana id.
*p[ae]- that, there
pi-/pe- specifically yonder
*waura south-east
wœur(a) id.
*ganyarra reptile
kœnara k.o. tree snake
*gabo cold
gabu id.
*boro-ma pig
bùrùm(a) id.
*galga spear
kœlak(a) id.
*biro side
bero rib; side of boat, hill, river, etc.
*pu[lr]i magic etc.
puy(i) (older puuri) id.

Oral tradition and cultural evidence recorded by Haddon (1935) and Laade (1968) shows that Austronesian trade and settlement in South-West Papua, Torres Strait and Cape York occurred, backed up by archaeological evidence (Bruno, McNiven, et al. 2004) and linguistic evidence - the languages have significant Austronesian vocabulary content (cf. Dutton 1972 and 1976, Verhoeve 1982), including items such as the following:

Kalaw Lagaw Ya meaning Meriam Mìr meaning Bine
(Papua)
meaning Proto-Oceanic
Austronesian
meaning
maapu heavy (beberbeber) (heavy) mæpu id. *mapa id.
paad(a) hill paser id. podo id. *pantar id.
Wœy(i)
OKY *wœri
Venus wer star wale star *waRi sun
wœiwi mango waiwi id. wiwi id. *waiwai id.
waaku mat; sail papék id. waaku id.
(Kalaw Lagaw Ya loan)
*paqu id.
waaru turtle (nam) (turtle) waaru id.
(Kalaw Lagaw Ya loan)
*ponu id.

Some of the Austronesian content, as noted above, is clearly South-East Papuan Austronesian:

item Kalaw Lagaw Ya Gudang
(Australia)
Kiwai
(Papua)
Motu
(Central District, Papua)
Proto–SE Papuan Proto-Oceanic
nacre, mother-of-pearl maay(i)
(OKY maari)
maari mari mairi *mairi  ?
outrigger sayim(a)
OKY sarima
charima sarima
SE Kiwai harima
darima *nsarima *saRaman
pig bùrùm(a) ---- boroma boroma *boro-ma *mporok
rope, cord wœru
KKY wœrukam(i)
uuru waro varo *waro *waro

The linguistic history of the Torres Strait area is complex, and interaction of well over 2000 years has led to many layers of relationship between the local languages, including many words that are obviously common, though whether through trade or 'genetics' is another story, such as the following "trade" words in Torres Strait area languages.

Kalaw Lagaw Ya Meriam Mìr Kiwai
(Papua)
Aböb
(Papua)
Gudang
(Australia)
Urradhi
(Australia)
Anguthimri
(Australia)
Mpakwithi
(Australia)
gii
tusk, knife, tusk/knife-life formation
gir
tusk/knife-life formation
giri
tusk, knife, tusk/
knife-life formation
 ?  ? kiri/ghiri
knife
kiri
knife
kiri
knife
sœguba
tobacco
sogob
tobacco
suguba
tobacco
 ? ---* tyughubha
tobacco
tyughubhu
tobacco
 ?
yœuth(a)
long house, hall; church
ìut (alt- eut)
church
----  ?  ? yutha
house
---- ----
mœruka
any strange four-legged animal
---- ----  ?  ? murruku
horse
 ? marruku
horse
mœrap(i)
bamboo
marep marabo  ? marrapi marrapi  ? marrapi
eso
thanks
esoau  ? eso  ?  ?  ?  ?
paaudh(a)
peace
paud  ? piuda paaudha  ?  ?  ?
warup(a)
drum
warup warupa (w)arapa warrupa (w)arrupa (w)arrupa (w)arrupa
thuurik(a)
cutting tool
tulik turika turika
Bine turi/turikæ
 ? thurriya
crowbar
thurriya
crowbar
thurriya
crowbar
  • The only Gudang word recorded in the mid-1800s by Europeans was choki, from the Malay-based English Pidgin English used by the British (and other) sailors of the time. The Malay word is variously coki or cuki.

However, any discussion of external relationships of Kalaw Lagaw Ya must also take into account the fact that there are tantalising resemblances between the Paman (Australian) and the Trans-Fly (Papuan) languages, that, though few, may be significant, and include forms such as those noted below, which include words that do not appear in Kalaw Lagaw Ya. Such resemblances can point to an deep-level relationship dating back to before the flooding of Torres Strait at the end of the last age, as well as to later contacts.

Proto-Paman
(or a specific North Cape York language)
meaning Proto-Trans-Fly meaning Kalaw Lagaw Ya meaning
*kaalu ear *kuru hear kaura;
kùrusai- (compounds only)
ear
*ŋaa(na) who *ŋana id. ngaa who;
also nga- found only in the compound ngalaga "where" (lág(a) "place")
*mini good *mi:nji id. miina real, true, very
anha
Urradhi, Gudang
breath *ŋana id. ngœna id.
wintamwintama
Urradhi
star *mpintom id. thithuy(i)
OKY thithuri
id.
*nyupun one *[ni/yi/dVr]ponV id. wœrapùn(i)
ùrapùn
(wara "one of a group")
id.
*pama man, person *pama id. --- ---

Pronouns - linguistic and historical comparison[edit]

A comparison of the Kalaw Lagaw Ya, Meriam Mìr, Kiwai and Urradhi personal pronouns show similarities and differences in typology. In comparison to Urradhi, Kalaw Lagaw Ya has an archaic typology - or, rather, Urradhi has innovated. Kiwai does not have 1-2 pronouns, while Meriam Mìr does not have a dual and trial/paucal set of pronouns which correspond to its verb system. The Kalaw Lagaw Ya system in itself is essentially Australian:

Kalaw Lagaw Ya (KKY dialect)
number 1 1-2 2 3
singular ngai ---- ngi nui masculine
na feminine
dual ngalbe ngœba ngipel palai
plural ngœi ngalpa ngitha thana
Meriam Mìr
number 1 1-2 2 3
singular ka ---- ma e
non-singular ki mi wa wi, i

Note that most of the Trans Fly languages also have two-gender masculine-feminine systems, though not marked on the pronouns themselves; Meriam Mìr does not mark gender. Wurm 1975:333-334.

Kiwai
number 1 2 3
singular mai rai nowai
dual nimoto rigoto neito
trial nimoibi rigoibi neibi
plural nimo rigo nei
Urradhi
number 1 1-2 2 3
singular ayu(va) ---- antu(va) ulu(va)
dual ampu(la) ali(va) ipu(la) ula(va)
plural (as dual) ana(va) (as dual) (as dual)

However, even though the system has no real surprises for Australian linguistics, it is clear that Kalaw Lagaw Ya has innovated in the 1st and 2nd pronouns, which appear to have the following CA origins:

CA *ngali > ngœy [stem: ngœlmu-, ngœimu-] we, not you; and with stem extensions ngalpa you and I/we (old-style singing ngalipa/ngalepa), ngalbai/ngalbe we two (not you), (old style singing ngalebai/ngalibai)
CA *ngana+pulV > ngœba you and I.

The 2nd person dual and plural pronouns are clearly based on forms that literally mean you-two (ngipel) and you-they (ngitha[na]), in the same way as the demonstratives similarly mark the dual and plural (see further below in Nominal Morphology).

The Kalaw Lagaw Ya pronouns and their Australian origins
English KLY KulY KY KKY Old KY
(Kowrareg)
Proto-Pama–Nyungan origin
I ngay
stem: nga-
ngai
stem: nga-
ngai
stem: nga-
ngai
stem: nga-
ngai
stem: nga-
*ngayi
you and I ngœba ngœba ngœba ngœba ngœba *ngana+pulV
'we two, not you'
we two (not you) ngalbay ngalbai ngalbai/ngalbe ngalbe ngalbe *ngali+[?]
'you and me, you and us'
we (incl. you) ngalpa
stem: ngalpu-
ngalpa
stem: ngalpu-
ngalpa
stem: ngalpu-
ngalpa
stem: ngalpa-
ngalpa
stem: ngalpa-
*ngali+[?]
'you and me, you and us'
we (not you) ngœy
stem: ngœlmu-
ngœi
stem: ngœlmu-
ngœyi
stem: ngœymu-
ngœi
stem: ngœimu-
ngœri
stem: ngœri(mu)-
*ngali
'you and me, you and us'
you (sing.) ni ni ngi ngi ngi *NHina
you two nipel
stem: nipe-
nipel
stem: nipe-
ngipel
stem: ngipe-
ngipel
stem: ngipe-
ngipel
stem: ngipe-
*NHina+pulV
you (pl.) nitha
stem: nithamu-
nitha
stem: nithamu-
ngitha
stem: ngithamu-
ngitha
stem: ngithamu-
ngithana
stem: ngithana(mu)-
*NHina + *DHana 'they'
he nuy
stem: nu-
nui
stem: nu-
nui
stem: nu-
nui
stem: nu-
nui
stem: nu-
*NHu-
she na na na na na *NHan-
they two palay
stem: palamu-
palai
stem: palamu-
pale
stem: palamu-
palai
stem: palamu-,
Boigu pale
stem: palemu-
pale
stem: palamu-
*pula
they thana
stem: thanamu-
thana
stem: thanamu-
thana
stem: thanamu-
thana
stem: thanamu-
thana
stem: thanamu-
*DHana
who nga nga nga nga nga *ngaaNH
what
(no independent nominative-accusative form)
mi-,
midhi-
mi- mi- mi- mi- *miNHa 'food' (?)

A Pre-Historic Overview of the Language[edit]

An examination of the various sub-systems (vocabulary, syntax, morphology) of Kalaw Lagaw Ya gives the following evidence of development:

Australian (Paman) : Some basic vocabulary, all personal pronouns (inc. who and what/which), some verbs. Some grammar, such as nominal and verb morphology (subject, agent, object, genitive, -l locative, -ka dative in the dialects closer to Australia, perfective, imperfective, -iz(i) perfective intransitive-antipassive. (Note that these typological categories also exist in the Trans-Fly languages; the forms in Kalaw Lagaw Ya are clearly Australian).

Papuan (Trans-Fly) : A little basic vocabulary, some abstract vocabulary, some verbs. Some grammar, such as verb number and different stems for different number forms of some verbs. Use of state/movement verbs as existential 'to be' verbs. Two non-personal pronouns : naag/naga how, namuith when (both in KKY, the dialect of the islands off the Papuan coast).

Austronesian : Some basic vocabulary, terminology dealing with agriculture, canoes, the weather, the sky and the sea, some abstract nouns, some verbs. Possibly some grammar in the form of function words, such as waadh (KKY waaza) existential emphasis (i.e. ‘it is true that...’).

The Australian word forms and structure found in Kalaw Lagaw Ya give every appearance of being retentions, i.e. inherited, in that the original Australian systems appear to be unchanged at the core level. That is to say, Kalaw Lagaw Ya is not a pidgin/creole in origin, but an Australian language which has undergone quite a bit of external lexical and grammatical influence.

Hence, in this respect, Kalaw Lagaw Ya appears to be a classic case of shift (Thomason and Kaufmann, 1978:212), whereby speakers of one language, over a long period of time, retained multilingualism while taking over the target language. The Papuan language overlay changed the originally Australian phonology and syntax profoundly. The contrast of Australian laminal nh/ny and lh/ly and apical n and l has been lost, voicing has become phonemic, and s, z, t, d, o and òò have been introduced. This also seems to have caused reanalysis in the phonology of Australian vocabulary, such that these “foreign” sounds occur in such words.

On the other hand, Austronesian content in Kalaw Lagaw Ya (and the neighbouring Papuan languages) appears to be mainly lexicon (including verbs), particularly in the spheres of sea, farming, canoe and sky/weather/astrological terminology, with some possible syntactic words. Hence, this presents a picture (again following Thomason and Kaufmann 1988:212) of a typically extensive borrowing situation with much lexical borrowing and some structural borrowing with a large amount of passive bilingualism with little active bilingualism.

Laade’s picture (1968) of Australian and Papuan settlement in Torres Strait supports the above scenario of Papuan and Austronesian speakers who shifted to an Australian language over a long period of time, the Austronesians being culturally superstratum, however not in a position to impose their language. He presented folk history evidence that a few Austronesian traders (men) settled at Parema (north-east of Daru) and married local [Proto–Trans Fly speaking] women. To avoid further miscenegenation, they soon moved and settled in Torres Strait, first to the Eastern Islands, then to the Central Islands, then to Moa, Badu and Mabuiag. At Mabuiag, Badu and Moa they found Aboriginal people, killed the men and kept the women (and presumably the children). Some moved on up to Saibai, Doewan and Boeigu to avoid this new miscenegenation, hence the lighter colour of many Saibai, Doewan and Boeigu people. Boeigu folk history collected by Laade also shows direct East Austronesian genetic influence on Boeigu (Laade 1968).

The social milieu that the above discussions presents is that of a few Austronesian men who settled on the outskirts of an East Trans-Fly group, intermarried, and whose children were either bilingual, or speakers of their mothers’ language, with some knowledge of their fathers’ language. The local people did not need to speak the traders’ language, who in turn had to speak the local language. The children in turn would then speak the local language, with varying ability in the fathers’ language, particularly in areas that were culturally important for the fathers.

These people then shifted to Torres Strait - maintaining established ties with Papua - and overlaid an Australian population in such a way that the majority of women spoke an Australian language, with a significant number, mainly men, who spoke a Papuan language with significant Austronesian influence. Over time, the core structure of the mothers’ dominated, with retention of the men’s Papuo-Austronesian content in the appropriate cultural subsystems. In essence this would have been a ‘replay’ of the original settlement by Austronesian traders at Parema, with the women understanding the language of the men, but not really needing to speak it while retaining parts of their language for significant areas. The children then created a new language shift to an Australian language with a Papuan-Austronesian admixture.

Thus, Kalaw Lagaw Ya appears to be a mixed language in that a significant part of its lexicon, phonology and grammar is not Australian in origin. The core nominal, pronominal and verb morphology is Australian in both form and grammar - though a certain amount of the grammar is common to Trans-Fly and Paman languages in the first place. Its semantic categories, verb number morphology, and some other morphology are non-Australian in origin. Further, potentially 80% of its vocabulary is non-Australian. The interplay of the above within the subsystems of Kalaw Lagaw Ya lexicon, phonology and grammar points more to mixing through shift and borrowing rather than pidginisation and creolisation.

Outside Influences[edit]

The language also has some vocabulary from languages outside the Torres Strait area, from the Indonesian, Malay, Filipino, English and other 'outsiders'. Where loan words from the Western Austronesian (Indonesian, etc.) loans are concerned, it is possible that some such came into the language in pre-European contact days, with the Makassans and similar fishermen/traders who visited northern Australia and Torres Strait.

Examples of post-European contact Western Austronesian loan words:

item Kalaw Lagaw Ya origin
coconut toddy thúba tuba (Eastern Indonesian or Filipino)
trumps (in cards) záru zaru/jaru (Eastern Indonesian or Filipino)
mate, friend, brother bala
Boigu variants bœra, baya
bela/bala (Eastern Indonesian or Filipino)
bœlasan blachan belacan (Malay)

Some words in the language, assuming that they are Western Austronesian loans, appear to be pre-contact words. This is suggested both by their forms, but also that their use in the language (and in neighbouring languages) seems to indicate this.

Possible pre-European Contact Western Austronesian words in Kalaw Lagaw Ya (some of these words are ultimately from Arabic, Sanskrit and possibly Portuguese. Ngajedan 1987.)

Kalaw Lagaw Ya meaning possible source meaning
aya (KKY)
aye (KLY,KulY,KY)
come! (singular) ayo Malay come!
bayu (KulY,KY)
baaiwa (KLY)
waterspout bayu Malay
(Sanskrit vayu)
wind
ádhi huge, great (also as an honorific)
story (with cultural, religious or similar significance)
'story stone or rock', i.e. a rock or stone that represents
or is someone or something with sacred or
cultural aignificance, which is explained by the
story about the rock or stone
adi Malay
(Sanskrit adhi)
huge, great
(also as an honorific)
kœdal(a) crocodile kadal Malay
kaɖalaq Makasarese
lizard
pawa deed, action, custom paal [pa'al] Malay
(Arabic fa’la)
deed, action

In the KKY dialect of Kalaw Lagaw Ya, waterspout is markai gùb(a) spirit wind; waterspouts were one of the weapons of the markai who mainly came from the west/north-west (i.e. from what is now Indonesia) in the NW monsoon season (when waterspouts are common), and went back to the west/north-west with the SE trades.

The postulation of pawa as being an early loan from Malay is extremely hypothetical - and suggested not only by the form of the word, but also the loss of the final -l. Two early English loans underwent a similar change, which in essence is a back formation from what in the language appeared to be a plural. Most nouns (a) form the plural with an -l suffix, and (b) in the nominative-accusative singular elide the stem final vowel, as in tukuyapa- same-sex sibling, plural tukuyapal, nominative-accusative tukuyap, and under this model custard-apple became Kalaw Lagaw Ya katitap, plural katitapal, and the word mammy-apple (pawpaw/papaya) became Kalaw Lagaw Ya mamiyap, plural mamiyapal

Assuming that Malay paal [pa'al] was borrowed as *pawal, with the glottal stop being converted to w, as the language does not have the glottal stop, *pawal would be seen as a plural, with the singular *pawa, under the model (in this case) of kawal islands, kawa island.

Modern Eastern Austronesian Loans (Polynesian and Melanesian) into the language are mainly of religious or 'academic' use. In general such words are terms for objects that are strictly speaking European goods. One exception is the last in the following table, which has virtually replaced the traditional words imi spouse’s opposite-sex sibling, opposite sibling’s spouse and ngaubath spouse’s same-sex sibling, same-sex sibling’s spouse. These have also similarly been replaced by the English loan woman (pronounced [woman]) in the meaning of sister/daughter-in-law.

Kalaw Lagaw Ya meaning origin language meaning in originating language
thúsi book, document, letter, etc. tusi Samoan (same meaning)
laulau table laulau Samoan plaited coconut leaf used as a tray
wakasu anointment oil wakacu Dehu coconut oil
thawiyan
(emotive form thawi)
brother/son-in-law tawean Vanuatu brother-in-law

Other biblical loans are from Greek, Latin and Hebrew:

Kalaw Lagaw Ya meaning origin language meaning in originating language
basalaya kingdom basileia Greek id.
aretho holy communion artos Greek id.
Sathana Satan satan Hebrew id.
Sabadh(a) Sunday sabbath Hebrew Saturday (Sabbath)

Dialects[edit]

There are four main dialects, two of which are on probably the verge of extinction, one (Kaiwaligau Ya) through convergence to the neighbouring Kalaw Lagaw Ya. Within the dialects there are two or more subdialects. The average mutual intelligibility rate is around 97%.

  • Northern dialect : Kalau Kawau Ya - Saibai (Saibai Village and Aith, also Bamaga/Seisia on Cape York), Dœwan (Dauan), Bœigu (Boigu)
  • Western dialect : Kalaw Lagaw Ya - Mabuyag (Mabuiag) and Badhu (Badu)
  • Eastern dialect (Central Island dialect) : Kulkalgau Ya - Yama, Waraber, Puruma, Masig and associated islands, now uninhabited, such as Nagi and Gebar
  • Southern Dialect (South-West Islands) : Kaiwaligau Ya [Kauraraigau Ya] - Muralag, Nœrupai (alt. Nurupai, Ngœrupai, Ngurupai) and the other islands of the Thursday Island group, Mua (alt. Moa), Muri (Mt Adolphus - now uninhabited); Muwalgau Ya / Italgau Ya - Mua. Now converging with Kalaw Lagaw Ya.

The Southern dialect has certain characteristics that link it closely to the northern dialect, and folk history dealing with the Muralag group and Mua reflects this, in that the ancestors of the Kowrareg (the Hiámo) originally came from Dharu (Daru, to the north east of Torres Strait) - and who had previously settled on Dharu from Yama in Central Torres Strait [Lawrence 1989].

Samples of the dialects

When Mum went home, she gave Dad the knife.
Kalau Kawau Ya: Ama na/nanga lagapa uzarima na/nanga, nadh Babalpa gi [alt. upi] manu [alt. maninu].
Kalaw Lagaw Ya: Ama na/nanga mudhaka uzarima na/nanga, nadh Babanika gi [alt. upi, thurik] manu.
Kulkalgau Ya: Ama na/nanga mudhaka uzarima/uzarimò na/nanga, nadh Babanika gi [alt. upi, thurik] manu.
Kaiwalgau Ya-Mualgau Ya: Ama na/nanga lagapa/mudhapa/mudhaka uzarima na/nanga, nadha Babanipa/Babanika gi [alt. upi, thurik] manul/manu.
(Old Kawalgau Ya (Kowrareg): *Ama na/nanga lagapa[rri]/mudhapa[rri] uzarrima na/nanga, nadhu Babanipa[rri] giri [alt. upi, thurrika] manulai.)

and... simplified Kalaw Lagaw Ya

Ama na kulai mudh ka uzari, nadh Baban ka gi [alt. upi, thurik] mani.

Underlying form:

Ama+0 nanga (kul+lai) laga/mudha+pa/ka uzara+i+0+ma nanga,
Mum+NOM REFERENCE (before+LOC) place/shelter+DAT go+ACTIVE+SINGULAR+ACTIVE TODAY PAST REFERENCE
na+dh Baba+ni+pa/ka gi/upi/thurika+0 ma[ni]+0+0+nu.
she+INSTRUMENTAL Dad+LINK+DAT knife+ACC give+ATTAINATIVE+SINGULAR+ATTAINATIVE TODAY PAST
(gi knife, tusk, canine tooth, upi knife made from bamboo, thurik cutting tool)
They cut down a big tree earlier today to make a canoe.
Kalau Kawau Ya: Thana kœi puy pathanu gulpa aymœipa.
Kalaw Lagaw Ya: Thana kœi puuyi pathanu gulka ayimka.
Kulkalgau Ya: Thana kœi puy pathanu[l] gulka aymœika.
Kaiwaligau Ya/Muwalgau Ya: Thana kœi puy pathanu[l] gulpa aymaipa.
(Old Kawalgau Ya (Kowrareg): *Thana kœi puuri pathanulai gulpa[rri] ayimaripa[rri].)

and... simplified Kalaw Lagaw Ya

Thana kulai kœi puy pathai gulka aymaik.

Underlying form:

Thana+0 (kul+lai) kœi puuRi+0 patha+0+0+nu[+lai] gul+ka/pa[ri] ayima+[R]i+ka/pa[ri].
TheyPL+NOM (before+LOC) big tree+ACC chop+ATT+SING+TodayPast[+LOC] canoe+DAT make+VN+Dat

Some isolect markers of the four dialects of Kalaw Lagaw Ya.

Kalau Kawau Ya Kawalgau Ya Kalaw Lagaw Ya Kulkalgau Ya Kauraraigau Ya
(Kowrareg)
you SG ngi ngi ni ni ngi
house laag laag,
mùdh
mùùdha mùdh laaga,
mùdha
thunder gigi dhuyum dhuyum dhuyum dhuyuma
end, finish muasi-
(B muyasi-)
muasi- minasi- minasi- moasi-
heat kom kœmàn kœmààna kom kœmàna
steam kœman kœmàn kœmààna kœmàn kœmàna
Dative -pa -pa
(-ka)
-ka
(-pa)
-ka
(-pa)
-pa[rri]
(-ka)
Ablative -ngu(z),
-z(i)
-ngu,
-z(i)
-ngu,
-zi
-ngu,
-z(i)
-nguzi,
-zi
Present Perfective
Active Singular
-iz,
-izi(n)
-i,
-izi
-i,
-izi
-i,
-izi
-izi,
-izi(ri)

Dialect Differences[edit]

1) Phonology:

Phonological differences between the dialects are amazingly rare - and in general sporadic. The only regular differences are the following:

a) Colloquial final unstressed vowel elision in Kulkalgau Ya and Kawalgau Ya:

maalu sea > maal’

waapi fish > waap’

thathi father > thath’

waaru turtle > waar’

ngadha appearance, looks > ngadh’

mœràpi bamboo (à shows the stressed syllable) > mœràp’

bera rib > ber’

kaba dance performance > kab’

Such elision is rare or sporadic in the other dialects.

b) Final vowel unstressed vowel devoicing and deletion in Kalaw Lagaw Ya

In Kalaw Lagaw Ya, such final vowels in correct language are devoiced, and deleted in colloquial language, except in a small class of words which include bera rib, where there is a short vowel in the stem and in which the final vowel is permanently deleted, with compensatory lengthening of the final consonant (thus berr).

Strictly speaking, the process is not final vowel devoicing, but rather stressed vowel lengthening accompanied by final vowel devoicing - except in the case of words such as bera rib > berr, where the process is final consonant lengthening by the final vowel being 'incorporated' into the consonant. Note that in the following the word-final capital letter represents a devoiced vowel:

maalu sea > maalU > maal’

waapi fish > waapI > waap’

thaathi father > thaathI > thaath’ (Badhu variant thath’)

waaru turtle > waarU > waar’

ngadha appearance, looks > ngaadhA > ngaadh’

mœràpi bamboo (àà shows the stressed syllable) > mœrààpI > mœrààp’

bera rib > berr

kaba dance performance > kabb

In declined forms of such words, the long vowel is shortened, and the final vowel voiced, and in words like ber rib the final vowel often reappears:

maalU sea + ka dative > maluka

waapI fish > wapika

thaathI father > thathika

waarU turtle > waruka

ngaadhA appearance, looks > ngadhaka

mœrààpI bamboo > mœràpika

ber rib > beraka, berka

kab dance performance > kabaka, kabka

This vowel shortening in affixed/modified forms exists in all dialects, however the other dialects have retained contrastive length to some extent, whereas Kalaw Lagaw Ya has largely lost it for ‘morphophonological’ length, where the stressed vowel in non-emotive words (see below) of one or two syllables is automatically lengthened in the nominative-accusative; this also applies to words of three syllables with second syllable stress (as in mœrààpI bamboo).

One of the very few length contrasts in the Kalaw Lagaw Ya dialect is kaabA knot in bamboo etc. vs kab dance performance (kab in Old Kawalgaw Ya was kœRaba, and œRa has regularly given short a in Kalaw Lagaw Ya); such length contrasts are more widespread in the other dialects.

The exceptions are (1) the small class or words that include ber rib and kab dance performance, and (2) emotive words. Emotive words are those that equate to a certain extent to diminutives in languages such as Irish, Dutch and German, where specific suffixes are added to show 'diminutive' status (-ín, -Cje and -chen respectively). Emotive words in the Kalaw Lagaw Ya dialect include familiar kinship terms [the equivalent of English Mum, Dad and the like] and words used in emotive contexts such as singing/poetry.

Word Non-Emotive Emotive
Mum (apùùwA, apùù, àpu - mother) Ama
Dad (thaathI, thaath - father) Baba
Child kaazI, kaaz kazi
Wife iipI, iip ipi
Home (Island) laagA, laag laga
Dust, Spray pœœyA, pœœy pœya (also paya)
Bamboo mœrààpI, mœrààp mœràpi (also marapi)
Head kuwììkU, kuwììk kuwìku, kuiku

c) Kalau Kawau Ya final i-glide deletion

A small class of words in KKY lose the final i-glide found in the other dialects, including the following:

banana plant : KLY/KulY/KY dawai, KKY dawa

spot, stain : KLY/KulY/KY burkui (bœrkui), KKY bœrku (burku)

blank skink : KLY/KulY/KY mogai, KKY Saibai/Dœwan mogo, Bœigu moga

old : KLY/KulY/KY kulbai, KKY kulba

a short while, first before doing something else : KLY/KulY/KY mamui, KKY mamu

birth cord : KLY/KulY/KY kùpai, KKY kùpa

Word forms in neighbouring languages as well in the Kauraraigau Ya (Kowrareg) of the mid-to-late 19th century, such as the Meriam Mìr kopor and Kauraraigau Ya kupar/kopar birth cord show that in such words the final -i/Ø are the modern forms of older .

2) Syntax

The main syntactic differences are:

a) Verb negative construction:

In all dialects except Kalau Kawau Ya, the verb negative is the nominalised privative form of the verbal noun. As this form in itself a noun, its subject and direct object are cast in the genitive:

Ngath waapi purthanu I ate a fish

Ngai stuwaka uzarima I went to the store

Ngau wapiu purthaiginga I didn’t eat a fish

Ngau stuwaka uzaraiginga I didn’t go to the store

The Kalau Kawau Ya dialect uses the verbal noun privative form as an invariable verb negative:

Ngath waapi purthanu I ate a fish

Ngai stuwapa uzarima I went to the store

Ngath waapi purthaiginga I didn’t eat a fish

Ngai stuwapa uzaraiginga I didn’t go to the store

b) Verb Tenses/Aspects

The Kalau Kawau Ya dialect has the tenses and aspects listed in the section on verb morphology. The other dialects have largely lost the remote future tense, using the habitual instead; the remote future in the other dialetcs is retained most commonly as a 'future imperative', where the imperative refers to a vague period in the future. The Kalaw lagaw Ya dialect also has a 'last night' tense, where the adverb bungil last night has become grammaticalised as a verb ending, following the example of the adverb ngùl yesterday, which had previously become grammaticalised as a 'recent past' tense marker in all dialects, with reduction to -ngu in the Kalau kawau Ya dialect. In the other dialects bongel last night is a fully functioning temporal adverb used in conjunction with either the today past or the recent past.

In the case of the shape of affixes, dialects differ in the following:

1) present imperfective/near future perfective/verbal noun dative:

KKY/KY -pa, KLY/KulY -ka

2) Recent past

KKY -ngu, KLY/KY/KulY -ngul

3) Today past

KKY/KLY/KulY -nu, KY -nul (older -nulai)

4) Habitual

KKY -paruig/paruidh/-parui/-paru/-pu (-pu most commonly on stems of two or more syllables, and the bi-syllabic forms on stems of one syllable [the consonant final forms are emphatic forms])

KLY/KulY -kuruig

KY -kurui

c) Nominal Affixes

The main nominal affix difference is the dative ending, which has the following forms in the various dialects:

KLY/KulY -ka; -pa with kipa to here and sipa to there; -pa sometimes in poetry/singing

KY -pa; -ka in ngaikika to/for/towards me; -ka often in poetry/singing.

KKY -pa in all cases; -ka often in poetry/singing.

The plural/HAVE suffix -LAI also shows a small amount of dialect variation with stems of two syllables, where Kulkalgau Ya differs from the other dialects in retaining the full form of the suffix -LAI, reduced to -L in the other dialects. In stems of three or more syllables, the suffix is reduced to -L in all dialects, while retained as -LAI (variants according to noun sub-class -THAI, -AI, -DAI) with stems of one syllable.

Three+ syllable stem: burum pig, stem: buruma-, plural burumal

Bisyllabic stem: lag, KLY laagA place, home, home island, stem: laga-, plural lagal, KulY lagalai

monosyllabic stems: all dialects identical

(1) Regular vowel final: ma spider, stem: ma-, plural malai

(2) Regular -i glide final: mui fire, stem: mui-, plural muithai, KLY muithail

(3) Regular -l final: gul sailing canoe, stem: gul-, plural gulai

(4) Regular -r final: wœr/wur/uur water, stem: wœr-/wur-/ur-, plural wœlai/wulai/ulai, KKY wœrai

(5) Irregular vowel final stem: ya speech, word(s), message, language, etc., stem: ya-, plural yadai, KLY yadail

d) Vocabulary

The main differences between the dialects are to do with vocabulary, as can be seen in the following examples:

house/building : KLY mùùdha (laaga), KulY mùdh (laag), KY laag (mùdh), KKY laag

mud : KLY/KulY/KY berdhar (sœœya sandy mud/silt), KKY sœœi (berdhar softness of food, mud, etc.)

grandad : KLY/KulY/KY athe, KKY pòpu

frog : KLY/KulY kœtaaka, kœtak, KY kat, KLY (Saibai-Dœwan) kat, (Bœigu) kœteku

axe : KLY/KulY/KY aga, KKY agathurik (thurik cutting tool)

namesake : KLY/KulY natham, KKY/KY nasem

small, little : KLY/KulY/KY mœgi, Saibai/Dœwan mœgina, Bœigu mœgina, kœthuka

woman, female : KKY yipkaz/yœpkaz [stem yipkazi-/yœpkazi-], KLY/KulY ipikaz (KLY variant iipka) [stem ipkazi-], KY ipkai [stem ipkazi-]

man, male : KKY garkaz [stem garkazi-], KLY/KulY garka [stem garkazi-], KY garkai [stem garkazi-]

unmarried young/teenage woman : KKY ngawakaz [stem ngawakazi-], KLY/KulY ngawka/ngoka [stem ngawkazi-/ngokazi-], KY ngawakai [stem ngawakazi-]

song : KLY naawu (plural nawul], KulY nawu (plural nawulai), KY nawu (plural nawul), KKY na (plural nathai)

moon, month : KLY kisaayi, poetry mœlpal, KulY/KY kiisay, poetry mœlpal, KKY mœlpal, poetry kiisay

Phonology[edit]

Kala Lagaw Ya is the only Australian language to have the alveolar fricatives /s/ and /z/. However, these have allophonic variants // and //, which are the norm in Australia languages (but non-contrasting). These latter two are allophones in that in all environments /s/ and /z/ can appear, while /tʃ/ and /dʒ/ can not appear at the end of a word; note that this allophony is very similar to that of the neighbouring Papuan language Bine. All the stops, except for the alveolars t and d, have fricative allophones, thus p can be [p] or [ɸ], k can be [k] or [x], b [b] or [β], and so on. Furthermore, it is one of the few Australian languages with fully functioning voiced-voiceless distinctions (p/b, t/d, s/z, k/g, th/dh) - and one of the few without retroflex stops.

The language is also one of the few Australian languages with only one rhotic, one l and one n. The earliest recorded dialect, Kaiwalgau Ya (Kauraraigau Ya [Kowrareg]), however, did have two rhotics, the tap and the glide; the rhotic glide has in general become /j/, /w/ or zero in the other dialects (and Modern Kaiwalgau Ya), rarely /r/. Neighbouring languages retain an /r/ in related words, such as;

sayima outrigger : Old Kaiwalgaw Ya sarima, Kiwai (Papua) harima, Gudang (Australia) charima

babath opposite-sex sibling : Old Kaiwalgau Ya bœrabatha opposite-sex sibling, Meriam Mìr berbet sibling.

It is interesting to note, however, that in singing, s, z and r are pronounced [s], [z], and [ɽ] (the glide), and virtually never as /tʃ/, /dʒ/ and /r/.

Consonants voiceless
stop/
(af)fricative
voiced
stop/
(af)fricative
nasal approximants
lateral
rhotic
labial p b m w
dental th dh n l
alveolar t d - r
alveo-palatal s z - y
velar k g ng -
Vowels -round +round
+high,-mid i,ii u,uu
+high,+mid e,ee ù,ùù
-high,+mid œ,œœ o,oo
-high,-mid a,aa ò,òò

Notes:

a) The consonant d varies to some extent with r, particularly in KKY/KY kadai-/karai-, KLY/KulY kad[a]/kad[a]/kadai/karai upwards.

b) The typewritten forms of œ and œœ are oe and ooe.

c) The long vowel ùù is only found in Kala Lagaw Ya.

d) Length is to a certain extent contrastive, and partly allophonic.

e) The +/-round contrast is reminiscent of Papuan phonology.

The mid long vowels are allophonic variants of the mid short vowels that are in the process of developing phonemic status, while the short vowel ò is similarly in origin an allophone of òò.

Internal reconstruction and comparison with neighbouring languages suggests an underlying four vowel structure with contrasting vowel length, where underlying *i typically gives surface i and e, underlying *a typically gives surface a and œ, underlying typically gives surface o and ù, and underlying *u typically gives surface ù and u (there are other realisations as well, depending on rules of assimilation etc.):

Underlying Vowels -round +round
+high *i,*ii *u,*uu
-high *a,*aa *ò,*òò

The language undergoes low-level vowel shifts, caused by stress domination within clauses. Long vowels are shortened, and short vowels raise when the word is preceded by morphemes such as adjectives, demonstrative articles, prefixes and the like; the changes also occur within words when these are suffixed:

laag place - senabi lag that place

lagal places - sethabi lœgal those places (also sethabi lagal)

mœrap bamboo - mœrœpil bamboo plants/poles/sticks (also mœrapil)

guul sailing canoe - senaubi gul that canoe

thonaral times - sethabi thunaral those times (also sethabi thonaral)

zageth work - zagithapa to/for work [dative] (also zagethapa) (zageth is a compound of za thing + geth hand)

The processes are low-level in that they are not 'automatic' - the changes do not have to occur and can be consciously 'blocked'. In normal speech, vowel shortening and the change of a to œ are the norm, which the changes of e to i and o to u are sporadic, and most common in unstressed syllables.

Assimilation of vowels to other vowels in the vicinity and consonants is also widespread, particularly of the vowel œ:

wœrab coconut - wurab - urab

yœlpai lead [verbal noun] - yilpai - ilpai

ngœnu whose - ngunu

kœu belonging to here - kou

ngœba you and I - ngaba

Orthography[edit]

There is no strict standard spelling, and three slightly different orthographies (and often mixes of them) are in use.

The three spelling systems used for the language:

The Mission Spelling (established at first by Loyalty Islands missionaries in 1870s, then modified by Polynesian missionaries in the 1880s) : a, b, d, e, g, i, j, k, l, m, n, ng, o, ö, p, r, s, t, u, z, sometimes also th, dh, dth, tr, dr, oe, ë, w, y, j, and sometimes double vowels to show length. This spelling system was strongly inspired by the one used for the Drehu (Lifu) language in the very early period, though later with the change of non-European Mission personnel from Lifu to Polynesian, as well as the growing number of indigenous Torres Strait missionaries, the spelling system lost the overtly Drehu forms tr, dr and ë, which had no phonological basis in Kalaw Lagaw Ya. The mission system is the orthography used in the Reports of the Cambridge Expedition to the Torres Strait (Haddon et al., 1898 and on, University of Cambridge) and in "Myths and Legends of Torres Strait" (Lawrie, University of Queensland, 1971). Ray, the linguist of the Cambridge Expedition, also used various diacrtitics to represent vowel length and quality.

Klokheid and Bani (established 1970s) : a, aa, b, d (alveolar), dh (dental), e, ee, g, i, ii, k, l, m, n, ng, o, oo,oe (/ə/), ooe (/əː/), p, r, s, t (alveolar), th (dental), u, uu, w, y, z

Saibai, Boigu, Dauan students (established late 1970s) : a, b, d (alveolar), dh (dental), e, g, i, k, l, m, n, ng, o, oe (/ə/), p, r, s, t (alveolar), th (dental), u, w, y, z (vowel length, though it is exists, is not represented).

People not only use these three slightly differing spelling systems, but they also write words more or less as they pronounce them. Because of this words are often spelt in various ways, for example sena/sina that, there, kothai/kothay/kothei/kothey/kothe back of head, occiput. Variation like this depends on age, family, island, and other factors such as poetic speech. It can be difficult at times to decide which is most correct - different people have different opinions (and sometimes have very strong opinions).

Though in general the pronunciation of older people has priority, some people can actually get quite offended if they think the language is written the ‘wrong’ way. Some insist that the mission spelling should be used, others the Bani spelling, and still others the KKY (Saibai etc.) spelling, and still again others use mixes of two or three, or adaptations thereof. Some writers of the Mabuiag-Badhu dialect (Kalaw Lagaw Ya), for example, write mainly in the Mission system, sometimes use the diagraphs oe, th, dh (variant dth) and sometimes use capital letters at the ends of words to show devoiced vowels, such as ngukI fresh water/drinking water, fruit juice /ŋʊːki̥/. In the Bani/Klokheid orthograophy nguki is written nguuki, and in the other dialects the final vowel is either fully voiced, nguki /ŋʊki/), or elided, nguk /ŋʊk/).

The biggest bone of contention between the advocates of the 'modern' orthographies and the 'traditionalist' orthographies is the use of w and y to show the semi-vowels (or semi-consonants if you prefer). In general native speakers in literacy classes seem to find y and w very difficult to learn, and that u and i are the 'logical' letters to use. Getting untrained speakers to break up words by sound or syllable suggests that u and i are really the underlying sounds. Thus, a word like dhaudhai mainland, continent syllabifies as dha-u-dha-i, not dhau-dhai. In songs, the glide-u/i can also be given full syllable status. 'Historical' considerations also point to the semi-vowels often being vocalic rather than consonantal. Thus, lagau, the genitive of laag[a] place is in underlying form laaga+ngu; the full form of the genitive ending -ngu is only retained where the nominal has a monosyllabic stem (see the section on Nominal Morphology). Similarly, verbal nouns end in -i, e.g. lumai, stem luuma- search, look for, seek, hunt. The earliest records of the language of the mid-19th century show that the verbal noun ending was previously -ri (thus lumari), where the -r- was presumably the rhotic glide rather than the rhotic tap/trill.

A dictionary now in preparation (Mitchell/Ober) uses an orthography based on detailed study of the surface and underlying phonology of the language, as well as on observation of how people write in real life situations. It is a mix of the Mission and Kalau Kawau Ya orthographies with the addition of diacritics (the letters in brackets) to aid correct pronunciation, since many of the people who will use this dictionary will not be speakers of the language:

a (á), b, d, dh, e (é), g, i (í), k, l, m, n, ng, o (ó, ò, ò'), œ (œ'), r, s, t, th, u (ú, ù), w, y, z

Within this orthography, w and y are treated as consonants - this is their phonogical status in the language - while u and i are used as the glides where phonological considerations show that the 'diphthong' combination has vocalic status.

Pronunciation of the letters[edit]

The English pronunciations given in the list below are those of Australian English, and are only meant as a guide. The letters in square brackets ([]) are the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).

a (short) [a] : ‘u’ as in hut - gath shallow, shallows, mathaman hit, kill

a, á (long) (aa in the Bani orth.) [aː] ‘a’ as in father - áth bottom turtle shell (plastron), ma spider, lág place

b [b] as in English - Báb Dad, bœbu current, stream, bibir power, authority

d [d] as in English - da chest, idi grease, fat, dead-calm sea

dh [d̪] similar to d, but with the tip of the tongue put against the top teeth- dha ladder, stairs, adhal outside, Bádhu Badu

e (short) [e] ‘e’ as in bed - bero rib, nge then, tete animal/bird leg

e, é (long) (ee in the Bani orth.) [eː] ‘are’ as in bared - gér sea snake, dhe slime, sei there

g [ɡ] as in English get, never as in general - gigi thunder, gág mangrove swamp

i (short) [i] short ‘ee’ as in feet - midh how, sisi gecko, ipi wife

i, í (long) (ii in the Bani orth.) [iː] ‘ee’ as in feed - síb liver, gi knife, ígil life

k [k] as in English - kikiman hurry up, kakayam bird-of-paradise

l [l] similar to English ‘l’ in lean, but with the tip of the tongue against the top teeth; never as in English kneel - lág place, home, li basket, gúl double-outrigger sailing canoe

m [m] as in English - mám love, affection, Ama Mum, Aunty, ma spider

n [n] similar to English ‘n’ in nun, but with the tip of the tongue against the top teeth - na song, nan her, nanu her(s)

ng [ŋ] as in English sing; never as in English finger - ngai I, me, ngœrang armpit

o (short) [o] more or less ‘o’ as is in got, though more rounded - sob slowness, mogo blank skink

o (long) (oo in the Bani orth.) [oː] more or less ‘o’ as in god, though more rounded - gor tie-hole, so show

ò (short) [ɔ] short version of ‘oa’ in broad - mòdhabil costs, prices, gòyal bald

ò (long) (oo in the Bani orth.) [ɔː] ‘oa’ in broad - mòs lung, spittle, gòy baldness

œ (short) [ə] ‘a’ as in about - bœtœm lean (animals), bœga mallard

œ (long) (ooe in the Bani orth.) [əː] more or less like ‘er’ in herd - wœr water, Wœy Venus, bœi coming

p [p] as in English - papi noose, trap, áp garden, Pòpu Grandad

r [r] similar to ‘tt’ in better when said fast (that is to say, when better is pronounced ‘bedder’). Before another consonant and at the end of a word, it is often trilled (like in ‘stage’ Scottish English or 'rr' in Spanish). In singing, however, it is normally pronounced much like the American English ‘r’ - ári rain, louse, rùg rag, piece of cloth, ár dawn

s [s] most commonly like English ‘s’ in sister; sometimes like English ‘ch’ in chew when at the beginning of a word or in the middle of a word; never like ‘s’ in ‘as’ (which is a ‘z’ sound) - sas style, showing off, sisi gecko, sagul game, fun, dance

t [t] as in English - tádu sand-crab, tídan return, understand, ít rock oyster

th [t̪] similar to t, but with the tip of the tongue put against the top teeth - tha crocodile tail, thathi father, geth hand

u (short) [u] short ‘u’ as in lute - buthu sand, gulai sailing canoes

u, ú (long) (uu in the Bani orth.) [uː] ‘oo’ in woo - búzar fat, blubber, thu smoke

ù [ʊ] ‘u’ as in put - mùdh shelter, kùt late afternoon, early evening, kùlai first, before

w [w] Not as strong as English ‘w’ in we ; for most speakers of the language the only difference between w and short u is that w is shorter - wa yes, kawa island, báw wave

y [j] Not as strong as English ‘y’ in yes; for most speakers of the language the only difference between y and short i is that y is much shorter - ya speech, talk, language, aya come!, máy well, spring; tears; pearl-shell, nacre

z [z] most commonly like English ‘z’ in zoo, or English ‘s’ in has; sometimes like English ‘j’ in jump, or ‘dg’ in budge when at the beginning or in the middle of a word - zázi grass skirt, za thing, object, zizi crackle, crack, rustling noise

Combinations of vowels (‘diphthongs’, such as ai, au, œi, eu etc.) are pronounced as written. Thus, for example, ai is a-i (basically very similar to ‘i’ in ‘mine’ with a posh accent). In singing and sometimes in slow speech, such vowel combinations can be said separately. The diphthongs are:

ei - sei there

iu - biuni kookoobuura, kingfisher

œi - bœi coconut frond

eu - seu belonging to there

ai - Saibai Saibai

œu - kœubu battle, war

òi - òi hoy!, hey! (reply to a call, vocative particle)

au - kaub tiredness

ui - mui fire

ou - berou of a/the rib

In the Bani and Saibai (etc.) orthographies, these are written as follows:

ey - sey

iw - biwni

œy - bœy

ew - sew

ay - Saybay

œw - kœwbu

oy - oy

aw - kawb

uy - muy

ow - berow

Nominal Morphology[edit]

Where the morphology is concerned, the language is somewhere along the continuum between agglutinative and declining. Nominals have the following cases: nominative, accusative, instrumental (subsumes ergative), dative (subsumes allative), ablative (subsumes elative), specific locative, nonspecific locative (subsumes perlative and comitative), and global locative. Nominals also have the following derived forms: negative, similative, resultative and proprietive, which also forms the noun nominative-accusative plural. All stems end in a vowel or a semi-vowel, except for a few monosyllables ending in -r and -l (which includes a very few reduplicated words, like tharthar boiling, seething, as well as ngipel you two [a compound of ngi you singular and -pal two]). For many nouns the surface nominative(-accusative) undergoes a final stem-vowel deletion rule; in the Kalaw Lagaw Ya dialect the rule results in final devoiced vowels accompanied by main vowel lengthening. There are three numbers, singular, dual and plural. Singular and dual are the same form in all nominals except the personal pronouns. Furthermore, the plural is only distinguished in the nominative-accusative - except for the personal pronouns, where the difference in number is shown by the stem.

There are two nominal classes, Common Nominals (common nouns, demonstratives, locative/temporal/etc. adverbs) and Proper Nominals (Proper names [personal names, boat names, emotive kinship terms], pronouns). The major difference between the two classes are 1) semantic - Proper Nominals have pronominal characteristics, and, 2) declensional, for example Proper Nominals have one locative case rather than the three of Common Nominals.

Common nominal declensions (Note that the following are in the Kalau Kawau Ya dialect.)

Case/Suffix Hoe/Adze Place/Home Knife Water Mud Middle looking giving, getting, being, moving, doing, etc.
stem type multisyllabic
-u final
multisyllabic monosyllabic
vowel final
monosyllabic
-r/-l final
monosyllabic
-i glide final
locative nominal
('adverb')
multisyllabic
verbal noun
monosyllabic
verbal noun
stem pábu- lága- gi- wœr- sái- dhadha- naga+i- má+i-
nom-acc. sing.-dual pábu lág gi wœr sái dhadh
(compounds only)
nœgai mái
nom-acc. pl. pabul lagal gilai wœrai saithai dhadhal
(compounds only)
--- ---
inst. pabun lagan ginu/gín wœrnu/wœran saithu dhadhan nœgain main
gen. pabu lagau gingu wœrngu saingu dhadhau nœgai mai
(maingu)
dat. pabupa lagapa gipa wœrpa saipa dhadhapa nœgaipa maipa
abl. pabungu lagangu gingu wœrngu saingu dhadhaz nœgaile maithaile
sp.loc. pabunu,
pabu'
laganu,
laga'
gilai,
ginu
wœrai,
wœrnu
saithai,
saithe
dhadhal,
dhadha'
nœgainu mainu
n-sp-loc pabuya lagaya giya wœriya saiya dhadhaya nœgaiya maiya
gl-loc. pabuyab lagayab gipu wœrab, wœrpu saiyab, saipu dhadhayab nœgaiya maiya
prop. pabul(ai) lagal(ai) gilai wœrai saithai,
saithe
dhadhal(ai)
(compounds only)
nœgail(ai) maithai
priv. pabugi lagagi gigi wœrgi saigi dhadhagi
(compounds only)
nœgaigi maigi
sim. pabudh(a) lagadh(a) gidha wœrdha/wœradh saidh(a) dhadhadh(a)
(compounds only)
nœgaidh(a) maidh(a)
res. pabuzi lagazi gizi wœrzi saizi dhadhazi
(compounds only)
nœgaizi maizi

There are few irregular nouns, the most common being

(1) ái food, speech, language, message, etc., basket, mound, bump, hump

instrumental aidu, yadu, lidu, ludu specific locative/proprietive-plural aidai/aide, yadai, lidai, ludai

(2) KKY , KLY naawu, KulY/KY nawu song

instrumental KKY nathu, KLY/KulY/KY nathun, nawun

specific locative/proprietive-plural KKY nathai, KLY/KY nawul, KulY nawlai

(3) thing, object, matter, etc.

This word has a fuller stem form, zapu-, which appears in certain forms:

instrumental zapun genitive zapu proprietive-plural zapul

In the locative forms both stems (za- and zapu-) appear:

specific locative zanu, zapunu, etc.

(4) gœiga sun, day; bireg/bereg shelf

The stems of these words have different forms to the nominative-accusative-

gœiga - stem:gœigœyi-, gœigi-; bireg/bereg - stem:bœreigi-

Demonstratives

The language has a closed class of demonstrative morphemes with special morphological characteristics:

Prefixes:

pi there in the distance in a specific position

kai there in the distance in a non-specific position

Stems:

ka, í here, this

se/si there, that (not too far away)

gui, mulu/ngùl down there

ka, karai/kadai up there (variant forms of the one underlying stem)

ngapa there beyond

pai, pa, paipa ahead there, up close there (variant forms of the one underlying stem *pai)

pun[i], pawa off from there, back from there, back over there, back there (possibly variant forms of the one underlying stem)

These demonstratives (as stem forms) can have masculine, feminine and non-singular forms (and as such are pronominal) as well as case forms. Í here, this and se/si there, that (not too far away) take the gender/number morphemes as suffixes, and the other demonstratives take them as prefixes. Note that ka non-specifically here and kai there in the distance in a non-specific position cannot appear with the gender/number morphemes, as these latter are specific by their nature. Í and se/si also take an article forming affix -bi to become demonstrative articles (e.g. senaubi kaz that boy, senabi kaz that girl, sepalbi kaz those two children, sethabi kœzil those children.)

Ka, í and se/si:

Case/Suffix here
non specific
here
specific
there
non-specific
there
specific
nom-acc kai in mas.,
ina fem.,
ipal dual,
itha pl.
sei,
senau mas.,
sena/sina fem.,
sepal/sipal dual,
setha/sitha pl
inst. kedha --- kedha ---
gen. kœu --- seu ---
dat. kœpa --- sepa/sipa ---
abl. kœzi --- seizi/sizi ---
sp.loc. kai in mas.,
ina fem.,
ipal dual,
itha pl.
sei/si senau mas.,
sena/sina fem.,
sepal/sipal dual,
setha/sitha pl.
n-sp-loc/gl.loc kaiki inuki mas.,
inaki fem.,
ipalki dual,
ithaki pl.
seiki/siki senauki mas.,
senaki/sinaki fem.,
sepalki/sipalki dual,
sethaki/sithaki pl.
sim. kedha kedha kedha kedha
article kedhabi inubi mas.,
inabi fem.,
ipalbi dual,
ithabi pl.
kedhabi senaubi mas.,
senabi/sinabi fem.,
sepalbi/sipalbi dual,
sethabi/sithabi pl.

Other demonstratives:

Case/Suffix gui ka(rai) ngapa pai/pa pun/pawa
nom-acc-inst-sp.loc
specific
(forms without the pi prefix are more pronominal in function)
(pi)nugui mas.,
(pi)nagui fem.,
(pi)palgui dual,
(pi)thagui pl.
(pi)nuka mas.,
(pi)naka fem.,
(pi)palka dual,
(pi)thaka pl.
(pi)nungap mas.,
(pi)nangap fem.,
(pi)palngap dual,
(pi)thangap pl.
(pi)nupai mas.,
(pi)napai fem.,
(pi)palpai dual,
(pi)thapai pl.
(pi)nupun mas.,
(pi)napun fem.,
(pi)palpun dual,
(pi)thapun pl.
nom-acc-inst-loc
non-specific
kaigui kaika kaingap kaipai/kaipaipa kaipun, kaipawapa
specific dat.
(forms without the pi prefix are more pronominal in function)
(pi)numulupa mas.,
(pi)namulupa fem.,
(pi)palmulupa dual,
(pi)thamulupa pl.
(pi)nukaripa mas.,
(pi)nakaripa fem.,
(pi)palkaripa dual,
(pi)thakaripa pl.
(pi)nungapapa mas.,
(pi)nangapapa fem.,
(pi)palngapapa dual,
(pi)thangapapa pl.
(pi)nupaipa mas.,
(pi)napaipa fem.,
(pi)palpaipa dual,
(pi)thapaipa pl.
(pi)nupawapa mas.,
(pi)napawapa fem.,
(pi)palpawapa dual,
(pi)thapawapa pl.
non-specific dat. mulupa karaipa/kadaipa kaingapapa (kai)paipa (kai)pawapa
abl. kizigui kizika kizingap kizipai kizipun
n-sp-loc/gl.loc neutral
(forms without the pi prefix are more pronominal in function)
(pi)nuguiki mas., (
pi)naguiki fem.,
(pi)palguiki dual,
(pi)thaguiki pl.
(pi)nukaki mas.,
(pi)nakaki fem.,
(pi)palkaki dual,
(pi)thakaki pl.
(pi)nungapaki mas.,
(pi)nangapaki fem.,
(pi)palngapaki dual,
(pi)thangapaki pl.
(pi)nupaiki/(pi)nupaipa mas.,
(pi)napaiki/(pi)napaipa fem.,
(pi)palpaiki/(pi)palpaipa dual,
(pi)thapaiki/(pi)thapaipa pl.
(pi)nupuniki/(pi)nupawapa mas.,
(pi)napuniki/(pi)napawapa fem.,
(pi)palpuniki/(pi)palawapa dual,
(pi)thapuniki/(pi)thapawapa pl.
n-sp/gl-loc kaiguiki kaikaki kaingapaki kaipaiki/kaipaipa kaipunki, kaipawapa

Pronouns : singular

Note that the third person pronouns are also used as definite articles, e.g. Nuidh garkœzin nan yipkaz imadhin The man saw the woman.

Case/Suffix I/me you he/it (the) she/it (the) who what
nom. ngai ngi nui na nga mi- (miai, miza)
acc. ngœna ngin nuin nan ngan mi-
(miai, miza);
min
inst. ngath ngidh nuidh nadh ngadh midh
(miaidu/miden/midu/midun, mizœpun)
gen. ngau (mas.), ngœzu (fem.) nginu nungu nanu ngœnu mingu
(miaingu, mizœngu)
dat. ngayapa ngibepa nubepa nabepa ngabepa mipa
(miaipa, mizœpa)
abl. ngaungu(z) (mas.), ngœzungu(z) (fem.) nginungu(z) nungungu(z) nanungu(z) ngœnungu(z) mingu(zi)
(miaingu, mizœngu)
sp.loc. ngaibiya ngibiya nubiya nabiya ngabiya miaide/miainu,
mizœpunu
n-sp-loc ngaibiya ngibiya nubiya nabiya ngabiya miaiya,
mizœpuya
gl-loc. ngaibiya ngibiya nubiya nabiya ngabiya miaiyab,
mizœpuyab
proprietive/plural ---------- ---------- ---------- ---------- ---------- midel, mizœpul
priv. ngaugi (mas.), ngœzugi (fem.) nginugi nungugi nanugi ngœnugi miaigi,
mizœgi
sim. ngaudh (mas.), ngœzudh (fem.) nginudh nungudh nanudh ngœnudh midh
(miaidh, mizœpudh)
res. ---------- ---------- ---------- ---------- ---------- miaizi, mizœzi

Personal pronouns : dual

Case/Suffix we two you and I you two them two
(the two)
who-two
nom-acc-inst ngalbe ngœba ngipel palai
(Boigu pale)
ngawal
gen. ngalben ngœban ngipen palamun
(Boigu palemun)
(as for singular)
dat. ngalbelpa ngœbalpa ngipelpa palamulpa
(Boigu palemulpa)
(as for singular)
abl. ngalbelngu ngœbalngu ngipelngu palamulngu
(Boigu palemulngu)
(as for singular)
loc. ngalbeniya ngœbaniya ngipeniya palamuniya
(Boigu palemuniya)
(as for singular)
sim. ngalbedh ngœbadh ngipedh palamudh
(Boigu palemudh)
(as for singular)

Ngawal who two is constructed from nga who plus the clitic -wal both, and two (dual conjunction).

Personal pronouns : plural

Case/Suffix we (not you) we (inc. you) you they (the) who
nom-acc-inst ngœi ngalpa ngitha thana ngaya
gen. ngœimun ngalpan ngithamun thanamun (as for singular)
dat. ngœimulpa ngalpalpa ngithamulpa thanamulpa (as for singular)
abl. ngœimulngu ngalpalngu ngithamulngu thanamulngu (as for singular)
loc. ngœimuniya ngalpaniya ngithamuniya thanamuniya (as for singular)
sim. ngœimudh ngalpadh ngithamudh thanamudh (as for singular)

Ngaya who many is constructed from nga who plus the clitic -ya and others (plural conjunction).

Personal names and familiar kinship terms (Familiar kinship terms are the equivalent of English kin terms such as Dad and Mum, while non-familiar terms are the equivalent of Father and Mother; these latter are treated as common nouns in the language)

Case/Suffix Tom (mas.) Anai (fem.) Dad/Uncle
(cf. father/uncle)
Mum/Aunty
(cf. mother/aunt
nom-inst Tom Anai Báb
(thathi)
Ama
(ápu)
acc-gen. Toman Anaina Baban
(thathiu)
Amana
(apuwau)
dat. Tomalpa Anailpa Babalpa
(thathipa)
Amalpa
(apuwapa)
abl. Tomalngu Anailngu Babalngu
(thathingu)
Amalngu
(apuwangu)
loc. Tomaniya Anainiya Babaniya
(thathiya)
Amaniya
(apuwaya)
proprietive/plural ----------- ----------- babal
(thathil)
amal
(apuwal)
priv. ----------- ----------- babagi
(thathigi)
amagi
(apuwagi)
sim. Tomadh Anaidh babadh
(thathidh)
amadh
(apuwadh)
res. ----------- ----------- babazi
(thathizi)
amazi
(apuwazi)

Verb Morphology[edit]

Verbs can have over 100 different aspect, tense, voice, mood and number forms. Verb agreement is with the object (i.e. 'ergative') in transitive clauses, and with the subject in intransitive clauses. Imperatives, on the other hand, agree with both subject and object in transitive clauses.

There are three aspects (perfective, imperfective, habitual), two telicity forms (active, which focuses on the verb activity and subsumes many intransitives, many antipassives and some transitives, and attainative, which subsumes many transitives, some antipassives and some intransitives), two moods (non-imperative and imperative [which resembles a subjunctive in some uses], 6 tenses (remote future, today future, present, today past, recent past, remote past) and four numbers (singular, dual, specific plural, animate active plural - in form the animate active plural is the same as the singular, and is only found on certain verbs).

In most descriptions of the language the active and attainative forms have been mistakenly termed transitive and intransitive respectively. Transitive, intransitive, passive, antipassive and 'antipassive passive' in the language are syntactic categories, and are formed by the interplay of nominal and verbal morphology, clause/sentence-level characteristics such as word-order, and semantic considerations.

Verb morphology consists of prefixes (aspect, positioning, etc.), suffixes (telicity, number, and two fossilised multiplicative/causative suffixes) and endings (tense, aspect and mood). The structural matrix of a verb is as follows. Note that the two fossilised suffixes are mutually exclusive; if a suffix is in the A slot, a suffix cannot appear in the B slot, and vice versa.

(prefix)+(prefix)+stem(+FOSSILISED SUFFIX A)+(TELICITY)(+FOSSILISED SUFFIX B)++(number)+ending(+ending).

Example:

pabalkabuthamadhin two were laid down across something [which would clear in the context]

pabalkabuthemadhin two lay down (laid themselves down) across something [which would clear in the context]

prefix: pa- completive

prefix: bal- positional - across

stem: kabutha- place, lay

telicity suffix: attainative, -i active

number suffix: -ma dual

tense-aspect ending: -dhin remote past perfective

Sample verb declension : íma- see, observe, supervise, examine, try, test

Tensed forms

Case/Suffix Perfective Attainative Imperfective Attainative Perfective Active Imperfective Active
remote future singular imane imaipu (imaiparui) imedhe imepu (imeparui)
dual imamane imampu (imamparui) imemadhe imempu (imemparui)
plural imamœine imamœipu (imamœiparui) imemœidhe imemœipu (imemœiparui)
near future singular imaipa imaipu (imaiparui) imepa imepu (imeparui)
dual imampa imampu (imamparui) imempa imempu (imemparui)
plural imamœipa imamœipu (imamœiparui) imemœipa imemœipu (imemœiparui)
present singular iman imaipa imiz imepa
dual imaman imampa imeman imempa
plural imamœin imamœipa imemœin imemœipa
today past singular imanu imadha imema imedha
dual imamanu imamadha imemanu imemadha
plural imamœinu imamœidha imemœinu imemœidha
recent past singular imangu imarngu imaingu imairngu
dual imamangu imamarngu imemangu imemarngu
plural imamœingu imamœirngu imemœingu imemœirngu
remote past singular imadhin imar imaidhin imai
dual imamadhin imamar imemadhin imemar
plural imamœidhin imamœi (imamir) imemœidhin imemœi (imemir)

Non-tensed forms

Case/Suffix Singular Dual Plural
Attainative Habitual imaipu (imaiparui) imampu (imamparui) imamœipu (imamœiparui)
Active Habitual imepu (imeparui) imempu (imemparui) imemœipu (imemœiparui)
Perfective Attainative Imperative (Singular Subject) imar imamar imamœi (imamir)
(Non-Plural Subject) imau (imaziu) imamariu imamœi (imamœiziu, imamiu)
Active Imperative imi imemariu imemœi (imemœiziu, imemiu)
Imperfective Attainative Imperative imadha imamadha imamœidha
Imperfective Active Imperative imedha imemadha imemœidha

Nominalised forms

Case/Suffix Verbal Noun Proprietive Privative Resultative
base form imai imail imaigi imaizi
independent impersonal form (nom-acc) imai imailnga imaiginga imaizinga
stem imai- imailmai- imaigimai- imaizimai-
independent personal form (nom-acc) ---- imailaig imaigig imaizig
stem ---- imailga- imaigiga- imaiziga-

Miscellaneous Paradigms[edit]

Three paradigms that have irregular morphology are:

Si[ ]kai Perhaps/Maybe/Possibly (all dialects except Kalau Kawau Ya - which has invariable sike, sikedh)

masculine sinukai/senukai, feminine sinakai/senakai, general (singular, dual, plural) sikai

Goodbye

Singular yawa, Non-singular yawal

Hey! (word used to attract someone's attention)

mas. kame, kamedh, fem. kake, kakedh, non-singular kole, koledh

In sikedh, kamedh, kakedh and koledh, the -dh final is only found in more emphatic use.

Sign language[edit]

The Torres Strait Islanders have signed forms of their languages,[5] though it is not clear from records that they are particularly well-developed compared to other Australian Aboriginal sign languages.[6]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Kalaw Lagaw Ya at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Kalaw Lagaw Ya at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  3. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Kala Lagaw Ya". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  4. ^ Kalaw Lagaw Ya at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  5. ^ Seligman, C. G., and A. Wilkin (1907). The gesture language of the Western Islanders, in "Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits." Cambridge, England: The University Press, v.3.
  6. ^ Kendon, A. (1988) Sign Languages of Aboriginal Australia: Cultural, Semiotic and Communicative Perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

External links[edit]