Torres Strait Island languages
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There are two languages indigenous to Torres Strait Islanders, and an English-based Creole. The western-central language is an agglutinative language which however appears to be undergoing a transition into a declensional language, while Meriam Mìr is more clearly agglutinative. Brokan is a typical Pacific English Creole.
The Western-Central Torres Strait Island Language
The language of the western and central islands of Torres Strait is related to languages of the Australian mainland and is a member of the Pama–Nyungan family of languages, which covers most of Australia. This language is called Mabuiag, and its dialects are: Kalau Lagau Ya, Kalau Kawau Ya, Kulkalgau Ya and Kawalgau Ya (this latter also called Kowrareg, which is from the mid-19th century Kowrareg dialect form kauraraiga/kaurarega islander. Kalau Lagau Ya is often called Kala Lagau Ya in the literature from here on it is known as Kalau Lagau Ya as per the High Court Decision on 7 August 2013.
The Volume 3 Linguistics by Sydney H. Ray in A.C. Haddon 6 volumes in Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits. In 1907,the Volume 111 Linguistics published a Language Dictionary in Mabuiag Language and Meriam language. The Torres Strait Regional Sea Claim 2001 identified Mabuiag Language as the Western-Central Torres Strait Island language because it is spoken in the Western and Central Torres Strait Islands. In 2001 & 2003, Ron Edwards published the Introductions of Torres Strait Languages Dictionary books of Sydney H. Ray on Mabuiag Language and Meriam Language. This has now become a widely used dictionary and the only dictionary books used by Torres Strait Islanders and people who want to teach, learn and speak the Torres Strait languages.
The four dialects of the Western-Central Language are very close to each other, somewhat like Standard American and Standard British English are to each other. Its vocabulary is potentially 100% non-Australian; at least some of the non-Australian content is demonstrably Papuan (Trans-Fly) and Austronesian (South-East Papuan – see for example Bruno David, Ian McNiven, Rod Mitchell, Meredith Orr, Simon Haberle, Liam Brady and Joe Crouch, “Badu 15 and the Papuan–Austronesian Settlement of Torres Strait”. In Archaeology in Oceania; 1/7/2004). It is an interesting language in having feminine and masculine gender, though no neuter gender [this is typical among Australian languages that have gender] – and the difference is semantically significant in that many words can be masculine or feminine according to basic reference or culturally significant reference. For example, za as masculine means 'an important topic/subject', and as feminine is 'thing, object'. Gœiga when masculine means 'sun', and when feminine means 'day'.
The Eastern Torres Strait Language
The language of eastern Torres Strait is Meriam Mìr. This is a Papuan language and is related to the languages of the nearby coast of Papua New Guinea. Meriam Mir is the only Papuan language indigenous to Australia, and used to have two dialects, Erubim Mìr and Meriam Mir.
Both languages are strictly speaking mixed languages, Meriam Mìr having some Australian/Kalaw Lagaw Ya influence as well as Austronesian. It is probably the case that Meriam Mìr settlers 'overlaid' Kalaw lagaw ya speakers on the Eastern islands (these non-Meriam people who have always been resident on the Eastern Islands are called Nog Le 'Common People', Lawrie).
Torres Strait Creole
The third 'indigenous' language of the Torres Straits is a creole that has developed since around the 1880s. This Torres Strait Creole is also known as Blaikman Tok, Broken/Brokan and Yumplatok. It has five dialects – Papuan, Western-Central, Eastern, TI and Cape York.
The table below shows how some example phrases differ in the Western language Mabuiag. The western dialects are Kalau Kauau Ya, Kala Lagau Ya, Kulkalgau Ya and Kaualgau Ya, 'old' Kaiwalgau Ya. [Kauraregau Ya - Kowrareg). Sydney H. Ray and AC. C. Haddon recorded it as Muralag. Sometimes it is referred to as Muralaigau Ya. The eastern language of Torres Strait is Meriam Language or Meriam Mìr. The Torres Strait Creole is called Brokan.
|English||I am an Islander||I go home/to the house|
|Kalau Kauau Ya||Ngai kauau mœbaig
|Ngai lagapa [uzariz]|
|Kaulagau Ya||Ngai kauraregau mabaig
Ngai kauraregalaig /
|Ngai mudhapa [uzari]|
|Kala Lagau Ya||Ngai lagalaig / Ngai Lagau kaazi||Ngai mudhaka [uzari]|
|Meriam Language / Meriam Mìr||Kaka kaur le nali||Ka meta ìm bakeamuda|
|Brokan||Ai ailan man||Ai go aus|