Dalabon language

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Native toAustralia
RegionArnhem Land
EthnicityDangbon = Dalabon
Native speakers
3 (2018)
Language codes
ISO 639-3ngk
Dalabon is located in Australia
Coordinates: 13°59′S 133°56′E / 13.98°S 133.94°E / -13.98; 133.94

Dalabon is a Gunwinyguan language of Arnhem Land, Australia. It is a severely endangered language,[3] with perhaps as few as three fluent speakers remaining as of 2018.[4] Dalabon is also known as Dangbon (the Kune or Mayali name), Ngalkbun (the Jawoyn name), and Buwan (the Rembarrnga name).[2]


Dalabon belongs to the Gunwinyguan languages branch of the Australian languages, its nearest relatives are Kunwinjku, Kune, Mayali (varieties often grouped together as Bininj Kunwok) and Rembarrnga, and other languages in this family include Jawoyn, Ngalakgan, Ngandi, Wubuy, Kunbarlang and Enindhilyakwa.

Official status[edit]

Dalabon has no official status. Local schools spent years to hold sporadic programs teaching Dalabon, but these operations didn't receive enough governmental support. Therefore, the condition of programs is still vulnerable.


Given the limited number of Dalabon speakers, the study of dialects has become challenging to investigate. Speakers recall a distinction between two different types of speech, dalabon-djurrkdjurrk ("fast", "lively") and dalabon-murduk ("articulate"). However, no significant difference has been found between the two speeches.



There are 22 consonants in Dalabon. A table containing the consonant phonemes is given below.

Dalabon consonant phonemes
Peripheral Apico- Lamino-Palatal Glottal
Velar Bilabial Alveolar Retroflex
Short stop k p t ʈ c ʔ
Long stop ʈː
Nasal ŋ m n ɳ ɲ
Lateral l ɭ
Rhotic r ɻ
Semi-vowel w j


There are 6 vowels in Dalabon. A table containing the vowel phonemes is given below.

Dalabon vowel phonemes
Front Central Back
High i ɨ u
mid e o
low a


The syllable structure of Dalabon is CV(C)(C)(C) structure, and complex codas are not unusual.

Phonological processes[edit]

Dalabon has the pattern to elide unstressed vowels and unstressed syllables. For example, the word /'cabale/ 'shoulder blade' is often realized as ['cable][5]. Dalabon restricts the trilled [r] and long stops to only occur word-internally. Constraints regarding the edges of a phonological word limit the glottal stop [ʔ] from occurring word-initially.


The location of phrasal stress in Dalabon appears one or two peaks with an initial rise into the first peak at the left edge of the constituent and a final fall at the right edge of the constituent[6].


Dalabon is a polysynthetic language with low frequency of applying subordinate clauses[7].


The structure of Dalabon verbs[8].:

-12 -11 -10 -9 -8 -7 -6 -5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3

SEQ: sequential ‘and then’

CAUS: ‘because’

misc: various adverbial type prefixes

BEN: benefactive applicative

gin: ‘generic’ incorporated nouns

bpin: ‘body part’ incorporated nouns

num: ‘number’ prefixes

COM: comitative applicative

RR: Reflexive/reciprocal

TAM: tense/aspect mood

The diminutive enclitic =wurd is derived from noun wurd 'woman's child', its reduplication wurdurd means 'child'. wurd can attach to most word classes and functions in 3 ways of meaning: to denote small objects, to add emotional connotations and to serve as pragmatic functions (especially for interactional softening). The examples are shown below[9].

1. to denote small objects
Bad-dulum-no=wurd kanidjah ka-h-di.
stone-hill-fill=dim there 3sg-r-stand/be.prs
'There is a small stone hill there.'
2. to add emotional connotations
Wa:h ka-h-rakka-ng=wurd.
interj 3sg-r-fall-pfv=dim
'Oh, he fell over poor fellow.'


Dalabon is a head-marking language. Dalabon has limited use of subordinate clauses, but it has a distinctive subordination strategy, which is to attach pronominal prefixes to the verb, and marked verbs are used for subordinate clause functions[10]

Pronominal Prefixes Subordinate1 Subordinate2
1sg nga- ngaye-
2sg dja- djaya-
3sg ka- kaye-
1dis nge- ngey-
3dis ke- key-
3du barra- barre-
3pl bala- bale-

subordinate1: the unmarked form of prefixes to show subordinate status, used when the status is overt by other means.

subordinate2: used when pre(fixes are the only way to show subordination.

dis: disharmonic, meaning odd-numbered generations.

Examples are shown below:

(1)bala-buh-ngong+boyenj-ni-nj mahkih
3pl-because-mob+big-be-PP because
‘..because there were so many of them.’
(2)yila-h-yang-wona-wona-n yale-yu-yu.
1pl/3-R-voice-REDUP-hear-PRES 1pl.SURB2-REDUP-sleepP
‘we heard his(dingo's) voice as we were sleeping.’
(3) karrkkany ka-h-ngun kaye-do-n.
hawk.sp. 3/3l-P-eatPRES 3SURB2-die-PRES
‘the hawk eats animals that die.’


Dalabon Gloss Dalabon Gloss Dalabon Gloss
bim "picture" kenbo "later" murduk "hard/strong"
biyi "man" kinikun "different" mey "(veget.) food"
bonj "O.K." kirdikird "woman" ngalyurr "thunder"
boyenj "big" kolh-no "liquid" ngarrk "ache"
burrama "good, healthy" kung "honey" Ngurrurdu "emu"
dabarngh "yesterday" kunj "kangaroo" wadda "home/house"
dengu-no "foot/toe" labbarl "waterhole" wah "water"
djihkun "spoon" langu "hand/finger" wurdurd "child"
dulum "hill" mah "also" wol "flame"
kardu "maybe" mambard "billycan" yabok "sister"
kakkak-no "grandkin" marrumbu "lover yidjnja "have"


Consonant k p t ʈ ʈː c c: ʔ ŋ m n ɳ ɲ l ɭ r ɻ w j
Orthography k kk b bb d dd rd rdd dj djj h ng m n rn nj l rl rr r w y
Vowel i ɨ u e o a
Orthography i û u e o a


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Ngalkbun". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ a b N60 Dalabon at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  3. ^ Ponsonnet, Maïa (2018). "Expressivity and performance. Expressing compassion and grief with a prosodic contour in Gunwinyguan languages (northern Australia)". Journal of Pragmatics. 136: 79–96. doi:10.1016/j.pragma.2018.08.009. ISSN 0378-2166.
  4. ^ Cutfield, Sarah (30 June 2018). "Dalabon exophoric uses of demonstratives". In Stephen Levinson, Sarah Cutfield, Michael Dunn, Nick Enfield, Sergio Meira, David Wilkins (eds.) (eds.). Demonstratives in Cross-Linguistic Perspective. Cambridge University Press. p. 92. ISBN 978-1-108-34137-0.CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)
  5. ^ Fletcher, J., & Evans, N. (2002). An acoustic phonetic analysis of intonational prominence in two Australian languages. Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 32(2), 123–140. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0025100302001019
  6. ^ Ross, B. (2003). The phonological/grammatical mismatch in the Dalabon word: a phonetic study.
  7. ^ Evans, Nicholas. (2006). Who Said Polysynthetic Languages Avoid Subordination? Multiple Subordination Strategies in Dalabon*. Australian Journal of Linguistics. 26. https://doi.org/10.1080/07268600500531628
  8. ^ Evans, N. (2006). Who said polysynthetic languages avoid subordination? Multiple subordination strategies in Dalabon. Australian Journal of Linguistics, 26(1), 31–58. https://doi.org/10.1080/07268600500531628
  9. ^ Grandi, N., & Körtvélyessy, L. (2014). Edinburgh Handbook of Evaluative Morphology. Retrieved from http://uml.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=1139985&site=ehost-live
  10. ^ Evans, N. (2006). Who said polysynthetic languages avoid subordination? Multiple subordination strategies in Dalabon. Australian Journal of Linguistics, 26(1), 31–58.

Further reading[edit]

  • Alpher, Barry. 1982. Dalabon dual-subject prefixes, kinship categories and generation skewing. In J. Heath, F. Merlan and A. Rumsey, eds, Languages of Kinship in Aboriginal Australia, 19-30. Sydney: Oceania Linguistic Monographs #24,
  • Evans, Nicholas, Dunstan Brown & Greville Corbett. 2001. Dalabon pronominal prefixes and the typology of syncretism: a Network Morphology analysis. Yearbook of Morphology 2000, 187-231.
  • Evans, Nicholas. 2007. Standing up your mind: remembering in Dalabon. In Mengistu Amberber (ed.) The language of memory in a crosslinguistic perspective. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. pp. 67–95.
  • Evans, Nicholas. 2006. Who said polysynthetic languages avoid subordination? Multiple subordination strategies in Dalabon. Australian Journal of Linguistics 26.1:31-58.
  • Evans, Nicholas, Janet Fletcher & Belinda Ross. 2008. Big words, small phrases: mismatches between pause units and the polysynthetic word in Dalabon. Linguistics 46.1:87-127.
  • Evans, Nicholas & Francesca Merlan. 2003. Dalabon verb conjugations. In Nicholas Evans (ed.). The non-Pama-Nyungan languages of northern Australia: comparative studies of the continent’s most linguistically complex region. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. pp. 269–283.
  • Evans, Nicholas, Francesca Merlan & Maggie Tukumba. 2004. A first dictionary of Dalabon (Ngalkbon). Maningrida: Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation. Pp. xxxviii + 489.
  • Maïa Ponsonnet (2015) Nominal Subclasses in Dalabon (South-western Arnhem Land), Australian Journal of Linguistics, 35:1, 1-52, DOI: 10.1080/07268602.2015.976900
  • Ponsonnet, Maïa. 2012. Body-parts in Dalabon and Barunga Kriol: Matches and mismatches. In M. Ponsonnet, L. Dao and M. Bowler eds. Proceedings of the 42nd Australian Linguistic Society Conference – 2011 (Canberra, 1–4 Dec 2011), 351–387. Canberra: ANU Research Repository.
  • (in French) Ponsonnet, Maïa. 2011. Les figures du doute en langue dalabon (Australie du Nord). Journal de la Société des Océanistes, 132(1):151–164. Paris: Société des Océanistes.
  • Ponsonnet, Maïa. 2010. Aspects of the Semantics of Emotions and Feelings in Dalabon (South-Western Arnhem Land). The Australian Journal of Anthropology, 20(3):367-89. Malden / Oxford / Chichester / Richmond: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Ponsonnet, Maïa. 2009. Aspects of the Semantics of Intellectual Subjectivity in Dalabon (South-Western Arnhem Land). Australian Aboriginal Studies, 2009/1:17-28. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.

External links[edit]