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For the village in Iran, see Damin, Iran.
Pronunciation [t̺əmiːn]
Created by the Lardil tribe
Setting and usage Initiation language for men, used by the Lardil tribe of Mornington Island
Extinct unknown
Language codes
ISO 639-3 None (mis)
Glottolog None
Linguasphere 29-TAA-bb
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Damin (Demiin in the practical orthography) was a ceremonial language register used by the advanced initiated men of the Lardil (Leerdil in the practical orthography) and the Yangkaal tribes in Aboriginal Australia. Both inhabit islands in the Gulf of Carpentaria, the Lardil on Mornington Island, the largest island of the Wesley Group, and the Yangkaal and Forsyth Islands. Their languages belong to the same family, the Tankic languages. Lardil is the most divergent of the Tankic languages, while the others are mutually comprehensible with Yangkaal.

The Lardil word Demiin can be translated as being silent.


The Lardil had two initiation ceremonies for men, namely luruku, which involved circumcision, and warama, which involved penile subincision. There were no ceremonies for women, although women did play an important role in these ceremonies, especially in the luruku ceremony.

It is sometimes said that Damin was a secret language, but this is misleading since there was no attempt to prevent the uninitiated members of the Leerdil tribe from overhearing it. However it was taught during the warama ceremony and, therefore, in isolation from the uninitiated. At least one elder is known, who, though not having been subincised, had an excellent command of Damin, but this seems to have been a unique case.

Damin lexical words were organised into semantic fields and shouted out to the initiate in a single session. As each word was announced, a second speaker gave its Lardil equivalent. However, it normally took several sessions before a novice mastered the basics and could use Damin openly in the community. One speaker did claim to have learned to speak Damin in a single session, but on the other hand two senior warama men admitted that they lacked a firm command of the register.

Once Damin had been learned, the speakers were known as Demiinkurlda ("Damin possessors"). They spoke the register particularly in ritual contexts, but also in everyday secular life, when foraging, sitting about gossiping, and the like.

Linguistic features[edit]

Damin is the only click language outside Africa.

Damin had a much more restricted and generic lexicon than everyday language. With only about 150 lexical roots, each word in Damin stood for several words of Lardil or Yangkaal. It had only two pronouns (n!a "me" (ego) and n!u "not me" (alter)), for example, compared to Lardil's nineteen, and had an antonymic prefix kuri- (jijuu "small", kurijijuu "large").

Grammatically, the Damin registers of the Lardil and Yangkaal use all the grammatical morphology of those languages, and so therefore are broadly similar.


Damin words have three of Lardil's four pairs of vowels, [a, aː, i, iː, u, uː]; the fourth, [ə, əː], occurs in grammatical suffixes. It uses only some of the (pulmonic) consonants as everyday Lardil, but this is augmented by four other airstream mechanisms: lingual ingressive (the nasal clicks), glottalic egressive (a velar ejective), pulmonic ingressive (an indrawn lateral fricative), and lingual egressive (a bilabial 'spurt'). The consonants of Damin, in the practical orthography and IPA equivalents, are:[1]

Bilabial Denti-
Alveolar Postalveolar Velar
laminal apical apical laminal
Plosive voiceless b [p] th [t̻] d [t̺] § j [t̠ʲ]
j2 [t̠ʲ\t̠ʲ, ɕʲ]
k [k]
ejective k' [kʼ]
Nasal voiced § § n [n̺] § ny [n̠ʲ] ng [ŋ]
voiceless ng* [ŋ̊]
Flap rr [ɾ]
Trill pr [ʙ]
pr2 [ʙ\ʙ]
Approximant central § y [j] w [w]
lateral §
Click nasal m! [ʘ̃] nh!2 [ʇ̃\ʇ̃] n! [ʗ̃]
n!2 [ʗ̃\ʗ̃]
rn! [ʗ̃˞ ]
oral egressive p' [ʘ↑]
Fricative voiceless f [ɸ]
voiceless ingressive l* [ɬ↓ʔ]
Affricate pf [ᵖɸ]

§ These sounds are found in standard Lardil, but not in Damin, apart from grammatical words and suffixes.

L* is described as "ingressive with egressive glottalic release".

Damin consonant clusters at the beginning of a word are p'ny, p'ng, fny, fng, fy, prpry, thrr. Words in normal Lardil may not begin with a cluster. However, Lardil has several clusters in the middle of words, and many of these are not found in Damin words, as Damin only allows syllable-final n and rr.

The origin of Damin[edit]

The origin of Damin is unclear. The Lardil and the Yangkaal say that Damin was created by a mythological figure in Dreamtime. Hale and colleagues believe that it was invented by Lardil elders; it has several aspects found in language games around the world, such as turning nasal occlusives such as m and n into nasal clicks, doubling consonants, and the like. Evans and colleagues, after studying the mythology of both tribes, speculate that it was the Yangkaal elders who invented Damin and passed it to the Lardil.

Current situation[edit]

The cultural traditions of the Lardil and Yangkaal have been in decline for several decades, and the Lardil and Yangkaal languages are nearly extinct. The last warama ceremony was held in the 1950s, so nowadays Damin is no longer in use by either the Yangkaal or the Lardil. However, recently a revival of cultural traditions has begun, and luruku has been celebrated. It remains to be seen whether warama ceremonies will also be reactivated.


  1. ^ Kenneth Hale and David Nash, 1997. Lardil and Damin Phonotactics, pp.247-259 in Boundary Rider: Essays in honour of Geoffrey O'Grady, ed. by Darrell Tryon & Michael Walsh. Pacific Linguistics C-136.
    The IPA is not clear. For example, jj is described as alternatively a voiced fricative, but transcribed as a voiceless fricative [ʆ], an obsolete variant of [ɕ]. Other transcriptions are apparently wrong, such as transcribing supposedly apical rn! as laminal [ⁿǂ].
  • R. M. W. Dixon, The Languages of Australia (1980)
  • D. McKnight, People, Countries and the Rainbow Serpent (1999)
  • K. Hale Deep-Surface Canonical Disparities in Relation to Analysis and Change (1973)
  • K. Hale and D. Nash, "Damin and Lardil Phonotactics". In Tryon & Walsh, eds, Boundary rider: essays in honour of Geoffrey O'Grady (1997)
  • P. Memmott, N. Evans and R. Robinsi Understanding Isolation and Change in Island Human Population though a study of Indigenous Cultural Patterns in the Gulf of Carpentaria

External links[edit]