Meriam language

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Eastern Torres Strait
Meriam Mir
RegionMurray Island, Torres Strait, Queensland, Australia
Native speakers
217 (2016 census)[1]
Eastern Torres Strait Islander Sign Language
Language codes
ISO 639-3ulk
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Meriam (Meriam Mir: Meriam Mìr; also Miriam, Meryam, Mer, Mir, Miriam-Mir, etc. and Eastern, Isten, Esten and Able Able) or the Eastern Torres Strait language is the language of the people of the small islands of Mer (Murray Island), Waier and Dauar, Erub (Darnley Island), and Ugar (Stephens Island) in the eastern Torres Strait, Queensland, Australia. In the Western Torres Strait language, Kalaw Lagaw Ya, it is called Mœyam or Mœyamau Ya. It is the only Papuan language in Australian territory.


Meriam was classified in the Eastern Trans-Fly family of the Trans–New Guinea Phylum by Stephen Wurm, who however felt that these have retained remnants of pre-Trans–New Guinea languages; this is followed by Ethnologue (2005). In 2005 Malcolm Ross concluded that the Eastern Trans-Fly languages were not part of the Trans–New Guinea phylum. R. M. W. Dixon (2002) regards claims of a relationship between the Fly River languages and Meriam as unproven, though what he bases his claim on is not clear, as Meriam Mir has a high cognacy rate with its sister languages, and a certain amount of mutual intelligibility is claimed by Meriam speakers. Mitchell finds that Meriam Mìr has 78% cognates with its sister Trans-Fly Papuan languages, the remaining vocabulary being mainly of Australian origin.[3] Such Trans-Fly cognates include personal pronouns, and verbal and nominal morphology.

Percentages of Australian, Papuan and Austronesian content
(2) = number of items; Mitchell, Holman et al. 40-word list
Source WCL MM
Australian 22.5% (9) 5% (2)
Papuan 22.5% (9) 62.5% (25)
Derivations/Compounds 20% (8) 17.5% (7)
[common to Eastern Trans-Fly 15% (6)]
Austronesian 12.5% (5) 2.5% (1)
More than one possible origin 15% (6) 17.5% (7)
Unclassifiable 32.5% (13) 20% (8)


In the 2016 Australian census, 217 speakers were recorded,[1] up slightly on the previous (2011) census, which recorded 186.[2] It is considered an endangered language by UNESCO.[4]

There is a push to preserve the language in North Queensland. A group of Torres Strait Islander people in Mackay region, where there are only four fluent speakers left, are practising and teaching traditional hymns sung in Meriam Mir in an effort to help more people to learn the language and pass it down. It is hoped that a program to teach the hymns will be introduced into schools.[4]

Meriam Mìr and its neighbours[edit]

Meriam has around 40 percent of its vocabulary in common with its unrelated Western Torres Strait neighbour Kala Lagaw Ya, which is an Australian language.[3] The shared words cover a wide range of semantic domains (body parts, kin, human classification, language, mythology, ceremony, artefacts, topography, natural elements, marine life, qualities, locations, directions and time), though not verbs. This latter strengthens arguments about genetic diversity, however there is still much to suggest mutual influence. The common vocabulary range from "exact cognates" to words that appear related, but have undergone semantic changes, as in the following selected from a list of 250 items (Mitchell 1995) (where exact "cognates" number 62 (24.8%), partial "cognates" 26 (10%) and "cognates" with semantic differentiation number 34 (13.7%), [122 "cognates" in total, 48.8%]):

Exact "cognates"
WCL MM meaning
dhangal(a) deger "dugong"
bal bar "across/crooked"
gamu gem "body"
riidh(a) lid "bone, leaf rib"
saamu sam "cassowary"
thawal(a) tawer "coast"
gabu geb "cold(ness)"
ùmai omái "dog"
ngœnakap(u) nerkep "heart"
naigay(i) naiger "north/north-east"
wathai watwet "dry"
partial "cognates"
WCL meaning MM meaning
KLY dhaanga
"edge, tooth" deg "edge, side"
wati "bad, evil" wìt "wrong doing"
KLY mùùdha
"shelter, backyard, shaded place, haven" mùd "shade"
stem gœigœyi-
"sun, day" gerger "day"
wœibadh(a) "roe"
(badh(a) "food bed")
wer "egg"
Baba, Baab(a) "Dad, Daddy" bab "father"
[wœra]kapu "one (only)"
(wara "one of a group, other")
kepkep "few"
karùm(a) "goanna; clumsiness, mistake" karom "black skink; clumsiness, mistake"
ngœna "breath, intellect, memory" ner "breath"
kaimel, KKY kalmel
"companionship, companion, co-";
"together, along with"
kem "company; associative (case)"
semantic differentiation
WCL meaning MM meaning
thapi "thin piece of bark or wood, page" tep "fruit skin"
kapu "prong" kep "arrow"
maitha "belly" mait "chest"
susu "white sap" susu
"spray, foam"
"white sap"
eumi (singular)
baum (plural)
(stem -um)
buudh(a) "white paint"
(for mourning)
bud "mourning"
"garden bed"

"down, below, under"

sep "earth, ground;
down, below, under"
KKY, KulY kom(a)
KKY, KulY kœman(a)
KLY, MY-KY kœman(a)
"heat, burn"
"heat, burn, steam"
kemur "smoke"
(ur "fire")
KLY biber(e)
"strength, power" beber
"heavy, weighty"

There are also various items of semantic relationship, but not formal relationship, such as WCL puuy(i), MM lu "plant, tree; magic".

Mitchell and Piper (unpublished research notes) used the Holman et al. 40-word list below, which shows 9 (22.5%) exact items, 5 (12.5%) partial, and 3 (7.5%) semantically related words. However, this list was designed for use with Euro-Asian languages, and is perhaps somewhat inappropriate; for example, no horned animals exist, neither language has a verb ‘come’, and Holman et al. assume one form for 'we'; WCL has 4, and MM has 2.

PCD Proto Central-District Papuan Austronesian, PETrf Proto East Trans Fly; POC Proto Oceanic Austronesian; PP Proto Paman; PSEPap Proto South-East Papuan Austronesian [neighbouring languages noted : Papuan : Gizrra, Bine/Kunini, Wipi (Eastern Trans Fly Family), Kiwai (Trans-New Guinea Phylum), Idi, Agöb (Pahoturi family); Australian : Gudang, and the Northern Cape York Language, dialects : Wudhadhi, Atampaya, Angkamuthi, Yadhaykenu]

word MM Gizrra Bine Wipi PETrF Kiwai Idi/Agöb WCL Gudang Urradhi PP PSEPap
louse nem ngüóm, ngóm ngaamo, ngame, ngamwe ngüɨm *ŋamͻ nimo A. kabana aari
(unknown origin)
aaku tick, louse aku tick, louse -- --
two neis nis neneni nœmog
cf. MM mog "piece"
*ni-[isV] netewa,
Bamu teibo
komblebe ùka- "two"
ùkasar(a) "two (only)"
(-sar(a) "small number")
ilaabayu (cf. Y inychantu, At/A ilvan many) Y/A udhima, At udhyama/makyaana,
W aroma/adhoma
*gujarra *drua
water (1) gur "salt water" -gul- "wash"
bapür- PlOb, apür VN
atnana wash VN gony "washing"
imangena "swimming"
*gulV "water, swim, wash" obo,
Kope oru'o wash self VN
I. tetu "wash", A. bemine "sea water" wœr~wur~uur~wœir "water" G ungunya salt water -- -- *wair "water"
water (2)
(fresh; drink, juice)
ni naiy, nai, nae niye, niiye ni, niya, nyɨ, ngi *niya/*nayi obo ni ngùki -- -- *ŋugu/*ŋugi --
cf. hear
laip, girip gublang, gublam tablamo yɨpiya, yɨpyar, yɨkɨpya, yɨrpya, irkɨpia ear;
yɨpiarom, yakrom outer early
*?(+*raamo leaf) gare ear, sepate lobe, external ear ran ear, ika external ear, A. laandra kaura
kurusai- (in compounds)
iwunya Y iwuny
At ikuchi
W iwui
*gaalu --
death eud death;
eumi Sg, baum PL "die";
bud "mourning"
büdül "dead",
budül- "die"
budre death; (w)uje die budɨ "death";
(w)uj(e) "dead, death"
*wudi "die" odio, P para, M uparu "dead";
orisiai, M/Kerewo oihiai "die"
kududar "die" uum(a) "death, unconsciousness"
awum(a) "mourning, wailing" (for a death)
buudh(a) "white paint" (traditionally used for mourning)
ithuurra/ithuulma "dead" Y/A yuthu, At ruthu,
W alghan "dead", W unga "mourn", U alga "death"
-- --
I ka cane, kane kon *ka(nV) mai ngén, A. ngana ngayi G []yuba, aipaana Y/A/At ayu(va) *ŋayi --
liver o konkon (puringai) owolaamo,
wurom, vurom,
sukəp, tsɨkɨp
+*raamͻ "leaf"
K/Kerewo beu, M beo
M siba "heart", D sibo "heart")
A. yoa/siba/zebe siib(a) liver; centre iipa "heart" Y/A yipa, At lipa, W tepa, tipa *jiba --
eye ponì (unknown origin)
ilküp, ilkóküp irecu yɨr, yer "eye", yɨrkɨp, ilkɨp, yɨrtyen, yɨttwin "eyeball" *iri "see", *kapu "seed, body part, fruit, etc." damari, Kerewo idomai kalye, A. yende "eye ",
ikép/ikapa "eye-ball" (kép "egg")
pùrka (unknown origin)
daan(a) (also "pool", "life",
"kernel", "shell-food")
cf. -kap(u) "body part"
daanha, rathair Y anngal, At ipanh, A angwaa, W yeithi/yithi -- *dano "lake, pool"
hand tag tang, tan arm, hand imo "hand, arm" yɨm *taaŋV, *iimo "hand, arm" K tu, Bamu tuu hand, arm tang, A. tranga geth(a)
(unknown origin)
arta Y/At/A mata, W ara *mara *taŋa
hear asor- -rrkrru-, -rrkurru- -tecij- (-tecind-~cind-) hear,
ätecija VN hear/listen
utkunj~utkund- *Vrkundi irovidiro, Mawata erebidiro, Kope orovidio VN A. dandarla karnge[mi]-, kœrngai VN;
kùrùsai- ear
? Y/A/At ami- -- *roŋor
(also "plant", "wood", "magic")
lu(g) "tree, plant, magic" nugup "tree" uli, uri "tree, plant" wul(a), ul "tree" *wuli, *[ln]ugu[p] "tree" ota "tree, plant", Kope nu'a "tree" lu, A. ra/rati-ra/ro puuy(i), OKY puuRi;
yuu "spit, skewer"
puri "tree", yuuku "wood",
upiirri "medicine"
Y/At/A yuku "wood, tree, stick, log",
Y/At/A upirri "sore, painful, witchcraft"
*lugu "tree, wood" *pu[l]i magic
fish lar
(unknown origin)
wapi, wapui kibu, cupya,
kopae, kopäi
-- arimina/irisina food, fish;
Kerewo na, Kope nai fish
kwalba waapi
(unknown origin)
waapi Y yatpan/yadpa,
A inhanyii, W nheya
-- --
name nei ngi, ngui ngi ni, niœ, nyœ *nyilya paina, Kerewo paena ben, A. bena nel
Saibai variant nei
yini At angyal, A anyii, W anyel -- --
stone bakìr
(unknown origin)
inglkup, inglkurp kula, kura gli(muz), gɨmo, gɨmokɨp, kula, guma, nadi, motɨr *kula kura, M nora dadar, A. dader kùla uulpa Y/A aypany, At aypanh *gul(g)an --
tooth tìrìg
cf. ereg "eat"
deg "edge, side"
zirgup (gup body part, fruit, etc. giricu;
cidi "edge"
or- "eat", kak "bone"
dɨng "thorn"
*daŋa "tooth, edge, etc." ibuanara, Parama iawa; K iawa "incisor" dhéndhég "bite INF"; A. ngui, nggoia, uguwoi "tooth"; A lenge, lenga "tooth" dhang(a)
(also "edge")
ampu Y/A ampu, At ngampu *jaaŋa "tooth, edge, etc." --
(cf. mother, milk)
ama, apu "mum, mother, aunty"
nanosus "milk" (sus "white sap", "foam")
ngum, ngiam, ngüam;
aip mother
ngaamo, nono;
mago "mother", yääye "Mum"
ngom, ngum, ngiam, ngɨmb, ngɨmdor;
mog, ag "mother"
*ŋaamͻ "breast, mother"
*maago mother
*susu "breast, milk"
aida, M maramu, Bamu onoo, Kerewo mamo mother
ngém/nono "breast";
nene "mother"
ama "mum, mother, aunty"
aapu(wa) "mother, aunt"
susu (also "white sap"; "loaf"),
susuikai "milk" (ikai "juice, sap")
[]yuungu "breast, milk", athiinya "mother" Y/At/A ungunyu "mother, breast, milk"
A also awucha, yathu "milk",
W nono "mother, breast"
*ŋam[u/a]ŋ "breast, mother"
*juju "breast, milk"
*susu "breast, milk"
path gab kwat, kuat gaabo, raare nia, nga, nyau *gaabͻ gabo nyénggo yabu, KLY yaabu alka Y/A ulumu, At ulumu/anyaarra ? POC *tyapu
you Sg ma ma maane, maano man(a) *ma(nV) rai be (S/Du/Pl) KLY/KulY/KY ni
(an)tuuba/tuuba Y/At antu(va), A antu(ba), W endouva *ŋin/*nin *kau
fire ur uur ulikobo, uliobo, urikobe,
ulikobe, olobo, uli,
Kunini muye-uliobo
uur, [wul(a)]para *uur[], *kͻbͻ, *pVrV "fire", *wuli "tree, wood" era, Bamu mahi yu mui (Boigu,KY also mœi) uma Y/At/A uma, W entovo *tuma --
tongue werut ulit wätä, wärtä, warta, wate welat, we(y)at, vlat, yat *wilͻtV watotorope, Kerewo mototobe A. dogmar, dangamai nœi
(unknown origin)
unt[h]aar[r]a Y yalan, punhu, At lalan, A yalan -- --
skin gegur;
tep skin of fruit
sopai, sopae;
kwan, kuan bark
tääpo, tääpe, taape, tääpwo;
uli tääpo (etc.) bark
gɨm (one dialect gunja);
wul gɨm, gɨm, yug bark
*taapi tama thoe gœngáw(u),
KLY gœngaawu,
KulY gœngáy(u)
ikwurra skin
ranga bark
Y/At/A akuny skin, bark *Cagurr
night ki irrüb, irrub, irrib kiye, ciye sɨwɨny, sɨwɨn, sowɨny,
sɨrɨn, sowi, tsowony, sɨwɨng, sɨrɨng, sɨrɨm
*kiya duo, Bamu duwo A. kuteine, kwete kubil
(derived, kùbi "charcoal")
G yulpalga night, darkness Y yupul,
Y manara, At manma night, darkness,
W jagula
-- --
leaf (lu)lam
(lu "plant")
lam, lang (mainly compounds),
pórgae~prangai, prórngae, pórngae
laamo, racme, raame (wulœ)rom
(wulœ "tree")
*laamͻ "leaf" ota-pasa, M ota-pea
(ota tree)
(oro/ru/ro tree, plant);
(lu tree, plant)
niis(a) itrara "leaf" Y/At/A yukum yampa (yuku "tree, wood"), A ithagha, W alway;
Y/At/A yampa "leaf, flower, lung";
AT yamparra, A inparra "lung"
-- --
blood mam
(unknown origin)
ói, óe uudi woi, woj, kus, ku *wodi arima,
Kope ora
A. mem, mam, teia kùlka
(unknown origin)
ichunya Y/A lukuny, At uchuny -- --
horn -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
person -am/-iam;
pam, pama
binamo, biname, binam;
imä, im male,
rooriye, loori "man"
-am, -iam;
rɨga "man, male"
leo "husband"
dubu, Kerewo meréha;
arubi,-rubi people, Kerewo oubi;
Kope dubuiro person, man;
M auana man, didiri men, mere male
la "man" -ig(a) personal nominaliser)
mabaig(a) (derived, lit. "walker", maab(a) "walk"
ama Y/At/A ama *bama --
knee (1) kolo -- (ngawengawe elbow) kumkak, yɨmkak elbow
(kak bone)
*kͻlͻ "knee, elbow, corner" -- -- kulu
cf. kudu "elbow",
kœru "corner"
yurtu elbow Y/At yutu, A yurtu elbow *yurru "elbow" *turu "knee, elbow"
knee (2) kokni
kok "leg joint+?"
wageb "kneecap"
wagusingül, wagósingül, wagasingól koko/coco(rar/kaako)
(rare, kaako, kak, ror "bone")
kɨ, kɨror, kum;
kumop knee ball,
(mop "end, head")
*kͻkͻ "leg joint" popu knee, elbow D tubu, tang-kum;
putukupi kneecap;
A tran-kwimbe elbow
kokan(i) "kneecap";
kuku inside part of knee, knee joint
iingku knee Y/A/At wungku, W owen PP *wuŋgu[ ] "knee" --
one/other nerut "another"
wader "some, others" (unknown origin)
netat one
darrpan, dórpan "one, one of group"
darrü "other" (+ -pan)
yepä, neetera one;
nuuja other, another
yepa one;
nɨnda other, others, some;
b’enga other, another (different)
*ni+[rl]ͻtV other
*[yi/dVr]pͻnV, *ni+ta[tr]V "one"
ata, Bamu kaiibi one, other, nau one A. tupulibi wara, war "one of group, other" (unknown origin)
dhurai "some, others"
wœrapùn, ùrapùn, ùrpùn
(older waraponi) "one only"
wara "one of group, other" + -pùn[i]
inyaanha another
Y/A ipima, Y also ipinyama, At nhipima;
W wema one, alone
Y unya, At unyinha, wanhu, A unyinha other, different
W emo other
*nyupun, *NipiyamaNa --
nose pit "nose, beak,
point (of land)"
syók keke, cece so, sok, sokak
(kak bone)
? wodi, Kope modi (cf. Bamu pito hole) A. murung, wede piti "nose"
(unknown origin; buna beak; nguur point)
iyi nose, beak Y/A iyi, W enmoi, nundagel;
At umughanhu
-- --
full (e)osmer (lit. "protrude, show self":
unknown origin)
buku, iib puuwe ngor full(ness) ? Kerewo arara'ohuai -- 1) gùdapœlam(a)
(derived : "opening-SpecLOC+cause-VerbForm)
(2) KLY/KulY/MY-KY pùsakar(a),
cf. sakar "space"
mur[r]ku gorged Y/At/A wampan full/swollen, W weithinyo full -- --
come (1) ta-, te-, ti-, t- to'-, tü- t- (s- allophone) t- irrealis;
ik-, -itk-, -etk- come, tu[i]- Pl, menamena, menon go, come VN
*ta "come, approach" -ogu-, Kerewo -oho-, Kope -o'u- go, come -be- ngapa TR/INTR adverb,
cf. nga- 1st person, pa- telic, -pa dative
bœi INTR adverb,
cf. pœipai, KKY bœi "nearside"
impiibinhu come, approach (-nhu DAT), ainpirra go Y/A/W ana, At ana/anma go, come -- --
come (2)
(ta-ba "come-INTR"),
maiem (?+ALL)
-- tädi M, tocli F ayo -- -- abe Sg, yebe PL;
A yau
aye, KKY aya imperative adverb
(Malay or similar loan : ayo, ayu)
-- -- -- *mai "come"
star wer wimurr wale, walo, gugie, griga
(see sun, day)
ikui, ɨki, ɨkwi, guje (one dialect bedam) *wa[rl]i gugi, M zogubo, Kope oroi'io A. piro, kwatai Wœœy(i), OKY WœœRi "Venus"
thithúy(i), KLY thithuuyi, OKY thithúRi;
zugub(a) constellation, significant star
uunpi Y/At/A unpi, At wintamwintama (avoidance) -- *waRi sun
PCD *pitui, *pitiu, *pitiriu "star"
hill paser podo hill, dorro high ground podo, doro hill, doro mainland, shore podo, dor hill *pͻntͻ[r], *doro podo, Mawata also damera;
idodoro cliff
I. duidui, A. pad paad(a)
(also "top, height, crest, peak ");
baudhar(a) mountain, peak
pada Y yantal, At rantal, A yantaa;
W mara mountain
*baanda "top" *pantar "hill, mountain"
bone, leaf rib lid kus kaako, kaake, caace bone;
raare bone, rare shell, spoon
kak, kaak, kagɨ kak, kaga bone, stick, (hard) piece, stalk;
ror bone (in compounds)
*riida/*raadi "bone, leaf rib" soro, M kako A. kwetr/kut riidh(a) athirra Y/At/A apudha, A avoidance ikyalitha, W watha/ua -- --
we inclusive mi, mer- inclusive mi mine men, mɨn *mi(ni) nimo, Kerewo imo [exc and inc.] ybi ngœba dual inclusive
ngalpa plural inclusive
? Y/At/A ali(va) DU, ana(va) PL *ŋali inclusive; *ŋana(pula) (dual) exclusive *kita
we exclusive ki, ker- exclusive ki kine, cine sɨn *ki(ni) nimo, Kerewo imo [exc and inc.] bi, A. ba ngalbai, KKY ngalbe, archaic KulY ngœibai, dual exclusive
ngœi, ngœlmù-, KKY/MY-KY ngœimù-, OKY ngœRi(mù-) plural exclusive
aaku Y/A/At ampu(la) *ŋali inclusive; *ŋana(pula) (dual) exclusive *kami
drink (verb) iri -(a)nan- ene- -ona-~-ena- Sg, anain- NSg *ini/ani/ina Kope idio drink, odio he is drinking A. ine/ngi -ni-/-na- drink water
(-ni/na- eat)
(unknown origin; derived?
< wanai- "put" active stem)
ungkenka drink Y/At ungye, A ungya drink, eat;
W ical drink
-- --
see, find dasmer, erdar
(stem er-)
-sen- see -pän, pan- see, find,
ire see VN
yɨr -ong- (ong bite),
yɨr -a- see, look,
yeri-, yiry-, oraka VN find, search,
ɨdar Sg, adar NSg find
*ira see eáuri see VN -ndee- see iima- angkanya find W iangin find *kiima "see" --
new kerkar küsil, küsül, kósil new;
kari, karian little, small
kirece, mamye, cireni, mamie~karte new;
matimati, matikäli, matikolä, matikola, matikari, geglo little, small
sisel, sisɨl *kari[kari]/*kira[kira] oliómoto -- kayin(a) -- -- -- --
dog omai umai, umae, ume drenggo, drego, drengo yongg, yongk, yongga, yangg, yoorɨnk *omái Kerewo kaukau, Kope umu dréngg ùmai ingkud[h]iinya Y/At/A utagha *gudaga --
sun, day gerger "day, daylight"
lìm "sun"
abüs, óbüs bimu, abeji, abweji, abuji;
gugie, griga "star"
bibɨr day, lom, lomkongga, lemkogal, ganggal sun
(konga, kogal "woman")
*limͻ/*lͻmi M iwio, Parama ivio, Kerewo hewio, Kope hivio sun;
sai day
yébodh sun gœiga, gœygœyi-, gœigi-,
OKY gœRigaR(i)
inga Y/At/A wunga, W unga, W mungbatho day *gari, *wuŋa --

Recent loans[edit]

The main source of loan words to the language since the mid 1800s has been Yumplatòk (Torres Strait Creole) and English. There are also some minor loans from Lifu/Drehu, Polynesian (in particular Samoan and to a lesser extent Rotuman), Indonesian, Philippine, Japanese, and European origin. Many such outsiders were recruited – or in some rare cases black-birded – in the 19th century for pearl diving and other marine work, while others (from Lifu and Samoa) were missionaries with the British and Foreign Bible Society.[citation needed]


The language is currently dialectless. However, there was once a separate dialect spoken on Erub and Ugar islands, characterised in part by the retention of phonemic distinctions between 'ng', 'g', 'n' and 'r' where these have fallen together in two ways in Meriam Mir. The sound 'ng' in Modern Meriam has become 'n' at the beginning of words and 'g' within words; 'n' in many cases has become 'r' within words. Examples are remembered in one important Erub folktale (Lawrie 1970:283–284):

Erub : Aka nade ki andinane? Ge au?

Mer  : Aka nade ki ardirare? Ge au?

Where will we put it? There?

Erub : Mena inggandane/ingandane! Keniba uzen unken a keniba imut unken.

Mer  : Mena igardare! Keriba uzer urker a keriba imut urker.

Keep carrying it! Our paddles and our poling poles are still strong.

The earliest records (early 19th century) of Meriam Mìr included the phrase debelang good taste/nice, in present-day Meriam Mìr debe lag. This shows that the 'ng' > 'n'/'g' change is of fairly recent date; lang, now lag, is identical to the Gizrra lang of the same meaning.



Front Back
High i ⟨i⟩ u ⟨u⟩
Retracted High ɪ ⟨i⟩⟨e⟩⟨ì⟩ ʊ ⟨u⟩⟨ù⟩
Mid e ⟨e⟩ o ⟨o⟩
Low a, ʌ ⟨a⟩ ɔ ⟨o⟩⟨ò⟩

The sounds represented by [a] and [ʌ] are allophonic. [ʌ] appears mainly in syllables before the stress accent and optionally in open unstressed syllables otherwise. [a] appears in stressed syllables and in unstressed closed syllables.

For some speakers the following pairs exhibit variation, and perhaps have unidentified allophonic variation: [e] and [ɪ] (mainly Erub/Ulag), [ɪ] and [i] (mainly Mer), [u] and [ʊ], [ʊ] and [o], and [o] and [ɔ]. Older speakers appear to keep the vowels more distinct.


Bilabial Dental Alveolar Alveo-Palatal Velar
Stop Voiceless p t k
Voiced b d ɡ
Nasal m n
Fricative Voiceless s
Voiced z
Lateral l
Trill/Tap r
Semivowel w j


Stress is contrastive in Meriam and can occur on the first or second syllable. Examples include tábo 'snake', tabó 'neck'.

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]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Census 2016, Language spoken at home by Sex (SA2+)". ABS. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  2. ^ a b Y3 Meriam at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  3. ^ a b Mitchell 2015.
  4. ^ a b Macqueen, Cristy-Lee (21 December 2020). "Torres Strait Islander language Meriam Mir preserved through Christmas hymn recordings". ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Retrieved 24 December 2020.
  5. ^ Haddon, Alfred C. (1907). The gesture language of the Eastern 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


  • Dixon, R. M. W. (2002). Australian Languages: Their Nature and Development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Mitchell, Rod (April 2015), "Ngalmun Lagaw Yangukudu: The Language of our Homeland in Goemulgaw Lagal: Cultural and Natural Histories of the Island of Mabuyag, Torres Strait", Memoirs of the Queensland Museum – Culture, 8 (1): 323–446, ISSN 1440-4788
  • Passi, Gamalai Ken; Piper, Nick (1994). "Meryam Mir". In Nick Thieberger; William McGregor (eds.). Macquarie Aboriginal Words. Macquarie Library. pp. 320–351.
  • Piper, N. (1989). A sketch grammar of Meryam Mer. MA thesis. Australian National University.
  • Ross, Malcolm (2005). "Pronouns as a preliminary diagnostic for grouping Papuan languages". In Andrew Pawley; Robert Attenborough; Robin Hide; Jack Golson (eds.). Papuan pasts: cultural, linguistic and biological histories of Papuan-speaking peoples. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. pp. 15–66.
  • Lawrie, Margaret (1970). Myths and Legends of Torres Strait. St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press.

External links[edit]