Miriwoong language

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RegionKununurra, Western Australia
Native speakers
156 (2016 census)[1]
  • Miriwoong
Miriwoong Sign Language
Language codes
ISO 639-3mep
Miriwoong language.png
(red) Miriwoong language

(purple) other Jarrakan languages

(grey) other non-Pama-Nyungan languages

Miriwoong (Miriwung) is an Australian Indigenous language which today has fewer than 20 fluent speakers, most of whom live in or near Kununurra in Western Australia.[4] All of the fluent speakers are elderly and the Miriwoong language is considered to be critically endangered. However, younger generations tend to be familiar with a lot of Miriwoong vocabulary which they use when speaking Kimberley Kriol or Aboriginal English.

Linguo-genetic categorisation[edit]

Miriwoong is categorised by linguists as a Non-Pama-Nyungan language and part of the Jarrakan subgroup.


As is common in many Australian language communities, the Miriwoong people have a signed language that is used in addition to the spoken languages of the community.


Despite the endangered status of the Miriwoong language, the Miriwoong community is vibrantly multilingual. Languages spoken include Miriwoong (for a small number of speakers), the Miriwoong signed language, Kimberley Kriol, and English. Two varieties of English are present in the community, Aboriginal English, and Standard Australian English. Many speakers are bi-dialectical in both varieties while many others have a strong preference for Aboriginal English.

Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring[edit]

The Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring Language and Culture Centre has been tasked with the preservation and revitalisation of the Miriwoong language since the 1970s.[5]

MDWg engages in a wide range of language revitalisation and documentation activities including a language nest, public language classes and on-country training camps. The language nest reaches around 300 children every week, both Indigenous and Non-Indigenous.

A significant part of MDWg's revitalisation efforts is the publication of books in Miriwoong.

Some grammatical features[edit]



The vowel system of Miriwoong comprises the following four vowel phonemes. Length is not phonemic.

front central back
high i u
mid ə
low a


Miriwoong distinguishes 19 consonant phonemes. The consonant inventory of Miriwoong is fairly typical for Indigenous Australian languages, having multiple lateral and nasal consonants, no voicing contrast, and no fricatives.

Peripheral Laminal Apical
Bilabial Velar Lamino-dental Lamino-palatal Alveolar Retroflex
Plosive b g ɟ d ɖ
Nasal m ŋ ɲ n ɳ
Trill r
Lateral ʎ l ɭ
Approximant w j ɹ


The largely phonemic orthography of Miriwoong was developed at the Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring. Some sounds that do not have a standard character in the Latin script are represented by digraphs. The vowel /u/ is spelled oo in Miriwoong.

Grapheme IPA symbol Miriwoong example English translation
a a dawang place
e ə jawaleng man
oo u joolang dog
i i ngirrngiling cat
iyi I: ~ iyi ngiyi yes
Monograph consonants
b b bare to stand
d d dooleng heart
g g goondarring fish
j c~ɟ wija swim
K (only following n) g bankalng footprints
l l biligirrimawoong white
m m moonamang magpie goose
n n Goonoonooram Kununurra (river)
r ɹ ramang grass
w w woothoony small (f)
y j mayeng non-meat food
Digraph consonants
ly ʎ bilyiny tick
ng ŋ ngerregoowoong big
nh ngenhengbeng red
ny ɲ gerany rock
rd ɖ gardag cup
rl ɭ gerloong water
rn ɳ merndang paper
rr r Darram Bandicoot Bar (placename)
th thegoobeling black

MDWg is working with local organisations to conform to the standardised orthography when Miriwoong is written in documents or signage.

See also: Transcription of Australian Aboriginal languages


Some notable features of Miriwoong grammar are as follows.



Miriwoong nouns have grammatical gender and adjectives and demonstratives agree with the noun. There are two genders designated masculine and feminine.


Nouns are not marked for case in Miriwoong, although arguments are cross referenced on the verb, in most cases using a nominative-accusative pattern.


Verbs in Miriwoong have a compound system of coverbs, which are generally uninflected and carry the main semantic content, and inflecting verbs, which carry the grammatical information. Both coverbs and verbs can stand alone but most verbal expressions comprise both a coverb and an inflecting verb[6] (Newry 2015: 20-21). The inflecting verbs are a closed class and number around 20 while the coverbs are an open class. This type of verb system has been observed in other Australian languages, particularly in languages spoken in the north of Australia


  1. ^ "Census 2016, Language spoken at home by Sex (SA2+)". stat.data.abs.gov.au. ABS. Retrieved 2017-10-30.
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Miriwung". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ K29 Miriwoong at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  4. ^ "Our Country". Mirima Dawanga Woorlab-gerring Language and Culture Centre. Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring. Archived from the original on 2016-02-28. Retrieved 2016-10-19.
  5. ^ Olawsky, Knut (2010). Hobson, John; Lowe, Kevin; Poetsch, Susan; Walsh, Michael (eds.). Revitalisation strategies for Miriwoong. Re-awakening languages: Theory and practice in the revitalisation of Australia's indigenous languages. Sydney: Sydney University Press. pp. 146–154.
  6. ^ Newry, Dawayne (2015). Ninggoowoong boorriyang merndang - Family book. Kununurra, WA, Ausrralia: Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring. pp. 20–21. ISBN 978-0-9922849-5-4.

Other sources[edit]

  • Galbat-Newry, G., (September 4, 2016) Miriwoong waniwoogeng! Language is the only way to understand our ancient culture. thegardian: Australian Edition, https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2016/sep/04/miriwoong-waniwoogeng-language-is-the-only-way-to-understand-our-ancient-culture
  • Kofod, F. M. (1978). "The Miriwung language (East Kimberley): a phonological and morphological study". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  • Kofod, FM, 1976. Simple and Compound Verbs: Conjugation by Auxiliaries in Australian Verbal System: Miriwung. Canberra: Australian Institute for Aboriginal Studies.
  • Olawsky, Knut, J. (2010) Revitalisation Strategies for Miriwoong In Re-awakening languages: theory and practice in the revitalisation of Australia's indigenous languages. In Hobson, J., Lowe, K., Poetics, S. & Walsh, M. (Eds.) Sydney University Press: Sydney
  • Olawsky, Knut J., 2010. Going public with language: involving the wider community in language revitalisation. In J. Hobson, K. Lowe, S. Poetsch and M. Walsh (eds.), Re-Awakening Languages: Theory and Practice in the Revitalisation of Australia’s Indigenous Languages. Sydney, Australia: Sydney University Press, pp. 75.
  • Olawsky, Knut, 2013. The Master-Apprentice language learning program down under: experience and adaptation in an Australian context. Language documentation and conservation, 7
  • McGregor, William (2004). The Languages of the Kimberley, Western Australia. London, New York: Taylor & Francis. ISBN 0-415-30808-9.
  • Galbat-Newry, G., (2002) Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring Language and Culture Centre. Ngoonjook: A Journal of Australian Indigenous Issues. 21 26-49.

Miriwoong language books[edit]

  • Boombi, Rita; Boombi, Rosemary; Woerde, Stephanie (2014). Yangge Yindajgoo! - Ask me. Kununurra, Australia: Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring. ISBN 978-0-9922849-3-0.
  • Galbat-Newry, Glennis (2012). Woorlab yarrenkoo Miriwoong! - Miriwoong Animals. Kununurra, Australia: Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring.
  • Galbat-Newry, Glennis (2013). Woorlab barrenkoonan Miriwoong! Keep talking Miriwoong! : Miriwoong animals 2. Kununurra, Australia: Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring. ISBN 978-0-9922849-0-9.
  • Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring (2013). Miriwoong Seasonal Calendar. Kununurra, Australia: Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring.
  • Newry, Dawayne (2012). Warlayi - Cooking meat in the earth oven. Kununurra, Australia: Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring. ISBN 978-0-9922849-5-4.
  • Newry, Dawayne (2015). Ninggoowoong boorriyang merndang - Family book. Kununurra, Australia: Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring.
  • Ningarmara, Ingrid; Dilyai, Nancy (2015). Woorre-Woorrem - My community Flying-Fox. Kununurra, Australia: Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring. ISBN 978-0-9922849-4-7.
  • Simon, Pamela; Galbat, Paulina (2011). Woorrjilwarim - Molly Springs. Kununurra, Australia: Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring.