Torres Strait Island languages

Torres Strait Island languages

There are two languages indigenous to Torres Strait Islanders, and and 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, like many others in the world, does not have its own name. Its four major dialects are: Kalaw Lagaw Ya, Kalau Kawau Ya, Kulkalgau Ya and Kawalgau Ya (this latter also called Kowrareg, which is from the mid-1800s Kowrareg dialect form kauraraiga/kaurarega "islander". Kalaw Lagaw Ya is often called Kala Lagaw Ya in the literature - the form is the colloquial version of Kalaw Lagaw Ya [the genitive -w is often elided in colloquial speech] .

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 80% 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, Kalaw Lagaw ya having strong Papuan influences, and Meriam Mìr having strong Kalaw Lagaw Ya influences. 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.Fact|date=October 2007

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 dialects Kalau Kawau Ya, Kawalgau Ya, Kalaw Lagaw Ya, Kulkalgau Ya and 'old' Kawalgau Ya [Kauraraigau Ya - Kowrareg] , the eastern language Meriam Mìr, and the creole Brokan.

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