Language resources for Torres Strait Islands

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This Information Guide has been developed to support individuals and communities in their research into the traditional languages of the Torres Strait Islands. It complements a community language workshop held at New Mapoon in September 2014.

There are two traditional languages of the Torres Strait Islands, Miriam Mir and Kala Lagaw Ya.

Meriam Mir (also written as Miriam Mer) is the Language of the Eastern Islands of the Torres Strait. Linguistically, it is connected to the Papuan languages of the Austronesian family of languages. There are two regional dialects:

  • Mer dialect – Mer (Murray), Waier, Dauar.
  • Erub dialect – Erub (Darnley) and Ugar (Stephen).

Kala Lagaw Ya (also written as Kalaw Lagaw Ya) is the traditional language owned by the Western and Central islands of the Torres Strait. It is linguistically connected to the Aboriginal languages of the Australian mainland and has four distinct regional dialects derived from this language:

  • Mabuyag – The dialect of Mabuiag, Badu and St Paul's Village.
  • Kalaw Kawaw Ya – The dialect of the top western islands of Saibai, Dauan and Malu Ki'ai.
  • Kawrareg – The dialect of the south western islands of Kubin, Kaiwalagal, Muralag (Prince of Wales), Nurupai (Horn), Giralag (Friday), Waiben (Thursday Island), Keriri (Hammond), Maurura (Wednesday), Moa (Banks). It is also known as Kawalgau Ya.
  • Kulkalgau Ya – The dialect of the central islands of Aurid (Aureed), Damut (Dalrymple), Iama (Yam or Turtle-backed), Masig (Yorke), Mauar (Rennel), Naghir (Mt Earnest), Poruma (Coconut) and Warraber (Sue).

The dialects are determined geographically and developed over time with influences by traditional trade, visits, inter-marriage and kinship ties.

Torres Strait Creole

The contact with missionaries and others since the 1800s has led to the development of Torres Strait Creole; it has developed from a Pidgin and now has its own distinctive sound system, grammar, vocabulary, usage and meaning. Torres Strait Creole (also known as Ailan Tok or Yumplatok) is spoken by most Torres Strait Islanders and is a mixture of Standard Australian English and traditional languages. It is an English-based creole; however each island has its own version of creole. Torres Strait Creole is also spoken on the Northern Peninsula Area (NPA) following the movement of people there to Seisia and Bamaga.


SLQ Language Resources – Torres Strait Islands


The following list of print resources and materials are useful starting points for language activities in schools, communities or public libraries – these items are held at the State Library of Queensland, while additional reference materials may be found in local/regional public libraries.

Aragu, B. Moegina Pawlaw Ya (Little Hen Story). P398.2 ara
Babia, M. and Day, E. Torres Strait Picture Dictionary. JUVQ 499.1503 tor
Bani, E. and Nona, D. Dabu : the baby dugong = Dabu : kazi dhangal. CLP SOL 1992
Davies, A. Notes 1924-1925. OM66-02/3
Edwards, R. Some songs from the Torres Strait. Q 782.5162 SOM
Edwards, R. (ed) Dictionary of Torres Strait languages. Q 499.1503 RAY
Eseli, P. Eseli's Notebook. S 306.089 001
Ford, K. Ober, D. “A sketch of Kalaw Kawaw Ya”. In Language in Australia, ed. Romaine, S. 118-142. G 409.94 1991
Gisu, S. Meriba Mir Erwerem : a book on reading and writing Meriam Mir for people who already read English. Q 499.15 MER
Haddon, A. (1971) Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Strait. Q 994.38 CAM
Holmer, N. (1988) Notes on Some Queensland Languages. J 499.15 HOL
Jukes, J. Narrative of the surveying voyage of the HMS Fly. J 919.43 JUK
Lawrie, M. (1970) Myths and legends of the Torres Strait. Q 398.2099438 MYT
Lawrie, M. The Margaret Lawrie Collection of Torres Straits Materials. TR2082
MacGillivray, J. Narrative of the Voyage of the HMS Rattlesnake. G 994.02 1967
Moore, D. (1979) Islanders and aborigines at Cape York: an ethnographic reconstruction based on the 1848-1850 'Rattlesnake' journals of O.W. Brierly and the information he obtained from Barbara Thompson. CHG 572.99438 1979
Petta, Sister Yoewdhaylgaw mabaygaw igililmay thusi. P933 sis
Piper, N. A sketch grammar of Meryam Mir. Q 499.15 pip
Ray, S. Dictionary of Torres Strait Languages. Q 499.1503 RAY
Scragg, S. Retold: A retelling of stories and songs from Myths and Legends of the Torres Strait by Margaret Lawrie. DVD 27464
Sharp, N. Stars of Tagai: the Torres Strait Islanders. G 994.38 1993
Shnukal, A. A Dictionary of Torres Strait Creole. Q 427.99438 SHN
Shnukal, A. Broken, an introduction to the Creole language of Torres Strait. J 427 shn
Singe, J. The Torres Strait: people and history. G 994.38 1989
Toohey, E. Before the aeroplane dance: the Torres Strait and Cape York: Islanders, Aborigines and adventurers, 1860s to 1914. G 994.38 2001
Vocabulary of the Murray Island dialect [microform]. FILM 0713


This is only a selection from the SLQ Collections – for a comprehensive listing of print and electronic materials [books, journals, manuscripts, videos, images, sound recordings and items from digital collections, etc.] use the One Search facility: www.onesearch.slq.qld.gov.au


Sources

There are additional references for Torres Strait languages located at other collecting institutions.

Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS)
The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), Canberra – this material includes sound recordings, as well as vocabulary and word lists.  AIATSIS has an on-line catalogue: http://mura.aiatsis.gov.au/

AIATSIS Language Select Bibliographies
The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) in Canberra has produced PDF versions of Select Bibliographies for a range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages. The Select Bibliographies provide a list of materials held by AIATSIS relating to specific languages, including those from the Torres Strait, e.g. Kala Lagaw Ya and Meriam Mir .
A full list of these bibliographies can be found at the following weblink: http://aiatsis.gov.au/research/guides-and-resources/language-and-people-bibliographies
Note: the bibliographies only list print materials; audio-visual materials, including sound recordings are held at the Audio Visual Access Unit, AIATSIS [Email: collectionenquiry@aiatsis.gov.au]

University of Queensland: Fryer Library
The Fryer Library has specialist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander collections, including language materials. Website: https://web.library.uq.edu.au/locations-hours/fryer-library

State Library of NSW (SLNSW)
The State Library of NSW has a significant collection of language materials, including some early material pertaining to the Torres Strait. SLNSW has commenced a digitisation program which includes hosting online materials on their Rediscovering Indigenous Languages webpage: http://indigenous.sl.nsw.gov.au/

South Australian Museum
The Tindale Collection is an important collection held there; Tindale was an anthropologist whose research resulted in the ‘Tindale Map’ which depicts the distribution of Aboriginal languages; Tindale also mapped out genealogical and sociological profiles for Aboriginal communities in Eastern Australia. Website: www.samuseum.sa.gov.au/tindale/index.html


Community Organisations

There may also be Indigenous Knowledge Centres (IKCs), community groups or organisations working in the revival and maintenance of Torres Strait Islander languages.

Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA)
The Torres Strait Regional Authority has administrative responsibility for the region and is working towards a language centre in 2016. TSRA currently supports language activities in schools and communities.
TSRA coordinated a Torres Strait Island Language Symposium in March 2015 - further details on the event can be found at the Symposium website: http://www.tslangsym.net/

Contact details – Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA)
Address: Level 1 / 46 Victoria Parade, Thursday Island. Qld. 4875.
Postal: PO Box 261, Thursday Island. Qld. 4875.
Phone: (07) 4069 0700
Email: info@tsra.gov.au
Website: www.tsra.gov.au

Further Details


For further information on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages at the State Library of Queensland, please contact:
Queensland Memory, State Library of Queensland
Stanley Place, South Brisbane Qld. 4101.
PO Box 3488, South Brisbane Qld. 4101.
Telephone: (07) 3840 7666            Fax:   (07) 3842 9126

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