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2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages: Word of the Week - Week Thirty-Three.

By Administrator | 13 August 2019

As part of State Library's commitment to the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages, we will be promoting a 'word of the week' from one of the 125+ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages and dialects from across Queensland.

State Library’s IYIL2019 Word of the Week: Week 33.

State Library's 'word of the week' for Week Thirty-Three is giz nur , from the Meriam Mir language of Eastern Torres Strait. It refers to when yam leaves are turning yellow meaning harvest time.

Extract from "Culture of the Yam", in Macgillivray (1851) p.25.

This week's word coincides with the Yam Festival which is celebrated on Mer on 15 August. John Macgillivray, the naturalist accompanying the HMS Rattlesnake 1846-1850, indicates "Not less than nine different kinds of yams and yam-like tubers including the sweet-potato are cultivated in Torres Strait, and are specially distinguished by name."

Sketch of yam plant from Lawrie (1970), p. 346.

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)

The Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA) is supporting language revival across the Torres Strait region and has established the Torres Strait Traditional Languages Centre to coordinate regional and community-specific efforts to retrieve, record and research traditional languages.

Join the conversation as we post a new word for each week!

Week Thirty-Three 13-19 August 2019.

#IYIL2019 #IYIL #IY2019WordoftheWeek #SLQIndigenousLanguages

Desmond Crump

Indigenous Languages Coordinator, State Library of Queensland

State Library of Queensland weblinks

State Library of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages Webpages

State Library of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages Map

UN IY2019 Links

UN International Year of Indigenous Languages webpages

UN International Year of Indigenous Languages Resources


The word of the week was sourced from the following historical item in the State Library collections.

Haddon, A. (1971) Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres StraitQ 994.38 CAM

Further Reading

The State Library of Queensland holds a number of collection items relating to Meriam and neighbouring languages of the Torres Strait, including the following:

Babia, M. and Day, E. (1989) Torres Strait Picture DictionaryJUVQ 499.1503 tor

Davies, A. O. C. Notes 1924-1925OM66-02/3

Edwards, R. (2001) Some songs from the Torres StraitQ 782.5162 SOM

Gisu, S. (1983) Meriba Mir Erwerem: a book on reading and writing Meriam Mir for people who already read English.  Q 499.15 MER 

Jukes, J. (1847) Narrative of the surveying voyage of the HMS FlyJ 919.43 JUK

Lawrie, M. (1970) Myths and legends of the Torres StraitQ 398.2099438 MYT

Lawrie, M. The Margaret Lawrie Collection of Torres Straits MaterialsTR2082 

MacGillivray, J. (1967) Narrative of the Voyage of the HMS Rattlesnake. G 994.02 1967

Mosby, L. Stephens, N and Teske, T. (1987) D is for dari : a Torres Strait picture dictionary. P 994.38 MOS

Piper, N. (1989) A sketch grammar of Meryam MirQ 499.15 pip 

Ray, S. (2003) Dictionary of Torres Strait LanguagesQ 499.1503 RAY

Scragg, S. (2010) Retold: A retelling of stories and songs from Myths and Legends of the Torres Strait by Margaret LawrieDVD 27464

Shnukal, A. (1988) Broken, an introduction to the Creole language of Torres StraitJ 427 shn 

Tabo, S. (2006) Triggerfish and Trevally = Nageg and Geigi. A traditional story retold by Stephen Tabo; illustrated by Peter Lankas. JUV 398.2 TAB

Vocabulary of the Murray Island dialect (1989) . FILM 0713


Gab Titui Cultural Centre

Retold: A retelling of stories and songs from Myths and Legends of Torres StraitS

Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA)

Torres Strait Traditional Languages Centre


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