Language of the Week: Week Nine - Mabuiag

Welcome to Week Nine of the A-Z of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages!

This week's language of the week is Mabuiag, one of the languages of the Torres Strait. Mabuiag (also written as Mabuyag) is the traditional language of Mabuiag a Central Western island of the Torres Strait. Mabuiag is considered to be a dialect of Kala Lagaw Ya. 

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.

Mabuiag Island is in the Western Group of islands as shown on the following map from the Torres Strait Traditional Languages Centre's website. This language map shows the diversity across the region and identifies how each island or group of islands developed their own regional variety of language.



Austlang identifies that Mabuiag is considered endangered with mainly older speakers; community efforts including school programs are part of the language maintenance and revival process. Communities are supported by the recently established Torres Strait Traditional Languages Centre which has several videos on Mabuiag including Cygnet Repu talking about the importance of preserving language and culture.

Cygnet was one of the highlights at State Library's Minya Birran languages forum held in February 2020; listen to Cygnet speaking about Mabuiag on a panel that explores connecting with language and building upon the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages.

Join State Library for next week's Language of the Week - Ndorndorin from Western Cape York!


Desmond Crump

Indigenous Languages Coordinator, State Library of Queensland

State Library of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages Webpages

State Library of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages Map


Spoken: Celebrating Queensland languages exhibition

Spoken Virtual Tour

Jarjum Stories exhibition

Minya Birran: What next for Indigenous Languages?


Additional material for this blog post was drawn from the Torres Strait Traditional Languages Centre which has been established to support the vision of Torres Strait Islanders:

Our people speak and use our traditional languages on a daily basis for our culture, our well-being and our spirit.



Cover image: Amipuru by Ephraim Bani from Mabuiag Island. TR 1791/349

View of Mabuiag Island (ca. 1906). Image number: APO-032-0001-0023

Language groups of the Torres Strait. Sourced from Torres Strait Traditional Languages Centre website.


References and Further Reading

State Library collections have some material relating to Mabuiag language; such items are usually part of generic language materials from the Torres Strait, particularly Kala Lagaw Ya.

Aragu, B. Moegina Pawlaw Ya (Little Hen Story). P398.2 ara

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

Bani, E. and Nona, D. Dabu: the baby dugong = Dabu : kazi dhangalCLP SOL 1992

Davies, A. Notes 1924-1925OM66-02/3

Edwards, R. Some songs from the Torres StraitQ 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

Holmer, N. Notes on Some Queensland LanguagesJ 499.15 HOL

Jukes, J. Narrative of the surveying voyage of the HMS Fly. J 919.43 JUK

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

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

MacGillivray, J. Narrative of the Voyage of the HMS RattlesnakeG 994.02 1967

Mosby, L. Stephens, N and Teske, T. D is for dari : a Torres Strait picture dictionaryP 994.38 MOS

Ray, S. Dictionary of Torres Strait LanguagesQ 499.1503 RAY

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

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


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