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state library of queensland

Torres Strait Islander everyday words

By Administrator | 21 June 2017

Myths and Legends of Torres Strait, Q 398.2099438 MYT .

Myths and Legends of Torres Strait, Q 398.2099438 MYT .

With the NAIDOC 2017 theme of "Our Language Matters" State Library of Queensland has compiled a selection of everyday words from the Torres Strait. These have been uploaded to the Indigenous Languages Webpages for access and use by schools, community members and other interested groups to celebrate the language diversity of the Torres Strait. Words on the list have been sourced from a range of items in the State Library collections, dating back to the 1840's!

Language map of Torres Strait Islands, Shnukal (1985).

Language map of Torres Strait Islands, Shnukal (1985).

There are two traditional languages of the Torres Strait Islands, Meriam Mir and Kala Lagaw Ya as well as Torres Strait Creole, a recently developed community language.

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).
A Dictionary of Torres Strait Creole, Q 427.99438 SHN.

A Dictionary of Torres Strait Creole, Q 427.99438 SHN.

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 to Seisia and Bamaga.

SLQ Torres Strait Everyday Words Resource Guide

State Library Torres Strait Everyday Words resource guide.

Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA) is progressing language maintenance for the Torres Strait and has held two language symposiums in 2015 and 2017 to bring people together for consultation and planning. TSRA has recently launched their Traditional Languages Plan and Charter (2016-2019) as a first step to the development of a Torres Strait language centre. A number of language workers from the Torres Strait and mainland have also been actively involved in maintaining the traditional languages of the Torres Strait Islands. SAIMA Torres Strait Islander Corporation, based in Rockhampton, is one such group who has provided advice into the compilation of these everyday wordlists.  State Library encourages schools and communities to celebrate NAIDOC week and explore the languages of the Torres Strait.


Desmond Crump

Indigenous Languages Coordinator, Queensland Memory


State Library of Queensland Indigenous Languages webpages

State Library of Queensland Indigenous Languages and New Media Toolkit


References and Further Reading

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

Edwards, R. (ed) Dictionary of Torres Strait languages. Q 499.1503 RAY

Eseli, P. Eseli's Notebook. S 306.089 001

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

Lawrie, M. Myths and legends of 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

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

Vocabulary of the Murray Island dialect . FILM 0713

This is only a selection of items from the SLQ Collections – for a comprehensive listing of print and electronic materials use the One Search facility.



Gab Titui Cultural Centre

Indigenous Knowledge Centres (IKCs)

Margaret Lawrie Collection - Torres Strait Islander Genealogies 

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

SLQ - Torres Strait Island Communities

Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA)

Torres Strait Language Symposium


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