- Kala Lagaw Ya
name=Kala Lagaw Ya/Kalau Kawau Ya/Kulkalgau Ya/Kawalgau Ya - Lagau Ya
region=Western and Central
Torres Strait Islands, Queensland
Kala Lagaw Ya (correctly Kalaw Lagaw Ya [back/west+gen place+gen speech] ; several other names; see below) is a language spoken on all the western and central
Torres Strait Islands, Queensland, Australia. On some islands it has now largely been replaced by Brokan (Torres Strait Creole English). It has the highest speaker population of any indigenous language within Australian territory, with between 3000 and 4000 people speaking the language ( Ethnologue).
Before Colonisation in the 1870s-1880s, it was the major lingua franca of the area in both Australia and Papua, and is still widely spoken by neighbouring Papuans. It also has a pidginised form, partially creolised by some younger people on Badhu (Kala Lagaw Ya territory).
The language is known by several names besides Kalaw Lagaw Ya, most of which (including Kalaw Lagaw Ya), are strictly speaking names of dialects, spelling variants, dialect variants, and the like - including translations of the English terms, "Western Island Language" and "Central Island Language". The following list includes most of the commonest:
*Kalaw Kawaw Ya/Kalau Kawau Ya [Western Island Language] , Lagaw Ya/Lagau Ya [Home/(Home) Island Language] , Kala Lagaw Langgus/Kala Lagau Langgus [Western (Home) Island Language] , Kalaw Kawaw Langgus/Kalau Kawau Langgus [Western Island Language] , Kalaw Lagaw Ya [Western (Home) Island Language] , Langus [Language] , Kawalgaw Ya [Islanders' Language] , Kowrareg (strictly speaking name of the Kaurareg ['Islander'] person, not the language, which is/was Kauraregau Ya [Islanders' Language] ), Kulkalgau Ya [Blood-Peoples' Language (Kulka 'Blood' was an important cult figure)] , Mabuiag (the name of one of the islands where it is spoken), Westen or West Torres or Western Torres Strait, Dhadhalagau Ya [Mid-Island/Central Island Language] , Sentrel or Central Islands, as opposed to Isten or Esten or "East Torres" which is the
Meriam language(sometimes called by other Islanders and neighbouring Papuans Able Able, from the Meriam word able "this, that, in reference to"). One term used by Eastern islanders and neighbouring Papuans for Kala Lagaw Ya is Yagar Yagar, from the word yagar (yá "speech, etc." + gár "sympathy clitic (dear, please, etc.)", often used by Western-central Islanders in speech to show a sympathetic or nostalgic frame of mind.
In literature on the language the abbreviations KLY (Kalaw Lagaw Ya), KKY (Kalau Kawau Ya), KulY (Kulkalgau Ya) and KY (Kawalgau Ya) are often used as abbreviations. In English, the best and most neutral term is "The Western and Central Torres Strait Language".
When speaking to each other, speakers generally refer to the language as Langgus 'Language' or Ngalpun Ya (in the KKY dialect Ngalpan Ya) 'Our Speech'.
Kala Lagaw Ya is spoken on all of the western and central islands of Torres Strait, between
Papua New Guineaand the Australian mainland, though on some islands it has now been replaced by Brokan ( Torres Strait Creole). Before Colonisation in the 1870s-1880s, the language was the major lingua franca of the area in both Australia and Papua. A pidgin form of the language also exists.
The other languages spoken in the Torres Strait Islands are the
Meriam language(also known as East Torres), and Torres Strait Creole.
Kalaw Lagaw Ya is considered to be an Australian language of the Pama-Nyungan family. However, some (Capell 1956, Dixon 2002) regard it as a Papuan language with an Australian
substratum, though their reasoning is obscure. Mitchell 1995 produces evidence that it is a mixed language with Australian and Papuan backgrounds and an Austronesian overlay. The basic characteristics of the language, however, are Australian; the personal pronouns, for example, are all typically Australian, though on the other hand most kin terms are not.
Kalaw Lagaw Ya has only 6% cognation with its closest Australian neighbour, Urradhi - and about 25% common vocabulary with its Papuan neighbour, Meriam Mìr. Where vocabulary is concerned, potentially 80% of the vocabulary of the language is non-Australian, and includes Papuan and Austronesian items (Mitchell 1995).
There are four main dialects, two of which are on probably the verge of extinction. Within the dialects there are two or more subdialects. The average mutual intelligibility rate is around 97%.
*Northern dialect : Kalau Kawau Ya - Saibai (Saibai Village and Aith, also Bamaga/Seisia on Cape York), Dœwan (Dauan), Bœigu (Boigu)
*Western dialect : Kalaw Lagaw Ya - Mabuyag (Mabuiag) and Badhu (Badu)
*Eastern dialect (Central Island dialect) : Kulkalgau Ya - Yama, Waraber, Puruma, Masig and associated islands, now uninhabited, such as Nagi and Gebar
*Southern Dialect (South-West Islands) : Kawalgau Ya [Kauraraigau Ya] - Muralag, Ngœrupai (alt. Ngurupai, Nœrupai, Nurupai) and the other islands of the Thursday Island group, Mua (alt. Moa), Muri (Mt Adolphus - now uninhabited).
The Southern dialect has certain characteristics that link it closely to the northern dialect, and Muralag folk history reflects this, in that the ancestors of the Kowrareg (the Hiamo) originally came from Dharu (Daru, to the north east of Torres Strait) - and who had previously settled on Dharu from Yama in Central Torres Strait [get reference] .
Samples of the dialects
"When Mum went home, she gave Dad the knife."
Kalau Kawau Ya: Ama na' lagapa uzarima nanga, nadh Babalpa gi ["alt." upi] manu ["alt." maninu] .
Kalaw Lagaw Ya: Ama na' mudhaka uzarima nanga, nadh Babanika gi ["alt." upi, thurik] manu.
Kulkalgau Ya: Ama na' mudhaka uzarima/uzarimò nanga, nadh Babanika gi ["alt." upi, thurik] manu.
Kawalgau Ya: Ama na' lagapa uzarima nanga, nadha Babanipa gi ["alt." upi, thurik] manul.
(Old Kawalgau Ya (Kowrareg): *Ama na' lagapa [rri] uzarrima nanga, nadhu Babanipa [rri] gi [ri] ["alt." upi, thurrika] manulai.)
and... simplified ('pidgin') Kalaw Lagaw Ya
Ama na' mudh ka uzari, nadh Baban ka gi ["alt." upi, thurik] mani.
Phonological differences between the dialects are amazingly rare – and in general sporadic. The only regular dialect differences are the following:
a) Colloquial final unstressed vowel elision in Kulkalgau Ya and Kawalgau Ya:
maalu "sea" > maal’
waapi "fish" > waap’
thathi "father" > thath’
waaru "turtle" > waar’
ngadha "appearance, looks" > ngadh’
mœràpi "bamboo" (à shows the stressed syllable) > mœràp’
bera "rib" > ber’
kaba "dance performance" > kab’
b) Final vowel unstressed vowel devoicing and deletion in Kalaw Lagaw Ya
In Kalaw Lagaw Ya, such final vowels in correct language are devoiced, and deleted in colloquial language, except in a small class of words which include bera "rib", where there is a short vowel in the stem and in which the final vowel is permanently deleted, with compensatory lengthening of the final consonant (thus berr).
Strictly speaking, the process is not final vowel devoicing, but rather stressed vowel lengthening accompanied by final vowel devoicing – except in the case of words such as bera "rib" > berr, where the process is final consonant lengthening by the final vowel being 'incorporated' into the consonant. Note that in the following the word-final capital letter represents a devoiced vowel:
maalu "sea" > maalU > maal’
waapi "fish" > waapI > waap’
thaathi "father" > thaathI > thaath’
waaru "turtle" > waarU > waar’
ngadha "appearance, looks" > ngaadhA > ngaadh’
mœràpi "bamboo" (àà shows the stressed syllable) > mœrààpI > mœrààp’
bera "rib" > berr
kaba "dance performance" > kabb
In declined forms of such words, the long vowel is shortened, and the final vowel voiced, and in words like ber "rib" the final vowel often reappears:
maalU "sea" + ka "dative" > maluka
waapI "fish" > wapika
thaathI "father" > thathika
waarU "turtle" > waruka
ngaadhA "appearance, looks" > ngadhaka
mœrààpI "bamboo" > mœràpika
ber "rib" > beraka, berka
kab "dance performance" > kabaka, kabka
This vowel shortening in affixed/modified forms exists in all dialects, however the other dialects have retained contrastive length to some extent, whereas Kalaw Lagaw Ya has largely lost it for ‘morphophonological’ length, where the stressed vowel in words of one or two syllables is automatically lengthened in the nominative-accusative; this also applies to words of three syllables with second syllable stress (as in mœrààpI "bamboo").
One of the very few length contrasts in the Kalaw Lagaw Ya dialect is kaabA "knot in bamboo etc." vs kab "dance performance" (kab in Old Kawalgaw Ya was kœRaba, and œRa has regularly given short a in Kalaw Lagaw Ya); such length contrasts are more widespread in the other dialects.
The exceptions are (1) the small class or words that include ber "rib" and kab "dance performance", and (2) emotive words. Emotive words are those that equate to a certain extent to diminutives in languages such as Irish, Dutch and German, where specific suffixes are added to show 'diminutive' status (-ín, -Cje and -chen respectively). Emotive words in the Kalaw Lagaw Ya dialect include familiar kinship terms [the equivalent of English "Mum", "Dad" and the like] and words used in emotive contexts such as singing/poetry.
There are few irregular nouns, the most common being
(1) ái "food", yá "speech, language, message, etc.", li "basket", lú "mound, bump, hump"
instrumental aidu, yadu, lidu, luduspecific locative/HAVE-plural aidai/aide, yadai, lidai, ludai
(2) ná "song"
instrumental nathuspecific locative/HAVE-plural nathai.
(3) zá "thing, object, matter, etc."
This word has a fuller stem form, zapu-, which appears in certain forms:
instrumental zapungenitive zapuHAVE-plural zapul
In the locative forms both stems (za- and zapu-) appear:
specific locative zanu, zapunu, etc.
(4) gœiga "sun, day"; bireg/bereg "shelf"
The stems of these words have different forms to the nominative-accusative-
gœiga - stem:gœigœyi-, gœigi-; bireg/bereg - stem:bœreigi-
The language has a closed class of demonstrative morphemes with special morphological characteristics:
pi "there in the distance in a specific position"
kai "there in the distance in a non-specific position"
ka, í "here, this"
se/si "there, that (not too far away)"
gui, mulu/ngùl "down there"
ka, karai/kadai "up there" (variant forms of the one underlying stem)
ngapa "there beyond"
pai, pa, paipa "ahead there, up close there" (variant forms of the one underlying stem *pai)
pun [i] , pawa "off from there, back from there, back over there, back there" (possibly variant forms of the one underlying stem)
These demonstratives (as stem forms) can have masculine, feminine and non-singular forms (and as such are pronominal) as well as case forms. Í "here, this" and se/si "there, that (not too far away)" take the gender/number morphemes as suffixes, and the other demonstratives take them as prefixes. Note that ka "non-specifically here" and kai "there in the distance in a non-specific position" cannot appear with the gender/number morphemes, as these latter are specific by their nature. Í and se/si also take an article forming affix -bi to become demonstrative articles (e.g. senaubi kaz "that boy", senabi kaz "that girl", sepalbi kaz "those two children", sethabi kœzil "those children".)
Ka, í and se/si:
"Personal pronouns : dual"
Verbs can have over 100 different aspect, tense, voice, mood and number forms. Verb agreement is with the object (i.e. 'ergative') in transitive clauses, and with the subject in intransitive clauses. Imperatives, on the other hand, agree with both subject and object in transitive clauses.
There are three aspects (perfective, imperfective, habitual), two voices (active [which focuses on the verb activity and subsumes many intransitives, many antipassives and some transitives] and attainative [which subsumes many transitives, some antipassives and some intransitives] ), two moods (non-imperative and imperative [which resembles a subjunctive in some uses] , 6 tenses (remote future, today future, present, today past, recent past, remote past) and four numbers (singular, dual, specific plural, animate active plural - in form the animate active plural is the same as the singular, and is only found on certain verbs).
In most descriptions of the language the active and attainative voices have been mistakenly termed transitive and intransitive respectively. The terms transitive and intransitive in the language refer to syntactic voice marking properties of the clause, and interplay with passive, antipassive and 'antipassive passive'.
Morphology consists of prefixes (aspect, positioning, etc.), suffixes (voice, number, and two fossilised multiplicative/causative suffixes) and endings (tense, aspect and mood). The structural matrix of a verb is :
pabalkabuthamadhin "two were laid down across something" [which would clear in the context]
pabalkabuthemadhin "two went and lay down across something" [which would clear in the context] '
prefix: pa- "completive"
prefix: bal- "positional - across"
stem: kabutha- "place, lay"
voice suffix: -Ø "attainative", -i "active"
number suffix: -ma "dual"
tense-aspect ending: -dhin "remote past perfective"
Sample verb declension : íma- "see, observe, supervise, examine, try, test"
Three paradigms that have irregular morphology are:
Si [ ] kai "Perhaps/Maybe/Possibly"(in all dialects except Kalau Kawau Ya – which has invariable sike, sikedh)
masculine sinukai/senukai, feminine sinakai/senakai, general (singular, dual, plural) sikai
Singular yawa, Non-singular yawal
"Hey!" (attention seeker)
mas. kame, kamedh, fem. kake, kakedh, non-singular kole, koledh
In sikedh, kamedh, kakedh and koledh, the -dh final is only found in more emphatic use.
There is no strict standard spelling, and three slightly different orthographies (and often mixes of them) are in use.
The three spelling systems used for the language:
Loyalty Islandsmissionaries (established 1870s) : "a, b, d, e, g, i, j, k, l, m, n, ng, o, ö, p, r, s, t, u, z", sometimes also "th, dh, dth, tr, dr, oe, ë, w, y, j", and sometimes double vowels to show length. This spelling system was strongly inspired by the one used for the drehu (Lifu) language in the very early period, though later with the change of non-European Mission personnel from Lifu to Polynesian, as well as the growing number of indigenous Torres Strait missionaries, the spelling system lost the overtly Drehu forms "tr", "dr" and "ë" which had no phonological basis in Kala Lagaw Ya. The mission system is the orthography used in the Reports of the Cambridge Expedition to the Torres Strait (Haddon et.al, 1898 and on, University of Cambridge) and in "Myths and Legends of Torres Strait" (Lawrie, University of Queensland, 1971).
Klokheid and Bani(established 1970s) : "a", "aa", "b", "d" (alveolar), "dh" (dental), "e", "ee", "g", "i", "ii", "k", "l", "m", "n", "ng", "o", "oo","oe" (/ə/), "ooe" (/ə:/), "p", "r", "s", "t" (alveolar), "th" (dental), "u", "uu", "w", "y", "z"
Saibai, Boigu, Dauan students (established late 1970s) : "a", "b", "d" (alveolar), "dh" (dental), "e", "g", "i", "k", "l", "m", "n", "ng", "o", "oe" (/ə/), "p", "r", "s", "t" (alveolar), "th" (dental), "u", "w", "y", "z" (vowel length is not represented).
People not only use these three slightly differing spelling systems, but they also write words more or less as they pronounce them. Because of this words are often spelt in various ways, for example sena/sina "that, there", kothai/kothay/kothei/kothey/kothe "back of head, occiput". Variation like this depends on age, family, island, and other factors such as poetic speech. It can be difficult at times to decide which is most correct - different people have different opinions (and sometimes have very strong opinions). Though in general the pronunciation of older people has priority, some people can actually get quite offended if they think the language is written the ‘wrong’ way. Some insist that the mission spelling should be used, others the Bani spelling, and still others the KKY (Saibai etc.) spelling, and still again others use mixes of two or three, or adaptations thereof. Some writers of the Mabuiag-Badhu dialect (Kala Lagaw Ya), for example, write mainly in the Mission system, sometimes use the diagraphs oe, th, dh (variant dth) and sometimes use capital letters at the ends of words to show devoiced vowels, such as ngukI "fresh water/drinking water, fruit juice" /ŋʊ:kiˌ/. In the Bani/Klokheid orthograophy nguki is written nguuki, and in the other dialects the final vowel is fully voiced (nguki /ŋʊki/).
The biggest bone of contention between the advocates of the 'modern' orthographies and the 'traditionalist' orthographies is the use of w and y to show the semi-vowels (or semi-consonants if you prefer). In general native speakers in literacy classes seem to find y and w very difficult to learn, and that u and i are the 'logical' letters to use. Getting untrained speakers to break up words by sound or syllable suggests that u and i are really the underlying sounds. Thus, a word like ulaipa/ulaypa "am/is/are going/continuing/happening" [singular] syllabifies as u-la-i-pa, not u-lai-pa. Furthermore, in songs, u and i can also be given full syllable status. 'Historical' considerations also point to the semi-vowels often being vocalic rather than consonantal. Thus, ulaipa is in underlying form wœlama+i+pa - the stem of the verb is wœlama- (dual wœlmema-, remote past singular wœlmaidhin, etc.). The -i- in ulaipa is a separate morpheme (the active voice suffix).
A dictionary now in preparation (Mitchell/Ober) uses a orthography based on detailed study of the surface and underlying phonology of the language, as well as on observation of how people write in real life situations. It is a mix of the Mission and Kalau Kawau Ya orthographies with the addition of diacritics (the letters in brackets) to aid correct pronunciation, since many of the people who will use this dictionary will not be speakers of the language:
"a (á), b, d, dh, e (é), g, i (í), k, l, m, n, ng, o (ό, ò, ò'), œ (œ'), r, s, t, th, u (ú, ù), w, y, z"
Within this orthography, w and y are treated as consonants - this is their phonogical status in the language - while u and i are used as the glides where phonological considerations show that the 'diphthong' combination has vocalic status.
Pronunciation of the letters
The English pronunciations given in the list below are those of Australian English, and are only meant as a guide. The letters in square brackets (  ) represent the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).
a (short) [a] : ‘u’ as in "hut" - gath "shallow, shallows", mathaman "hit, kill"
a, á (long) (aa in the Bani orth.) [a:] ‘a’ as in "father" - áth "bottom turtle shell" ("plastron"), ma "spider", lág "place"
b [b] as in English - Báb "Dad", bœbu "current, stream", bibir "power, authority"
d [d] as in English - da "chest", idi "grease, fat, dead-calm sea"
dh [d̪] similar to d, but with the tip of the tongue put against the top teeth- dha "ladder, stairs", adhal "outside", Bádhu "Badu"
e (short) [e] ‘e’ as in "bed" - bero "rib", nge "then", tete "animal/bird leg"
e, é (long) (ee in the Bani orth.) [e:] ‘are’ as in "bared" - gér "sea snake", dhe "slime", sei "there"
g [g] as in English "get", never as in "general" - gigi "thunder", gág "mangrove swamp"
i (short) [i] short ‘ee’ as in "feet" - midh "how", sisi "gecko", ipi "wife"
i, í (long) (ii in the Bani orth.) [i:] ‘ee’ as in "feed" - síb "liver", gi "knife", ígil "life"
k [k] as in English - kikiman "hurry up", kakayam "bird-of-paradise"
l [l] similar to English ‘l’ in "lean", but with the tip of the tongue against the top teeth; never as in English "kneel" - lág "place, home", li "basket", gúl "double-outrigger sailing canoe"
m [m] as in English - mám "love, affection", Ama "Mum, Aunty", ma "spider"
n [n] similar to English ‘n’ in "nun", but with the tip of the tongue against the top teeth - na "song", nan "her", nanu "her(s)"
ng [ŋ] as in English "sing"; never as in English "finger" - ngai "I, me", ngœrang "armpit"
o (short) [o] more or less ‘o’ as is in "got", though more rounded - sob "slowness", mogo "blank skink"
o (long) (oo in the Bani orth.) [o:] more or less ‘o’ as in "god", though more rounded - gor "tie-hole", so "show"
ò (short) [ɔ] short version of ‘oa’ in "broad" - mòdhabil "costs, prices", gòyal "bald"
ò (long) (oo in the Bani orth.) [ɔ:] ‘oa’ in "broad" - mòs "lung, spittle", gòy "baldness"
œ (short) [ə] ‘a’ as in "about" - bœtœm "lean (animals)", bœga "mallard"
œ (long) (ooe in the Bani orth.) [ə:] more or less like ‘er’ in "herd" - wœr "water", Wœy "Venus", bœi "coming"
p [p] as in English - papi "noose, trap", áp "garden", Pòpu "Grandad"
r [r] similar to ‘tt’ in "better" when said fast (that is to say, when "better" is pronounced ‘"bedder"’). Before another consonant and at the end of a word, it is often trilled (like in ‘stage’ Scottish English or 'rr' in Spanish). In singing, however, it is normally pronounced much like the American English ‘r’ - ári "rain, louse", rùg "rag, piece of cloth", ár "dawn"
s [s] most commonly like English ‘s’ in "sister"; sometimes like English ‘ch’ in "chew" when at the beginning of a word or in the middle of a word; never like ‘s’ in ‘as’ (which is a ‘z’ sound) - sas "style, showing off", sisi "gecko", sagul "game, fun, dance"
t [t] as in English - tádu "sand-crab", tídan "return, understand", ít "rock oyster"
th [t̪] similar to t, but with the tip of the tongue put against the top teeth - tha "crocodile tail", thathi "father", geth "hand"
u (short) [u] short ‘u’ as in "lute" - buthu "sand", gulai "sailing canoes"
u, ú (long) (uu in the Bani orth.) [u:] ‘oo’ in "woo" - búzar "fat, blubber", thu "smoke"
ù [ʊ] ‘u’ as in "put" - mùdh "shelter", kùt "late afternoon, early evening", kùlai "first, before"
w [w] Not as strong as English ‘w’ in "we" ; for most speakers of the language the only difference between w and short u is that w is shorter - wa "yes", kawa "island", báw "wave"
y [j] Not as strong as English ‘y’ in "yes"; for most speakers of the language the only difference between y and short i is that y is much shorter - ya "speech, talk, language", aya "come!", máy "well, spring; tears; pearl-shell, nacre"
z [z] most commonly like English ‘z’ in "zoo", or English ‘s’ in "has"; sometimes like English ‘j’ in "jump", or ‘dg’ in "budge" when at the beginning or in the middle of a word - zázi "grass skirt", za "thing, object", zizi "crackle, crack, rustling noise"
Combinations of vowels (‘diphthongs’, such as ai, au, œi, eu etc.) are pronounced as written. Thus, for example, ai is a-i (basically very similar to ‘i’ in ‘mine’ with a posh accent). In singing and sometimes in slow speech, such vowel combinations can be said separately. The diphthongs are:
ei - sei "there"
iu - biuni "kookoobuura, kingfisher"
œi - bœi "coconut frond"
eu - seu "belonging to there"
ai - Saibai "Saibai"
œu - kœubu "battle, war"
òi - òi "hoy!, hey!" (reply to a call, vocative particle)
au - kaub "tiredness"
ui - mui "fire"
ou - berou "of a/the rib"
In the Bani and Saibai (etc.) orthographies, these are written as follows:
ey - sey
iw - biwni
œy - bœy
ew - sew
ay - Saybay
œw - kœwbu
oy - oy
aw - kawb
uy - muy
ow - berow
*cite book |last=Capell |first=Arthur |authorlink=Arthur Capell |year=1956 |title=A new approach to Australian linguistics |location=Sydney |publisher=Oceanic Linguistic Monographs |pages=108
*cite journal |last=Evans |first=Nicholas |authorlink=Nicholas Evans (linguist) |month=June |year=2005 |title=Australian Languages Reconsidered: A Review of Dixon (2002) |journal=Oceanic Linguistics |volume=44 |issue=1 |pages=242–286 |doi=10.1353/ol.2005.0020
*cite book |first=R. M. W. |last=Dixon |authorlink=R. M. W. Dixon |title=Australian Languages: Their Nature and Development |publisher=
Cambridge University Press|year=2002 |id=ISBN-10: 0521473780, ISBN-13: 9780521473781 |url=http://www.cambridge.org/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=0521473780
*cite book |last=Ford |first=Kevin |coauthors=Ober, Dana |editor=S. Romaine |title=Language in Australia |year=1991 |publisher=Cambridge University Press |location=Cambridge |pages=118–142 |chapter=A sketch of Kalaw Kawaw Ya
*cite book |last=Mitchell |first=Rod |title=Linguistic Archaeology in Torres Strait: The Western-Central Torres Strait Language |year=1995 |publisher=James Cook University (Masters Thesis) |location=Townsville
*ethnologue|code=mwp|label=Kala Lagaw Ya
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