Mirniny Sketch Grammar

1. Language and Speakers

1.1 Names and Locations

1.1.1 Language name

The Goldfields Aboriginal Language Centre uses the contemporary spelling, Mirniny, however, the people of this nation have also been known as; Meening, Mining, Minninng, Mirniny, Ba:duk, Baaduk, Bardok, East Meening, East Mining, Eucla, Ikala, Ikula, Jirkala Mining, Jirkla mirning, Julbara, Julbari, Jurgala, Jurgula, Minal Njunga, Mininj, Minnal Yungar, Minning, Mirin, Mirningj, Murram, Ngadjadjara, Ngadjudjara, Ngadjuwonga, Ngandada, Ngandatha, Wanbiri, Wanmaraing, Warnabinnie, Warnabirri, Warnabirrie, Wonbil, Wonburi, Wonunda meening, Wonunda Minung, Wonunda Mirning, Yerkla Mining, Yircla, Yirkala Mining, Yirkla, Yirkla Mining, Yurgala, Mirnin, Mirninj, Warna Birrie, Wonbil and Wonburi.  Jirkala Mining has another explanation for the name, Yerkla Mining (Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies [AIATSIS] Austlang).

Williams (as cited in Curr, 1886) observed Wonunda Meening was the name given to the group whose country traversed some 225 kilometres east of Point Culver (along the coast) who were so named because the Wonunda was the main source of water for this family group.  Curr (1886) contends this is how each group came to be known, through association with their water source.  Family groups along the coast used Meening in association with the name of their principle source of water (Curr, 1886).  Such naming conventions illustrate the value of water for a nation of people living in a country, and a region where it was a scarce commodity.  The Yirkla Mirniny were from the Eulca area, Eucla being a phonotactic filtering of the traditional Mirniny word; Yirkla (Curr, 1886).  Within the language itself, mirniny means initiated man.  This use of man, or person as a language name has come to be common within Australian languages, and is perhaps a labelling practice courtesy of colonisers.

Within Aboriginal Australia, it was common for nations, family groups and language groups to be named according to inter-group relationships, appearance, geographical location or cultural practices, all of which served to differentiate one group from another.  Hence, within their own speech groups, Mirniny were known in association to water sources, whereas neighbouring groups were assigned labels associated with features that made them different.  These strategies explain the vast number of names for nations and language groups and in effect provide us with information about relationships between Aboriginal groups.  For example, language groups to the north of Mirniny country were labelled Murun, meaning fat or stout.  Whereas groups to the west of Mirniny country labelled their neighbours Bardook (know nothings) due to the differences in circumcision practices between east and west (Curr, 1886).  Naming conventions that apply one single enduring label are those applied by colonisers, whereas traditional Aboriginal strategies are fluid and changing, depending on relationships between groups and who is speaking about whom.

1.1.2 Location and boundaries

Mirniny country occupies a long thin strip of land, east from Point Culver, along the south coast of Western Australia and South Australia to the head of the Great Australian Bight.  The inhospitable nature of the Nullarbor to the north, meant the Mirniny stayed close to the coastline, never venturing more than 50 or 60 kilometres from the coast (Curr, 1886).

1.2 Linguistic Type

1.2.1 Linguistic classification

Belonging to the Pama-Nyungan family, Mirniny is a language that has proved difficult to classify.  It was originally placed within the Western Desert (Wati) family of languages, but this was later shown to be inaccurate.  Von Brandenstein included the language, along with Ngadju and Kaalamaya, in the Dundas District Dialect, whereas O’Grady placed it within the Mirniny subgroup.  O’Grady and Voegelin and Voegelin classed Karlaku and Mirniny to be dialects of the same language, named East and west Mirniny (as cited in Thieberger, 1993).  However these labels are avoided by the Goldfields Aboriginal Language Centre (GALCAC) because they are not consistent with how speakers identify.  Researchers at GALCAC have found the language groups named as part of this family instead prefer to be known by their individual language names (Hanson, 2017). 

As such, these individual labels will be used by GALCAC linguists, until such time as research can provide more accurate group names.  Readers can expect to find these terms used throughout this document, for reasons just explained. 

O’Grady, Voegelin and Voegelin (1966): Mirning.

AIATSIS identification code: A.09

1.2.2 Location of language

Within Western Australia, Mirniny people are known to have lived in Balladonia, Eucla, Mundrabilla, Mundrabilla Station, Norseman and Esperance.  Migration has also seen groups settle in the Goldfields region, Tjuntjuntjara and as far north as Carnarvon in the Pilbara region.  Of course, this list is not exhaustive. 

1.2.3 Similarity with related languages

Given that Mirniny country sits across two state borders and covers a large swathe of the southern coastline, we can expect to see variation in dialects from one side of the territory to the other.  Readers should be aware this paper will discuss Mirniny language and culture as it was used on the West Australian side only.  Bates, (cited in Hanson, 2013) suggested there were 21 Mirniny groups, whereas  Curr (1886) describes two groups; the Wonunda Meening based at Eyre’s Sand Patch in Western Australia, and the Yirkla Meening, at Eucla on the South Australian border.  Curr also briefly mentions one or two other families, living in between the vincinities of the two afore-mentioned groups. There is also the question of the Marlpa, a family group who lived between Mirniny and Ngadju country. Ngadju speakers describe Marlpa as another dialect (James Schultz, personal communication, January 20, 2021) while  aboriginal people with Marlpa heritage insist theirs is a separate language (making them a separate group). Initial lexical tests conducted by GALAC point to a communilect relationship with Ngadju and Mirniny (Coffin, 2021).   

The arrival of colonisers in the 19th Century disrupted the lives (and language) of the Mirniny.  Migration of groups to safer areas, forced relocation to missions and the loss of traditional hunting lands due to farming and pastrolisation, resulted in an ongoing negative affect upon the people and their language, which is now classified as critically endangered. 

Traditionally, and following contact, Mirniny people have enjoyed close relationships with neighbouring groups, the Wirangu and Kukatja to the east, and the Esperance Nyungars and Ngadju to the west.  Marriage between speech groups, trade and travel has seen examples of borrowing.  Substitute names, practiced in avoidance speech, may also contribute to instances of borrowed words in this and any Aboriginal language. 

Migration of desert groups like Pitjantjatjarra and Ngaanyatjarra has also had a deleterious effect on Mirniny people, culture and language.  Historical (Mirniny) wordlists held by GALCAC, include instances of Western Desert (Wati) words like papa ‘dog’, kapi ‘water’, and pina ‘ear’.

Where large numbers of Aboriginals from differing speech communities were living in concentrated quarters, language change also occurred.  Mission systems, imposed upon Aboriginal groups during colonisation saw smaller language groups lose speakers to more dominant languages.  Linguists working in South Australia have noted similarities between Mirniny, Wirangu and Kukatja, which is being ascribed to traditional interaction between the neighbouring groups as well as placement of Aboriginals at Koonibba Mission (Monaghan, personal communication, January 7, 2020).  Linguists in South Australia are researching ‘South Coast Talk’ a code believed to have developed on the south coast, that draws on English (Monaghan, personal communication, January 7, 2020).  Within Western Australia, similar language change has come about through prolonged contact within the mission system. 

1.3 Present Language Situation

Mirniny has been classified as critically endangered.  Figures from the 2016 census revealed no self-identifying speakers of the language (AIATSIS, n.d.). 

Linguists at GALC have been researching the language and looking for speakers, with little success.  It would appear that within the Goldfields region at least, speakers are quite low in number.  Conservative estimates would suggest less than 50 speakers.  Self-assessment is problematic as speakers are known to underestimate their own ability.  Another issue the lack of an agreed standard as to what constitutes as speaker.  Recent events suggest there may be competent speakers living in the Goldfields region.  Linguists at GALC are taking steps to connect with these residents.

1.4 Cultural Background

1.4.2 Language matters relating to cultural systems

Initial results suggest adherence to common traditional practices such as avoidance language, taboos relating to death, and men’s and women’s business.  More detail regarding these areas of language use will be uncovered as research progresses

1.5 Recent History

1.5.1 Movement of speakers

Mirniny speakers have lived in and across Western Australia.  Their traditional movements were affected by colonisation as lands were taken over and developed for farming and white civilisation. 

1.5.2 Other significant historical points

‘This is what the old fellas used to tell us’.   

         ‘The Mirniny were a big tribe living out Mundrabilla wayThey were boss of the coast, and their country went from Frenchman’s peak – all the way to Port Lincoln.  But they got too big.  The old man said, ‘you mob, go north (that’s spinifex way).  They became the desert mob.  You other mob go east.  These people became Wirangu and Kukata.  You other mob go west.  These people became the Ngadju and Marlpa. 

         Everyone along the southern coast of Western Australia and South Australia were Mirniny.  They were the fellas all along that country.  The Mirniny was a big tribe.  The Mirniny were there first.  All these other tribes are a spin-off of Mirniny people’ (J. Schulz, personal communication, 13 March 2020) 

The Mirniny were a coastal tribe of small stature, living on a thin strip of land along  the Great Australian Bight, stretching between what is know known as Western and Southern Australia.  Directly north of their country was the Nullarbor Plain and the Western Desert.  The Mirniny did not venture into this area due to the inhospitable nature of the Nullarbor, and the strongly-held belief that the desert was populated by fierce dogs (Curr, 1886).  Nevertheless, the Wati (who were physically bigger and more aggressive in nature) would enter Mirniny country to steal women, kill men and steal flint stones, which were used for lighting fires.  Flint stones could be found on Mirniny country and were prized by other groups.  The Mirniny used these trade flint stones to trade with Ngadju and other language groups (L. Schulz, 26 May 2020, personal communication). 

After contact, the Mirniny suffered at the hands of colonisers, who took over the land for farming.  In 1849, scores of Mirniny were driven off the cliffs at Elliston, in what has become known as the Waterloo Bay Massacre (L. Schulz, 26 May 2020, personal communication).

1.6 Past Linguistic Investigations

1.6.1 Past Linguistic Research

Curr, E.M., late 19th Century

Bates, D., 20th Century.

von Brandenstein, C.G., late 20th Century.

Douglas, W., 20th Century.

O’Grady, G. & O’Grady, A., mid 20th Century onwards.

Thieberger, N., late 20th Century onwards.

Nash, D., late 20th Century onwards.

Hercus, L., late 20th Century/ early 21st Century.

Naessan, P., late 20th Century, onwards. 

Please note; This timeline is not comprehensive and there may be additional research done which was not evident at the time this grammar was written. Goldfields Aboriginal Language Centre holds a variety of other material on this language. AIATSIS and other institutions and individual researchers may also hold additional material on this language.

1.6.2 Language Informants

PomPom Schulz (Norseman region).

Arthur Dimer (Goldfields region).

Iris Burgoyne (South Australia).

Robin Graham (Goldfields region)

Jessie Rule (Norseman region)

Mirniny speakers at Esperance.  Peter Jameson recordings, circa 1990s.

Carl Georg Von Brandenstein recordings.  Unkown speaker. 

1.7 Present Study

1.7.1 Basis of the present study

The present study has been conducted with the aid of historical records and documents collected and stored within the GALC archives.  This material consists of wordlists, complemented by one or two audio recordings.  Attempts to meet speakers (users) of Mirniny for the purpose of language work, are ongoing. 

1.7.2 Research conducted by the present writer

The author of this sketch grammar has completed a detailed analysis of archival material held by GALCAC.  All attempts to meet with speakers from surrounding areas are ongoing.  The introduction of travel restrictions during the COVID 19 crisis, and restrictions in funding for further research, has meant linguists were unable to conduct fieldwork outside the Goldfields region.  GALCAC linguists are in regular contact with the Mirning Traditional Lands Aboriginal Corporation, RNTBC, and members of the community to discuss cultural and language-related matters. 

2. Phonology

2.1 Orthography

2.1.1 Standard Orthography

This orthography has been developed to represent all the phonemes of Mirniny in a simple ‘one sound to one letter’ relationship. Some phonemes use two letters or ‘digraphs’ to represent them, but each has only one way of representing it in the orthography as a whole. There have been other orthographies used to write this language in the past, however the one presented here has become the standard. Vowels

a          This approximates the vowel sound in the English words cut, bud, and luck.

aa        This approximates the short a above, but held a bit longer. It is about the same as the vowel sound in English words cart, start, and farm.

i           This approximates the vowel sound in the English words pin, finish, and miss.

ii          This approximates the short i above, but held a bit longer. It is about the same as the vowel sound in English words seek, teeth, and pristine. 

u          This approximates the vowel sound in the English words put, cook, and foot.

uu        This approximates the short u above, but held a bit longer. There is no real equivalent in Standard Australian English. Practice by saying the sound in put but holding it longer, as in the word pool. Consonants

j           This sound is very similar to the j sound in the English words jam and jump. 

 k          This sound is about halfway between English sounds g as in the word gum, and k as in the word kid. Just a little bit of sound comes out, like a voiced /k/, rather than a voiceless /k/.  

l           This approximates the sound in English words love, silly and fool.

 rl         This is an ‘l’ sound that is a bit like the American English way of saying girl, or pearl. The tip of the tongue curls back a little way when the sound is made.

ly         This is an ‘l’ sound said with the most of the front half of the tongue pressed against the top of the mouth. It is like the sound in the English word million, when the word is said quickly.           

m         This approximates the sound in English words move, yummy and ham.

n          This approximates the sound in English words no or funny.

 rn        This is an ‘n’ sound that is a bit like the American English way of saying barn, or yarn. The tip of the tongue curls back a little way when the sound is made.

ny        This is an ‘n’ sound said with the most of the front half of the tongue pressed against the top of the mouth. It is like the sound in the English word onion, or bunyip when it is said quicky.

ng        This approximates the sound at the end of English word bang, and in the middle of singer.

 p          This sound is about halfway between English sounds b as in the word bit, and p as in the word pit. Just a little bit of sound comes out.  It sounds like a voiced /p/, more than a typical Standard Australian English /p/.

r          This approximates the sound in English words run, pram, and red.

rr        This is like the trilled r sound used by speakers of Scottish English. Sometimes Australian English speakers say it when they say words like ‘butter’ very quickly.

t           This sound is about halfway between English sounds d as in the word dug, and t as in the word tug. Just a little bit of sound comes out.

tj         This sound is a harder j sound.  Try saying English judge or jam with a lisp. The tip of the tongue is pressed against the top of the mouth and makes a thicker, /j/ sound. 

rt         This sound is a bit like the American English way of saying smart, or yard. The tip of the tongue curls back a little way when the sound is made.

w         This approximates the sound in English words with, sewing, and chew.

y          This approximates the sound in English words yellow, yap, young.

2.1.2 History of the current orthography

The current orthography was adopted in 2019 after detailed study of materials stored at GALC.  Efforts to meet and work with Mirniny language users are ongoing, so an orthography was pieced together using historical data and speech recorded in prompted sessions.  Linguists at GALC will continue to use this orthography until such time as speakers become available and more information regarding the language is uncovered.  

2.1.3 Explanation of the current orthography choice

Many people still question the need for a particular standard orthography or the need for a standard orthography at all. The above standard spelling system allows us to write down a language consistently and accurately. Consistent spelling systems ensure that everyone writes words down in the same way so that everyone can understand each other and so that in years to come people will still be able to understand what has been written now.

The alphabet of an accurate spelling system reflects the true nature of the phonemes used in the language.  Aboriginal languages contain many phonemes that do not occur in English.  The standard spelling system for Mirniny corresponds to these sounds so that the written word reflects the spoken word.

2.2 Consonant Inventory


































































2.3 Vowel Inventory





High Short




High Long




Low Short




Low Long




2.4 Phonotactics

2.4.1 Voicing

In a small sample of language recordings analysed by GALC between 2019-2021 linguists found 97 per cent of word-initial phonemes were voiced.  Medial phonemes were not (100 per cent unvoiced) and 71 per cent of final phonemes were voiced. 

2.4.2 Consonants Consonant Clusters

Mirniny follows a CVC pattern. In instances where a syllable is a CVC pattern, the subsequent syllable will commence with a C, resulting in a consonant cluster. 

kurltjirrka, ‘grass seed’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

karralyka, ‘bark of a tree’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

karlangka, ‘by the fire’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

ngarntatja, ‘we’ ‘you and I’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

parlka, ‘head’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

jintu, ‘sun’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

kampurun, ‘heat’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

panytjala, ‘old’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

nginpin, ‘eyebrow’ (Burgoyne, 2000).

nyanytju, ‘horse’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

ngalpa, ‘many’ (Naessan, 2013).

mulku, ‘cat’ (Burgoyne, 2000).

yurlka, ‘grass’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

ngarrka, ‘cliff’ (Naessan, 2013).

ngarntany, ‘sick’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

warlpi, ‘water’ (Naessan, 2013)

tjarltarrma, ‘to split’ (Naessan, 2013)

tjartarrtja, ‘this way’ (Naessan, 2013 Word Initial Consonants

Data held by GALC shows the tap or trill, /rr/ and /l/ to be the only consonants not permitted in the word-initial position. 

jilya, ‘leaf’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

kampu, ‘bone’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

maka, ‘no/nterjection’(Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

nanka, ‘neck’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

ngala, ‘forehead’ (Naessan, 2013)

nyina-, ‘sit’ (Naessan, 2013)

pala, ‘DEM’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

rini, ‘leg’ (Burgoyne, 2000).

tila, ‘mallee tree’ (Curr, 1886-1887).

tjalany, ‘tongue’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

walyi, ‘bad’ (Naessan, 2013)

yaka, ‘woman’ (Naessan, 2013)

Readers of this sketch grammar should note that Iris Burgoyne identified as Mirniny/ Kukata and Wirangu, so lexemes taken from her wordlist may belong to either of these language groups. Word Final Consonants

Research shows word-final consonants, /ny/, /ng/, /l/, /rl/, /rn/, /rr/ and /n/.  In a sample of 200 morphemes, there are no examples of /k/, /j/, /th/, /w/, /y/,/m/, /tj/, /p/, /rt/ or /t/ in word-final position. 

mirniny, ‘man’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

puling, ‘small yellow-head snake’ (Thieberger, 2017).

kutjal, ‘two’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

ngumurl, ‘feather’ (Thieberger, 2017).

kalarn, ‘cold weather’ (Thieberger, 2017).

ngarnkurr, ‘beard’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

kantan, ‘chin’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

Word-final consonants from 200 morphemes




/ l /





















2.4.3 Vowels Permissible Distribution of Vowels

Although vowel-initial words are permissible, generally speaking Mirniny follows a CVC pattern.  All vowels are monothongs.  Sound rules do not allow for dipthongs, but long vowel sounds can and do occur in word-medial and word-final position.  Where a complex vowel sound occurs, speakers will often adopt a glide (/y/) between vowels.

payiku, ‘eldest brother’

payi waluru, ‘older sister’

(Thieberger, 2017). 

To date, GALC research shows /aa/ and /uu/ sounds to be more common than /ii/ sounds. Word Initial Vowels

Data analysed by GALC linguists has yielded word initial vowels in all three short vowel sounds; /a/ /i/ and /u/.  There is no occurance of long vowels in the word-initial position.

ankii, ‘over there’ (Burgoyne, 2000).

irralu, ‘pull’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

urla, ‘boy’ (Burgoyne, 2000). Word Final Vowels

The three short vowels appear in word-final position, with long vowel-final rare (0.5%).  In a sample of 200 morphemes, there was only one example of long vowel in the final position.

majilpa, ‘person’ (Thieberger, 2017).

kuri, ‘betrothed’ (Thieberger, 2017).

ankii, ‘over there’ (Burgoyne, 2000).

kurturtu, ‘heart’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

Word-final vowels from 200 morphemes.
















Overall, vowel-final occurs much more frequently than consonant-final (89% compared to 11%). 

2.4.4 Stress and Intonation Word-level stress patterns

The protypical stress pattern for Aboriginal languages places main stress on the first syllable, and secondary stress on the alternate syllable thereafter (Goodeman, 2010).  Mirniny shares the most common pattern, with initial main stress, and occasional secondary stress on the penultimate syllable, in words with three or more syllables. 

3. Morphology

3.1 Overview

In a sample of 600 morphemes, nominals made up fifty per cent of the database.  There are less than one hundred verbs, and verb suffixes, and a small number of demonstratives, descriptors, interjections and particles, in the sample. 

3.2 Word Class Derivation

 3.2.1 Verbalisers

Two verbalisers were found in the data,  verb formative –ra– and stem-forming -rra- (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).



use mouth+VER+PAST

‘scolded, or growled’




‘laugh at’.









Naessan (2013) also listed the transitivizer -ma-





3.3 Nominals

3.3.1 Nominal Subclasses Overview     

Nominals comprise over fifty per cent of entries in the database.  The entries comprise 1,060 nouns, 30 pronouns, and small numbers of interrogatives, particles and interjections. 

Researchers found glosses for cardinal directions specific to Mirniny country.  This demonstrates the important link between speech group members and their particular country, as well as the manner in which nature was used to assist with navigation and methods for orientation.

wiluranil, ‘west wind’

wanparti, ‘cool south west wind’

kurila winaka, ‘sea breeze’

(Thieberger, 2017).

Winaka can be glossed as south wind (Thieberger, 2017).  From this gloss, paired with that of wanparti, we know the breeze coming from the south may have offered cool respite from the harsh conditions . Nouns

Nouns are inflected for case. 

Abessive: marrangu, and parrangu (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).





There are no examples for -parrangu in the data.

Ablative: -ngu and -tjungu (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).




‘away from camp’. 

Allative; -rri  (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).




‘he, towards’

The allative case takes the same form as imperiative marker -rri (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005)..  The data contains examples of where these two suffixes complement each other.  That is;

matjarri minyaka, tjantju yurlu nganarri.

matja+rri minya+ka tjantju yurlu ngana+rri

3SG+ALL tomorrow+FUT tjantju this way go+IMP

‘he will come this way tomorrow morning’. 

(von Brandenstein, 1982).

Comitative: -malya and -tja (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

Dative; -ku and -tja (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).




‘to my wife’.

In the following example, DAT suffix -tja refers to the self (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).




‘get it for me’

Emphatic; -kurltu and -rtu (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).




‘very short’.

Instrumental; -ku (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).




‘with a stick’.

Locative; -ja, -ka and -nga (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).




‘in the tree’.




‘by the fire’

Plural; -rangu and -ngkarra (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).









Purposive; -watji  (Naessan, 2013).




‘for meat’. Descriptive Modifiers Pronouns Overview

Data held by GALAC, to date, does not show any examples of bound pronouns.  Bound pronouns are commonly found in nearby Wati languages such as Ngaanyatjarra and Pitjantjatjarra, but to date, GALCAC does not have any examples of use. 

This fact may change when speakers or further recordings are located.   

Please see the table below for a more detailed explanation of pronouns and their forms.







1SG   I







2SG   You








3SG   He, she, it











1DU  The two of us

You and I


ngurntu ngali+





-na kutjal







2DU   The two of you

ngurntu kutja+






3DU   The two of them

pana kutjarra

pana kutjal







1PL   We








2PL   You all






3PL   They all

pana partujarra





(Naessan, 2013). Free pronouns

Naessan (2013) and Velichova-Rebelos, (2005) list 2SG, 1DU, 2DU, 3DU, and 1PL, 2PL and 3PL NOM/ERG as null, that is to say there is no suffix. 

In contrast 1SG and 3SG NOM/ERG must take a suffix.  Readers of this sketch grammar will note the table above shows the NOM/ERG case markers to be identical, Pronouns
  • The first person singular nga-cannot operate without suffixes to indicate case, be it NOM/ERG, ACC, GEN or LOC
  • There is no differentiation between 1SG nominative and ergative markers, both cases take the same -tju
  • The LOC case is comprised of the genitive, plus -la, -rta or -lta, thus forming a suffix that is composed the one before it. Almost like blocks of grammar.
  • Suffixes are phoneticised, depending on the preceeding morpheme. This variation can be seen in the above table.
  • The locative suffixes, -la, -rta, lta are only used with pronouns. Reflexive & reciprocal pronouns

In glosses provided by Naessan (2013) locative suffixes -rta, -rniyala, -yala and -lta preform reflexive roles.  These LOC suffixes only appear on pronouns, as opposed to -ja, -ka, -nga and -ta, which are used on ordinary nouns.   




‘on us both’

Note the phonetic variation -rlta




‘on me’




‘on you’ Demonstratives

Six demonstratives were found in the data, including demonstrative pronoun parru (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005). 




‘he’/ ‘that one’. 

parru mirniny

pa+rru mirniny

DEM man

‘that man.’

Other demonstratives include:

minya, ‘that one’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

ngakartu, ‘this one’ (Thieberger, 2017).

panyarni, ‘from there’ (Naessan, 2013).

pana, ‘that one’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

pala, ‘there’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005). Interrogatives

The following interrogatives were found in the data:pakurri, ‘where’ (Naessan, 2013).

wi, ‘what do you want?’ (Burgoyne, 2000).

tjala, ‘where?’ (Burgoyne, 2000).

Naessan (2013), believes ngarntu- can take on the ERG -lu and ACC -rniny to change the direction of interrogation.








‘why+ACC’ Directional, Locational and Time Nominals Overview Directional nominals 

There was a nigh number of directional nominals relating to cardinal directions.  This is to be expected, as Aboriginal societies oriented themselves by the sun.


alinjirra (Thieberger, 2017).

kayala (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

yilungu (Naessan, 2013)

Kayala is also glossed to mean ‘away from camp’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005). Mirniny country is at the southern end of Australia.  Considering this, any place away from the Great Australian Bight,  away from camp, will almost certainly be north. 

Labels for north east and north west are composite.  That is to say, they are comprised of the two lexemes for each separate direction, much like their Standard Australian English counterparts. 

‘north east’

alinjirra kakarra (Thieberger, 2017).

kurna purulu (Curr, 1886)

‘north west’

alinjirra wilurarra (Thieberger, 2017).


kurila (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

yulparra (Thieberger, 2017).

‘south east’

kakarra yulparra (Curr, 1886)

yarutu (Curr, 1886)

‘south west’

wilurarra yulparra (Thieberger, 2017).


kakarra (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

manung (Thieberger, 2017).


kalta (Curr, 1886).

wilurarra (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005). Locational nominals

Noun suffixes LOC, ABL and ALL serve to identify place or direction in sentences and phrases.  Researchers also found examples describing direction such as this way (hither) and that way (thither). 

Locative; -ja, -ka, -la, -nga, and -ta.

wartaka (Naessan, 2013).



‘In the tree’


(Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).



‘by the fire’.  

tjunginta (Naessan, 2013).



‘at night’

The LOC suffix for pronouns appears to be constructed from GEN+LOC, as seen above with examples for ngarniyalaand ngurntiyala.  

Ablative: -ngu




‘away from camp’. 

Allative; -rri




‘he, towards’

‘that way’


‘this way’



(Velichova-Rebelos, 2005). Time nominals 

Traditional Aboriginal society had different experiences of time to those of western societies.  We can expect to find these differences reflected within lexemes describing time and the passing of time.

yaparti, ‘yesterday’ (Naessan, 2013). 

kangara, ‘yesterday’ (Von Brandenstein, n.d.).

minyarra, ‘tomorrow’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

minyaka, ‘tomorrow morning’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

kangkiya, ‘night’ (Naessan, 2013).

tjungin, ‘night’ (Naessan, 2013).

yayi, ‘now’ ‘today’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

yayi putarri, ‘today’, ‘now’, ‘soon’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

putja, ‘by and by’, ‘later’ (Thieberger, 2017).

Pukulu, ‘one day removed’ was glossed as both yesterday and tomorrow (Naessan, 2013).  This simplifies time, being that perhaps only today matters.  Certainly finding food today matters more than whether one found food yesterday, or will do tomorrow. 

3.3.3 Nominal Derivational Morphology Nominal Derivational Suffixes Kinship morphology

Mirniny kinship terms are more complex than their English counterparts because the family unit operates on an entirely different premise to a western model.  This is evident in the number of labels for family members, which are made necessary through cultural norms of family, and rules of status, interaction (or avoidance) and respect.  Add to this, variations in dialect across Mirniny country and family groups, and the result is a system of naming and labelling quite different to what white Australians would find familiar.

ngunja, ‘mother’

yakarlu, ‘mother’

majil, ‘mother’s father’

mamarlu, ‘father’

mumaja, ‘father’

tjatjalu, ‘father’s father’

yumari, ‘mother-in-law/ father-in-law’.

(Thieberger, 2017).

Concerning avoidance relationships, Thieberger (2017) glosses tjanirpa, (brother/ sister-in-law) as ‘a name not spoken’, suggesting a taboo on communication between family members in this relationship (spouses of siblings).

Linguists found similarities in the data for labels of grandparent and grandchild indicate kin-pairing or partner relationships, whereas differentiation between older and younger siblings indicate status relationships, both of which are common in Aboriginal society.  

pukarli, ‘grandfather/ grandson’

tjamu, ‘grandfather’

kamu, ‘grandmother’

kaparli, ‘grandmother/grandaughter’

waluru, payi waluru, kankuru ‘older sister’

payi purtu, ‘ younger sister’

kayini, marna, ngantatja tjaturlu, ‘older brother’ 

payiku, ‘oldest brother’

ngurlatja, ‘younger brother’

manawarin, ‘youngest brother’

(Thieberger, 2017).

Tjamu is also used in Wati languages.  We have previously established the influence of Western Desert people over Mirniny, so we may consider this lexeme to be a borrowing. 

It is worth making special mention of a label for ‘friend, or age-mate’; ngalunga (Thieberger, 2017).  This word explains a special relationship between males who have gone through Law together (personal communication, S. Hanson, 24 June 2020). 

The number of labels for woman, married, single, betrothed, virgin, mother, etc are indicative of the value placed on women within the group, according to their ability to reproduce.  These are different to labels for men, who are classed not for their child-bearing or marital status and more for their skills as hunters, elders and leaders. Reduplication

Reduplication is used functionally, to indicate an increase in number, or prosodically. 

For example, the Mirniny lexeme ‘four’ kutjarrakutarra is created by repeating ‘two’, kutarra (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

In this example the root word is compounded to create a new word, with a semantic relationship to the original root word. 


Root Word





kutjarra ‘two’


repeated to indicate double that number. 

In these examples the phonological process of reduplication focusses on prosodic morphology.




(Burgoyne, 2000).



(Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).



(Thieberger, 2017).


3.4 Verbs

3.4.1 Verb Overview

Verbs are inflected for tense, consisting of root+inflections.  Null class verbs may appear without a suffix, whereas all others must take the form of root+suffix. 

For example;





(Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).





(Naessan, 2013).

3.4.2 Verb Classes Verb class table

Mirniny verb classes

(Naessan, 2013). 





































This table is a collection of information gathered so far about verb classes in Mirniny.  Due to a lack of data, this table is incomplete.  Within the table, there are examples of phonetic conditioning for null, -rri and -rra class PAST, PRES and FUT tenses.  Suffixes in -wa, class are markedly different to those seen in the other groups.   

Tenses followed by a * are not confirmed, but linguists have found examples of use. 

Naessan (2013) suggests the differences between tenses associated with eating, make this an irregular class, placing them within a group of their own. 

ngarl- ‘eat’











However, O’Grady & O’Grady (in Velichova-Rebelos, 2005) place the morphemic boundry after the first syllable.

nga- ‘eat’












Verb class: examples






·       -a class

·       -rla class

·       null class

·       -wa class

·       -rra class

·       -rri class

·       -rrtja class

·       -rrtju class

·       -awu

·       -rlangu

·       -ku

·       -ngkuku

·       -wu

·       -rrin

·       -ku

·       -ku

·       ngawu

·       ngarlangu

·       patjaku

·       pungkuku

·       mayamawu

·       nganarrin

·       no examples

·       no data

·       no data

·       will eat

·       will eat

·       will sing

·       will hit

·       will speak

·       will go


·       a class

·       -rla class

·       null class

·       -wa class

·       -rra class

·       -rri class

·       -rrtja class

·       -rrtju class

·       -a

·       -rla

·       -lawu

·       -null

·       -wa

·       -rra

·       -rri

·       -rrtja

·       -rrtju

·       ngala

·       ngarla

·       ngalawu

·       patja

·       puwa

·       wantjarra

·       nganarri

·       no data

·       payarrtju

·       eat!

·       eat!

·       eat!

·       sing!

·       hit!

·       leave!

·       go!

·       dig!


·       a class

·       -rla class

·       null class

·       -wa class

·       -rra class

·       -rri class

·       -rrtja class

·       -rrtju class

·       -angu

·       -rlangu

·       -rnu

·       -nu

·       -ngu

·       -rnu

·       -nu

·       -ngu

·       -rnu

·       -ny

·       Ngaangu

·       ngarlangu

·       patjanu

·       kuwarnu

·       pungu

·       warniny

·       ate

·       ate

·       sang

·       heard

·       hit PAST

·       warni+ny


·       a class

·       -rla class

·       null class

·       -wa class

·       -rra class

·       -rri class

·       -rrtja class

·       -rrtju class

·       -kun

·       -rlkun

·       -rn

·       -n

·       -ngkarn

·       -rn

·       -n

·       -rn

·       -rn

·       *

·       ngakun

·       ngarlkun

·       patja

·       kuwarnan

·       mayaman

·       warni

·       eat, present

·       eat, present

·       sing, present

·       hear

·       speak

3.5 Particles and Interjections

3.5.1 Particles

Only one example of a particle was found in the data; the negative kuya.  It has many applications and can be applied in multiple situations.

ngamu kuya (Thieberger, 2017).

ngamu kuya

food NEG

‘no food’.

ngana kuya (Naessan, 2013).

ngana kuya


‘I don’t know’

Here kuya is paired with the interjection, maka ‘no’ to form a double negative phrase.

kuya maka (Naessan, 2013).

kuya maka

NEG no


wartungarnaya kutjarrakuya (Naessan, 2013).

wartu+nga+rnaya kutjarra+kuya

eye+1SG+GEN two+NEG

‘blind in both eyes’.

This last example demonstrates that kuya may act on its own, or may be attached as a suffix. 

3.5.3 Interjections

maka, ‘no’ (Burgoyne, 2000).

palya, ‘okay’ (Burgoyne, 2000).

ngaya, ‘yes’ (Curr, 1886).

The interjection yuwa is a construction,

yuwa (Burgoyne, 2000).




Yuwa is a lexeme that has changed over time to suit users.  Its original use was probably something like ‘that’s enough now, share’, which is demonstrative of the Aboriginal cultural importance of reciprocity.  That is, this interjection was used to remind family members of their duty to share with others. (personal communication, S. Hanson, 2 August, 2020).  However over time it has also come to be used as a farewell, yuwa, ‘that’s enough, the end’.  This semantic extension is noteworthy as linguists know that Australian languages (prior to contact) had no words for hello, good bye, please or thank you. 


AIATSIS Collection, AUSTLANG, retrieved from https://collection.aiatsis.gov.au/austlang/search

Burgoyne, I.Y.K. (2000). The Mirniny: we are the whales. Broome: Magabala Books.

Coffin, J. (2021). Marlpa Analysis, Retrieved from GALCAC archives. 

Curr, E.M. (1886). The Australian Race: Its Origin, Languages, Customs, Place of Landing in Australia and the Routes by Which it Spread itself Across that Continent. Melbourne, Australia: John Farnes. 

Goedemans, R. (2010). An overview of word stress in Australian Aboriginal Languages. In H. v.d. Hulst (Ed.), A survey of word accentual patterns in the languages of the world (pp.55-86). DeGruyter Mouton.

Hanson, S. (2103). Aboriginal Language Names of the South West Goldfields 2013; Marlpa/ Ngadju/Ngadjumaya, Gabrun/Kaalamaya and Mirning. Retrieved from GALC archives. 

Hanson, S. (2017). Languages and Dialects of the Goldfields Region.  Retrieved from www.wangka.com.au

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O’Grady, G.N., & Curr, E.M., (1886) Mirniny wordlist. Retrieved from http://aiatsis.gov.au

O’ Grady, G.N., & Klokeid, T.J. (1969). Australian Linguistic Classification: a plea for coordination of effort. In Languages of the world: Indo-Pacific fascicle six. Retrieved from GALC archives #0000701.

Thieberger, N. 2017. Digital Daisy Bates. Web resource. http://bates.org.au.

Thieberger, N. (1993). Handbook of Western Australian Aboriginal Languages South of the Kimberley Region. Canberra, Australia: Pacific Linguistics.

Velichova-Rebelos, M. (2005).  Word list of the Mirniny Language: Extracted from notes by Geoff O’Grady & Alix O’Grady 1959/1968. University of Adelaide: South Australia.

Von Brandenstein, C. G. (n.d.) 88 Grammar text sheets, Extract. Mirniny and Ngadjumaia. Retrieved from GALC archives #0000284.