Goldfields Aboriginal Language Centre

Mirniny Sketch Grammar

1. Language and Speakers

1.1 Names and Locations

1.1.1 Language name

The Goldfields Aboriginal Language Centre Aboriginal Corporation (GALCAC) 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 also Wonburi, Jirkala Mining has another explanation for the name, Yerkla mining (Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies [AIATSIS]). 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).  This name came from the main source of water used by that 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 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 prove to be 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). 

Map 1.1 Aboriginal map of Australia, Horton, D. 1996.

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 (in Thieberger, 1993).  However these labels are avoided by 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, Tjuntjuntjarra 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 states 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.  While Bates, (in Hanson, 2013) suggested there were 21 Mirniny groups, there is no evidence to suggest that these Mirniny groups spoke different dialects.  In his book, 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. 

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 Wirangu and Gugada 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. 

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 less powerful language groups lose speakers to stronger codes.  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).  Within Western Australia, similar language change has come about through prolonged contact within the mission system.  Further, 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). 

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). Linguists at GALCAC 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 GALCAC 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 small strip of land, along  the Great Australian Bight, stretching between what is now 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 desert people (who were physically bigger and more aggressive in nature) would enter Mirniny country to take women, kill men and steal flint stones, which were used for lighting fires.  Flint stones could be found on Mirniny country and they were very valuable.  The Mirniny used to trade flint stones with the Ngadju (L. Schulz, 26 May 2020, personal communication). 

After contact, the Mirniny suffered at the hands of colonisers, who wanted to take 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 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.  GALCAC holds a variety of 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).

Robin Graham (Norseman region).

Jessie Rule (Norseman and Balladonia regions).

Arthur Dimer (Goldfields region).

Iris Burgoyne (South Australia).

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 GALCAC archives.  This material consists of wordlists complemented by 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, developed relationships with the Mirning Traditional Lands Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC, and members of that board.  Field trips to Norseman and Esperance are undertaken on a regular basis, in order to connect with and build relationships with Mirniny people living in these regions.  Extensive trawls through the Battye Library, State Records Office and AIATSIS database (ongoing), and a newly-created relationship with (non-aboriginal) Marlpa users for the purpose of language work.  Further attempts to meet with speakers from surrounding areas are ongoing.  The introduction of travel restrictions during the COVID 19 crisis meant linguists were unable to conduct fieldwork outside the Goldfields region, although these restrictions have been wound back, and field work to these areas is slowly resuming.

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

 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.

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 and 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.

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 best described as a palatal stop.  It is different to the English sound in judge or juice.  The sound is similar to t or d but with the tip of the tongue pressed against the back of the teeth. 

 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 GALCAC. 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 GALCAC 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.  Aborigial 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






i, ii

u, uu




a, aa

2.4 Phonotactics

2.4.1 Voicing

In a small sample of language recordings analysed by GALCAC in 2021, linguists found 98 per cent of word-initial phonemes were voiced, 98 per cent of medial phonemes were voiced and 100 per cent of final phonemes were unvoiced. 

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)

tjirntu, ‘sun’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005)

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

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

ngampin, ‘eyebrow’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005)

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 GALCAC shows the alveolar rhotic, the retroflexes (stop, nasal and lateral), and the palatal lateral are the only phones that do not appear in word initial position.

tjunu, ‘snake’ (Burgoyne, 2000)

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

maka, ‘no’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005)

nanka, ‘neck’ (Thieberger, 2017)

ngala, ‘forehead’ (Naessan, 2013)

nyimi, ‘lip’ (Naessan, 2013)

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

ra-, ‘throw, aim, project’ (von Brandenstein, n.d.)

tarri-tarrilukin, ‘no data’ (von Brandenstein, n.d.)

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

tjamu, ‘grandfather’ (Burgoyne, 2000)

walyi, ‘bad’ (Naessan, 2013)

yaka, ‘woman’ (Naessan, 2013)

larra, ‘really’ (Speaker H, 2021) Word Final Consonants

Examples held in the GALCAC corpus show only six consonants are permitted to take word final position. These are the: alveolar nasal; alveolar rhotic; alveolar lateral; retroflex nasal; retroflex lateral and the palatal lateral.

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

karrtjurr, ‘heel’ (Thieberger, 2017)

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

matarn, ‘mother’ (Thieberger, 2017).

kukurl, ‘throat’ (O’Grady, 1957)

mirniny, ‘man’ (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 monophthongs.  Sound rules do not allow for diphthongs, and long vowels occur only in the first syllable. Where a complex vowel sound occurs, speakers adopt a glide or approximate between vowels.

pawu-, ‘burn, to’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005)

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

ngawu, ‘egg’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005)

To date, GALCAC research shows long vowels /aa/ and /uu/ to be more common than /ii/. Word Initial Vowels

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

apu, ‘millstone’ (Thieberger, 2017)

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

umiya, ‘nothing’ (von Brandenstein, n.d.) Word Final Vowels

The three short vowels appear in word-final position. Long vowels only occur in the first syllable (Sharp, 2004). 

matjilpa, ‘person’ (Thieberger, 2017).

kuri, ‘betrothed’ (Thieberger, 2017).

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

Word-final vowels from 200 morphemes.

Word final




Consonant final











Overall, vowel-final occurs with a higher frequency than consonant-final (83.50% compared to 16.50%%). 

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 were less than one hundred verbs, and verb suffixes, and a small number of demonstratives, descriptors, interjections and particles. 

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, to’.




‘frighten, to’




‘die, to’

Naessan (2013) also listed the transitivizer -ma-




‘talk, to’

3.3 Nominals

3.3.1 Nominal Subclasses Overview     

Nominals comprised over fifty per cent of entries in the database.  Linguists found 1157 nouns, 30 pronouns, and small numbers of interrogatives, particles and interjections. 

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

wilurarra, ‘west’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005)

wanparti, ‘cool south west wind’ (Thieberger, 2017)

kurila winaka, ‘sea breeze’ (Thieberger, 2017)

Winaka can be glossed as south wind (Thieberger, 2017).  From this translation and 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). 

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’. 

Comitative: -malya and -tha (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; -tja, -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

Mirniny features both bound and free pronouns.  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


nyuntu ngali-





-na kutjal







2DU   The two of you

nyuntu kutja-






3DU   The two of them

pana kutjarra-

pana kutjal-







1PL   We








2PL   You all






3PL   They all

pana partujarra-





(Naessan, 2013). Free pronouns

Data held in the GALCAC corpus shows only free pronouns. Bound pronouns

GALCAC linguists are yet to find evidence of a system of bound pronouns in this language, although they are known to exist in nearby Western Desert languages such as Tjupan, Ngaanyatjarra and Pitjantjatjarra. Reflexive & reciprocal pronouns

In glosses provided by Naessan (2013) locative suffixes -rta, -rniyala, -yala and -lta act as reflexive.




‘on us both’

Note the phonetic variation -rlta




‘on me’




‘on you’ Demonstratives

Five demonstratives were found in the data (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005).

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

nakartu, ‘this one’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005)

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:

ngarntu, ‘why’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005)

ngarntulu, ‘who’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005)

ngarnturniny, ‘what’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005)

pakurri, ‘where’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005)

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








What. Directional, Locational and Time Nominals Overview Directional nominals 

The database contains a high number of directional nominals relating to cardinal directions.  Because Aboriginal societies oriented themselves by the sun, the ability to navigate oneself would be a matter of survival. There is often more than one term for north, south, east and west. It is possible some of these terms are borrowed from neighbouring language groups. 


alinytjirra (Thieberger, 2017).

kayala (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005)

yilungu (Naessan, 2013)

Kayala is also glossed to mean ‘away from camp’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005). This is an example of extension of meaning.  Given that Mirniny country is at the southern-most end of Australia, any direction away from camp, could almost be guaranteed to be north. 

‘North east’

alinytjirra kakararra (Thieberger, 2017).

kurna purulu (Curr, 1886)

 ‘North west’

alinytjirra wilurarra (Thieberger, 2017).


kurila (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005)

yulparra (Thieberger, 2017).

 ‘South east’

kakararra yulpararra (Thieberger, 2017)

yarutu (Curr, 1886)

‘South west’

wilurarra yulpararra (Thieberger, 2017).


kakarra (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005)

manungu (Thieberger, 2017).


kaarlta (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005)

wilurarra (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005)

As established earlier, GALCAC researchers also documented a high number of wind-direction nominals.  Again, in Aboriginal societies, to be able to orientate oneself was a matter of survival and a thorough knowledge of the country was part of this. 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; -ka, -nga, -ta and -tja. Including pronoun suffixes; -lta, -la, -rniyala, -rrula, -rta and -yala

wartaka (Naessan, 2013).



‘In the tree’

nyuntulta (Naessan, 2013).



‘on you two’

karlanga (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005)



‘by the fire’.  

tjunginta (Naessan, 2013).



‘at night’

ngarniyala (Naessan, 2013).



‘on me’

nyuntiyala (Naessan, 2013).



‘on you’

Ablative: -ngu




‘away from camp’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005)

Allative: -rri




‘he, towards’

(von Brandenstein, n.d.) Time nominals 

Traditional Aboriginal societies had different experiences of time, compared to that of western society.  We can expect to find these differences reflected within examples 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). 

3.3.3 Nominal Derivational Morphology 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 non-indigenous Australians would find familiar.

yakarlu, ‘mother’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005)

matjil, ‘mother’s father’ (Thieberger, 2017)

mamarlu, ‘father’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005)

paparlu, ‘mother’s brother’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005)

tjatjalu, ‘father’s father’ (Thieberger, 2017)

yumari yakarlu, ‘mother-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.  

pukali, ‘grandfather/ grandson’ (Thieberger, 2017)

tjamu, ‘grandfather’ (Thieberger, 2017)

kaparli, ‘grandmother/grandaughter’ (Thieberger, 2017)

waluru, payi waluru ‘older sister’ (Thieberger, 2017)

payi purtu, ‘ younger sister’ (sister small) (Thieberger, 2017)

kayini, marna, ‘older brother’ (Thieberger, 2017)

payiku, ‘oldest brother’ (Thieberger, 2017)

ngurlatja, ‘younger brother’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005)

marnawarin, ‘youngest brother’ (Thieberger, 2017)

It is worth making special mention of a label for ‘friend, or age-mate’; ngalungu (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 child-bearing status.  This is as opposed to men, for whom there are less labels concerning marriage status, suggesting men’s roles as leaders, hunters and elders were valued more than their ability to sire children.  Instead, once a man had proven his ability to hunt he had also earnt the right to father children. Reduplication

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

For example, the Mirniny lexeme ‘four’ kutjarra-kutjarra is created by repeating ‘two’, kutjarra (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.




(Thieberger, 2017)



(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;

nyina- (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005)




wantjarra (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.  It is incomplete, in that it is unusual for a language to have six verb classes.  The -rrtja and -rrtju classes are probably variations of a single group, that is -rrtja.  We can see examples of phonetic conditioning for null, -rri and -rra class PAST, PRES and FUT tenses.  The final group, -wa, is markedly different to the others.  We will label this the irregular class. 

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

Velichova-Rebelos (2005) has provided data for a separate class for ‘eat’ verbs. 

nga- ‘eat’












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’ (cite)

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’ (Velichova-Rebelos, 2005)

ngaya, ‘yes’ (Curr, 1886).

The interjection yuwa is possibly a construction,

yuwa (Burgoyne, 2000).




Yu- belongs to the -wa class of verbs, which so this construction seems plausible.Yuwa is a lexeme that has changed over time to suit users.  Its original use was probably something like ‘that’s enough now’, 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.  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

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

Coffin, J. & Reynolds, T. (2021). Mirniny Toolbox. Goldfields Aboriginal Language Centre Aboriginal Corporation, Kalgoorlie – Boulder, Australia

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

Horton, D.R. (1996). Aboriginal Map of Australia. Retrieved from

Næssan, PA 2013, A sketch analysis of Geoff O’Grady’s Mirniny material (from the Far West Coast of South Australia and locations in Western Australia) for use in the development of Mirniny language resources and language workshops, the Office for the Arts, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, MILR (Maintenance of Indigenous Languages and Records), Canberra ACT. Retrieved from, GALC archives #0001358.

O’Grady, G.N., & Curr, E.M., (1886) Mirniny wordlist. Retrieved from

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.

Sharp, J. (2004). A Grammar of Najanaja Karajarri. La Trobe University, Bundoora, Victoria: Research Centre for Linguistic Typology.

Thieberger, N. 2017. Digital Daisy Bates. Web resource.

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.