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Malak-Malak language

Nguluk Wangarr
RegionNorthern Territory
EthnicityMulluk-Mulluk, Ngolokwangga, Djerait
Native speakers
10 Malak-Malak (2016 census)[1]
5 Tyeraity (2005)[2]
  • Malak-Malak
  • Djerait (Kuwema)
Language codes
ISO 639-3Either:
mpb – Malak-Malak
woa – Kuwema (Tyaraity)
AIATSIS[2]N22 Malak Malak, N10 Kuwema (Tyaraity)
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Malak-Malak (also spelt Mullukmulluk, Malagmalag, Malak-Malak), also known as Ngolak-Wonga (Nguluwongga), is an Australian Aboriginal language spoken by the Mulluk-Mulluk people. Malakmalak is nearly extinct, with children growing up speaking Kriol or English instead. The language is spoken in the Daly River area around Woolianna and Nauiyu. The Kuwema or Tyaraity (Tyeraty) variety is distinct.


Malakmalak has sometimes been classified in a Northern Daly family along with an "Anson Bay" group of Wagaydy (Patjtjamalh, Wadjiginy, Kandjerramalh) and the unattested Giyug. Green concluded that Wagaydy and Malakmalak were two separate language families.[4] Later researchers have linked them, and this is reflected in Bowern (2011).[5] However, the Wagaydy people are recent arrivals in the area, and their language may only similar due to borrowing.[6] AIATSIS and Glottolog treats Wagaydy as an isolate and Giyug as unclassifiable.



Front Central Back
Close i ɨ ɯ / u
Open-mid ɛ ɜ
Open ɐ


Bilabial Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar
Stop voiceless p t c k
voiced b d g
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Approximant w l ɻ j
Trill r

Typological classification

MalakMalak, is an ergative-absolutive language with constituent order mainly determined by information structure and prosody, but syntactically free. Marking of core-cases is optional. The language is mostly dependent-marking (1), but also has no marking (2) and head-marking features (2).[9]

(1) dependent-marking: possession

Doro-ngayi muyiny
name-3SG.F dog

"Doro's dog"

(2) no marking: noun-adjective

meldaty ada tjung yintjerrik
trip 1SG.excl.go.PST stick small.M

"I tripped on the little stick"

(3) head-marking: noun-adposition

ngatj yunu tjinang pak-ma nende wag puyunduk-nana
EMPH 3SG.M.sit.PST stay.give sit-CONT thing/person water underneath-LOC

"he sits down underneath the water"

Morphosyntactic properties

MalakMalak's verb phrase uses complex predicates. These consist of an inflecting verb that has properties of person, number and tense. MalakMalak only has six such verbs. In example (4), yuyu and vida are inflecting verbs. Additionally, there are coverbs which have aspectual properties, but do not inflect for number, tense or person. They occur with inflecting verbs. They are unlimited in number and new verbs are also borrowed into this class. In (4), kubuk-karrarr, dat-tyed, and ka are coverbs. They can also form serial verbs (kubuk-karrarr, dat-tyed).[10]

(4) Complex Predicates and Serial Coverbs

kubuk-karrarr dat-tjed yuyu yanak ka yida=ke
swim-move.up look-stand 3SG.M.stand.PST one come 3SG.M.go.PST=FOC

"he crossed the river and looked once, then he came here"

Spatial Language

MalakMalak employs all three "classic" types of spatial Frames of Reference: intrinsic, relative and absolute. Additionally, the language uses place names and body-part orientation to talk about space.[11][12] The intrinsic Frame requires some kind of portioning of the ground object or landmark into named facets from which search domains can be projected.[13] In English this would be, for example, the tree is in front of the man. And in MalakMalak it would be (5).

(5) intrinsic Frame of Reference

tjung angundu-na muyu
tree behind-LOC 3SG.N*.stand.PST

"the tree was behind (the man)"

The relative Frame of Reference involves mapping from the observer's own axes (front, back, left, right) onto the ground object.[13] An English example is the ball is on the right. In MalakMalak it would be (6)

(6) relative Frame of Reference

yerra tjalmiyiny dek kantjuk purrat-ma wuta
now right place up/upwards jump-CONT 3SG.N.go.PST

"now the ball was on the right, jumping up (lit. jumping in an upward place on the right)"

The absolute Frame of Reference requires xed bearings that are instantly available to all members of the community.[13] An English example is the opera is west of here. In MalakMalak, three different types of absolute frames can be used. Those based on the course of the sun (east/west) (7a), on prevailing winds (northwesterly/southeasterly) (7b), and on two sides of the prominent Daly River (northeastern/southwestern bank) (7c).

(7a) absolute Frame of Reference (sun)

miri tjalk-ma yina, yina miri paiga-ma
sun go.down-CONT this this sun go.up-CONT

"this one is west and this one is east"

(7b) absolute Frame of Reference (wind)

Waliwali-nen pudang tjedali yuyu nul-yen pudang tjedali yuyu
Daly.River-DIR face.towards stand.PART 3SG.M.stand.PRS northwesterly-DIR face.towards stand.part 3SG.M.stand.PRS

"one is facing the river and the other one is facing northwest"

(7c) absolute Frame of Reference (riverbank)

duk puyunduk kinangga yide chair=we
place underneath 3SG.M.go/be.PRS chair=FOC

"it is underneath, on the northeastern bank's side, of the chair"


  1. ^ "Census 2016, Language spoken at home by Sex (SA2+)". Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 2017-10-29.
  2. ^ a b N22 Malak Malak at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies  (see the info box for additional links)
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Northern Daly". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. ^ Green, I. "The Genetic Status of Murrinh-patha" in Evans, N., ed. "The Non-Pama-Nyungan Languages of Northern Australia: comparative studies of the continent’s most linguistically complex region". Studies in Language Change, 552. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics, 2003.
  5. ^ Bowern, Claire. 2011. "How Many Languages Were Spoken in Australia?", Anggarrgoon: Australian languages on the web, December 23, 2011 (corrected February 6, 2012)
  6. ^ N31 Patjtjamalh at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  7. ^ Hoffmann, Dorothea (in prep), MalakMalak Sketch Grammar
  8. ^ Hoffmann, Dorothea (in prep), MalakMalak Sketch Grammar
  9. ^ "Collection Items". Retrieved 2016-05-10.
  10. ^ "Dorothea Hoffmann: "Complex Predicates and Serialization in the Daly River Languages (and beyond?)"". Retrieved 2016-05-10.
  11. ^ "Dorothea Hoffmann. (MUR). "Mapping Worlds: Frames of Reference in MalakMalak". In Proceedings to the 39th Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistic Society 2013. University of California: Berkeley". Retrieved 2016-05-11.
  12. ^ "Dorothea Hoffmann. (in prep). "Usage Patterns of Spatial Frames of Reference and Orientation: Evidence from three Australian languages"". Retrieved 2016-05-11.
  13. ^ a b c Levinson, Stephen; Wilkins, David (2006). Grammars of Space: Explorations in cognitive diversity. Cambridge University Press. pp. 20–21.

External links