Malak-Malak language

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Nguluk Wangarr
Region Northern Territory
Native speakers
9 MalakMalak (2015 fieldwork)[1]
Northern Daly (language isolate)
Language codes
ISO 639-3
mpb – MalakMalak
Glottolog nort1547[2]
AIATSIS[1] N22 MalakMalak
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MalakMalak (also spelt Mullukmulluk, Malagmalag, Malak-Malak) or referred to as Ngolak-Wonga, Nguluwongga is an Australian Aboriginal language. 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.


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 families.[3] Later researchers have linked them, and this is reflected in Bowern (2011).[4] However, the Wagaydy people are recent arrivals in the area, and their language may only similar due to borrowing.[5] AIATSIS and Glottolog treats Wagaydy as an isolate and Giyug as unclassifiable.



Front Back
Close i ʊ
Close-mid e
Open-mid ɛ
Open a


Peripheral Laminal Apical
Bilabial Velar Palatal Alveolar Retroflex
Stop p k c t
Nasal m ŋ ɲ n
Lateral ʎ l
Rhotic r ɻ
Semivowel w j

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).[6]

(1) dependent-marking: possession

Doro-ngayi muyiny
name-3SG.F dog

"Doro's dog"

(2) no marking: noun-adjective

meldaty ada tyung yintyerrik
trip 1SG.excl.go.PST stick small.M

"I tripped on the little stick"

(3) head-marking: noun-adposition

ngaty yunu tyinang 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).[7]

(4) Complex Predicates and Serial Coverbs

kubuk-karrarr dat-tyed 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.[8][9] The intrinsic Frame requires some kind of portioning of the ground object or landmark into named facets from which search domains can be projected.[10] 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

tyung 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.[10] An English example is the ball is on the right. In MalakMalak it would be (6)

(6) relative Frame of Reference

yerra tyalmiyiny dek kantyuk 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.[10] 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 tyalk-ma yina, yina miri payiga-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 tyedali yuyu nul-yen pudang tyedali 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. 1.0 1.1 MalakMalak at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  2. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Northern Daly". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 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.
  4. Bowern, Claire. 2011. "How Many Languages Were Spoken in Australia?", Anggarrgoon: Australian languages on the web, December 23, 2011 (corrected February 6, 2012)
  5. Patjtjamalh at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  6. "Collection Items:". Retrieved 2016-05-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Dorothea Hoffmann: "Complex Predicates and Serialization in the Daly River Languages (and beyond?)"". Retrieved 2016-05-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Dorothea Hoffmann. (in prep). "Usage Patterns of Spatial Frames of Reference and Orientation: Evidence from three Australian languages"". Retrieved 2016-05-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Levinson, Stephen; Wilkins, David (2006). Grammars of Space: Explorations in cognitive diversity. Cambridge University Press. pp. 20–21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Birk, D. B. W. (1976). The MalakMalak language, Daly River (Western Arnhem Land). Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Ray, Sidney H. (Jan–Jun 1909). "The Ngolok-Wanggar Language, Daly River, North Australia". The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 39: 137–141. doi:10.2307/2843287. JSTOR 2843287.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Hoffmann, Dorothea.
  • Hoffmann, Dorothea (2015). “Moving through space and (not?) time: North Australian dreamtime narratives,” Narratives from the South Pacific: Sociocultural explorations, ed. by F. Gounder. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 15-35
  • Hoffmann, Dorothea (2014). “Mapping the Language: How a dying language loses its place in the world”, Endangered Words, Signs of Revival, ed. by G. Zuckermann, J. Miller, and J. Morley, Adelaide: Australex, 1-18