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For the village in Iran, see Damin, Iran. Damin_sentence_0


PronunciationDamin_header_cell_0_1_0 [t̺əmiːn]Damin_cell_0_1_1
Created byDamin_header_cell_0_2_0 the Lardil peopleDamin_cell_0_2_1
Setting and usageDamin_header_cell_0_3_0 Initiation language for men, used by the Lardil people of Mornington IslandDamin_cell_0_3_1
ExtinctDamin_header_cell_0_4_0 1970s?Damin_cell_0_4_1
PurposeDamin_header_cell_0_5_0 constructed languageDamin_cell_0_5_1
Language codesDamin_header_cell_0_6_0
ISO 639-3Damin_header_cell_0_7_0 None (mis)Damin_cell_0_7_1
GlottologDamin_header_cell_0_8_0 NoneDamin_cell_0_8_1
LinguasphereDamin_header_cell_0_9_0 29-TAA-bbDamin_cell_0_9_1

Damin (Demiin in the practical orthography of Lardil) was a ceremonial language register used by the advanced initiated men of the aboriginal Lardil (Leerdil in the practical orthography) and the Yangkaal peoples of northern Australia. Damin_sentence_1

Both inhabit islands in the Gulf of Carpentaria, the Lardil on Mornington Island, the largest island of the Wesley Group, and the Yangkaal on the Forsyth Islands. Damin_sentence_2

Their languages belong to the same family, the Tangkic languages. Damin_sentence_3

Lardil is the most divergent of the Tangkic languages, while the others are mutually comprehensible with Yangkaal. Damin_sentence_4

The Lardil word Demiin can be translated as being silent. Damin_sentence_5

Ceremonies Damin_section_0

The Lardil had two initiation ceremonies for men, namely luruku, which involved circumcision, and warama, which involved penile subincision. Damin_sentence_6

There were no ceremonies for women, although women did play an important role in these ceremonies, especially in the luruku ceremony. Damin_sentence_7

It is sometimes said that Damin was a secret language, but this is misleading since there was no attempt to prevent the uninitiated members of the Leerdil tribe from overhearing it. Damin_sentence_8

However it was taught during the warama ceremony and, therefore, in isolation from the uninitiated. Damin_sentence_9

At least one elder is known, who, though not having been subincised, had an excellent command of Damin, but this seems to have been a unique case. Damin_sentence_10

Damin lexical words were organised into semantic fields and shouted out to the initiate in a single session. Damin_sentence_11

As each word was announced, a second speaker gave its Lardil equivalent. Damin_sentence_12

However, it normally took several sessions before a novice mastered the basics and could use Damin openly in the community. Damin_sentence_13

One speaker did claim to have learned to speak Damin in a single session, but on the other hand two senior warama men admitted that they lacked a firm command of the register. Damin_sentence_14

Once Damin had been learned, the speakers were known as Demiinkurlda ("Damin possessors"). Damin_sentence_15

They spoke the register particularly in ritual contexts, but also in everyday secular life, when foraging, sitting about gossiping, and the like. Damin_sentence_16

Linguistic features Damin_section_1

Damin is the only click language outside Africa. Damin_sentence_17

Damin had a much more restricted and generic lexicon than everyday language. Damin_sentence_18

With only about 150 lexical roots, each word in Damin stood for several words of Lardil or Yangkaal. Damin_sentence_19

It had only two pronouns (n!a "me" (ego) and n!u "not me" (alter)), for example, compared to Lardil's nineteen, and had an antonymic prefix kuri- (jijuu "small", kurijijuu "large"). Damin_sentence_20

Grammatically, the Damin registers of the Lardil and Yangkaal use all the grammatical morphology of those languages, and so therefore are broadly similar, though it does not employ the phonologically conditioned alternations of that morphology. Damin_sentence_21

Phonology Damin_section_2

Damin words have three of Lardil's four pairs of vowels, [a, aː, i, iː, u, uː]; the fourth, [ə, əː], occurs in grammatical suffixes. Damin_sentence_22

Vowel length is not contrastive, but depends on the preceding consonant. Damin_sentence_23

Damin uses only some of the (pulmonic) consonants of everyday Lardil, but they are augmented by four other airstream mechanisms: lingual ingressive (the nasal clicks), glottalic egressive (a velar ejective), pulmonic ingressive (an indrawn lateral fricative), and lingual egressive (a bilabial 'spurt'). Damin_sentence_24

Even some of the pulmonic egressive consonants are exotic for the Australian context: fricatives, voiceless nasals, and bilabial trills. Damin_sentence_25

The consonants of Damin, in the practical orthography and IPA equivalents, are: Damin_sentence_26

§ These sounds are found in standard Lardil, but not in Damin, apart from grammatical words and suffixes. Damin_sentence_27

L* is described as "ingressive with egressive glottalic release". Damin_sentence_28

There is no alveolar–retroflex distinction in Damin, with the possible exception of the clicks. Damin_sentence_29

(This distinction is neutralized word-initially in Lardil, as it is in most Australian languages.) Damin_sentence_30

However, Hale notes that the Damin alveolar and retroflex clicks (found in the pronouns n!aa, n!uu and in rn!aa, rn!ii respectively) might be in complementary distribution, and it is not clear that they are distinct sounds. Damin_sentence_31

Some of the consonants listed above only occur in clusters. Damin_sentence_32

/n̺/ only occurs as a coda. Damin_sentence_33

A derivational rule seems to be to pronounce all onset nasals as clicks; it is likely that /ŋ/ is not a click because a velar click in the straightforward sense is not possible. Damin_sentence_34

Phonotactics Damin_section_3

Damin consonant clusters at the beginning of a word are p'ny [ʘ↑n̠ʲ], p'ng [ʘ↑ŋ], fny [ɸn̠ʲ], fng [ɸŋ], fy [ɸj], prpry [ʙ\ʙj], thrr [t̻ɾ]. Damin_sentence_35

Words in normal Lardil may not begin with a cluster. Damin_sentence_36

However, Lardil has several clusters in the middle of words, and many of these are not found in Damin words, as Damin only allows n [n̺] and rr [ɾ] in a syllable coda. Damin_sentence_37

(The attested stem medial Damin clusters are rrd, rrth, rrk, rrb, jb (Hale & Nash 1997: 255), though j of jb is supposedly not allowed in that position. Damin_sentence_38

Other clusters, such as nasal–stop, are produced by Lardil grammatical suffixes.) Damin_sentence_39

Hale & Nash posit that Damin syllables (not counting codas) may only be CVV or CCV. Damin_sentence_40

Purported CV syllables are restricted to C = [kʼ], [ŋ̊], [ɬ↓ʔ], suggesting that these are underlyingly iterated consonants. Damin_sentence_41

Hale suggests they might be k2, ng2, l2 /kk, ŋŋ, ll/ (rather as [ɕ] is a realization of j2 /t̠ʲt̠ʲ/) and also that thrr [t̻ɾ] might be d2 /t̺t̺/. Damin_sentence_42

(Note that transcription of vowel length is inconsistent, and the vocabulary given above does not follow these patterns.) Damin_sentence_43

No consonant occurs before all three vowels. Damin_sentence_44

Known sequences are as follows. Damin_sentence_45

Note however that with only 150 roots in Damin, and several consonants and consonant clusters attested from only a single root, there are certain to be accidental gaps in this list. Damin_sentence_46


  • Precede [u] only p'ng [ʘ↑ŋ], p'ny [ʘ↑n̠ʲ], pr2y [ʙ\ʙj], fng [ɸŋ], fy [ɸj], thrr [t̻ɾ], j2 [t̠ʲt̠ʲ], k' [kʼ], nh!2 [ʇ̃\ʇ̃] Precede [i] only fny [ɸn̠ʲ], l* [ɬ↓ʔ], ng* [ŋ̊] Precede [iː] only d [t̺], rr [ɾ], y [j], m! [ʘ̃] Precede [i(ː)] only (not clear if consonant is C or CC) f [ɸ], pf [ᵖɸ] Precede [a, u] n!2 [ʗ̃\ʗ̃] Precede [aː, uː] k [k], ng [ŋ], n! [ʗ̃] Precede [iː, uː] b [p], th [t̻], j [t̠ʲ], w [w] Precede [aː, iː] rn! [ʗ̃˞ ]Damin_item_0_0

/a/ is much less common than /i/ or /u/, the opposite situation from Lardil. Damin_sentence_47

Samples and vocabulary Damin_section_4

Damin is spoken by replacing the lexical roots of ordinary Lardil with Damin words. Damin_sentence_48

Apart from a leveling of grammatical allomorphs, the grammar remains the same. Damin_sentence_49

For example, Damin_sentence_50


Ordinary LardilDamin_header_cell_1_0_0 ngithunDamin_cell_1_0_1 dunji-kanDamin_cell_1_0_2 ngawaDamin_cell_1_0_3 waang-kurDamin_cell_1_0_4 werneng-kiyath-ur.Damin_cell_1_0_5
glossDamin_header_cell_1_1_0 myDamin_cell_1_1_1 wife's.younger.brother-GENDamin_cell_1_1_2 dogDamin_cell_1_1_3 go-FUTDamin_cell_1_1_4 food-GO-FUTDamin_cell_1_1_5
translationDamin_header_cell_1_2_0 My brother-in-law's dog is going to go hunting.Damin_cell_1_2_1
DaminDamin_header_cell_1_3_0 n!aaDamin_cell_1_3_1 n!2a-kanDamin_cell_1_3_2 nh!2uDamin_cell_1_3_3 tiitith-urDamin_cell_1_3_4 m!ii-ngkiyath-ur.Damin_cell_1_3_5

Some vocabulary: Damin_sentence_51


  • n!aa 'ego', n!uu 'alter'Damin_item_1_1
  • kaa 'now', kaawi 'not now'Damin_item_1_2
  • l*i(i) 'bony fish', thii 'elasmobranch'Damin_item_1_3
  • ngaajpu 'human', wuujpu 'animal', wiijpu 'wood' (incl. woody plants), kuujpu 'stone'Damin_item_1_4
  • m!ii 'vegetable food', wii 'meat/food', n!2u 'liquid', thuu 'sea mammal', thuuwu 'land mammal'Damin_item_1_5
  • didi 'harm (affect harmfully)', diidi 'act', kuudi 'see', kuuku 'hear, feel', yiidi 'be (in a place)', wiiwi 'burn', wiidi 'spear', ngaa 'die, decay', fyuu 'fall; the cardinal directions'Damin_item_1_6
  • n!aa thuuku 'point on body', wii 'surface on body', nguu 'head', k'uu 'eye', nguuwii 'hand, foot'Damin_item_1_7
  • thuuku 'one, another; place', kurrijpi 'two; hither, close; short'Damin_item_1_8

Antonymic derivation with kurri-: Damin_sentence_52


  • j2iwu 'small', kurrij2iwu 'large'Damin_item_2_9
  • thuuku 'one', kurrithuuku 'many'Damin_item_2_10
  • kurrijpi 'short', kurrikurrijpi 'long'Damin_item_2_11
  • kawukawu 'light', kurrikawukawu 'heavy'Damin_item_2_12

Specific reference requires paraphrasing. Damin_sentence_53

For example, a sandpiper is called a 'person-burning creature' (ngaajpu wiiwi-n wuujpu 'human burn-NOM animal') in reference to its role as a character in the Rainbow Serpent Story, while a wooden axe is 'wood that (negatively) affects honey' (m!iwu didi-i-n wiijpu 'honey affect-PASS-NOM wood') Damin_sentence_54

There is some suggestion of internal morphology or compounding, as suggested by the patterns in the word list above. Damin_sentence_55

For example, m!iwu '(native) beehive, honey' and wum!i 'sp. Damin_sentence_56

mud crab' may derive from m!ii 'food' and wuu 'mud shell clam'. Damin_sentence_57

The origin of Damin Damin_section_5

The origin of Damin is unclear. Damin_sentence_58

The Lardil and the Yangkaal say that Damin was created by a mythological figure in Dreamtime. Damin_sentence_59

Hale and colleagues believe that it was invented by Lardil elders; it has several aspects found in language games around the world, such as turning nasal occlusives such as m and n into nasal clicks, doubling consonants, and the like. Damin_sentence_60

Evans and colleagues, after studying the mythology of both tribes, speculate that it was the Yangkaal elders who invented Damin and passed it to the Lardil. Damin_sentence_61

According to Fleming (2017), "the eccentric features of Damin developed in an emergent and unplanned manner in which conventionalized paralinguistic phonations became semanticized as they were linked up with a signed language employed by first-order male initiates". Damin_sentence_62

Current situation Damin_section_6

The cultural traditions of the Lardil and Yangkaal have been in decline for several decades, and the Lardil and Yangkaal languages are nearly extinct. Damin_sentence_63

The last warama ceremony was held in the 1950s, so nowadays Damin is no longer in use by either the Yangkaal or the Lardil. Damin_sentence_64

However, recently a revival of cultural traditions has begun, and luruku has been celebrated. Damin_sentence_65

It remains to be seen whether warama ceremonies will also be reactivated. Damin_sentence_66

See also Damin_section_7


Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Damin.