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Meriam language: Wikis


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Spoken in Murray Island, Torres Strait, Queensland, Australia
Total speakers ~300–400 (1991)
Language family Eastern Trans-Fly
  • Meriam
Language codes
ISO 639-1 None
ISO 639-2 paa
ISO 639-3 ulk

Meriam (in the language itself Meriam Mìr; also Miriam, Meryam, Mer, Mir, Miriam-Mir, etc. and Eastern, Isten, Esten and The Eastern Torres Strait Language, Able Able) is the language of Meriam people of Mer (Murray Island), Waier and Dauar, Erub (Darnley Island) and Ugar (Stephens Island) in the Torres Strait, Queensland, Australia. In the Western-Central Lanbguage of Torres Strait (Kala Lagaw Ya), it is generally called Mœyam, or Mœyamau Ya.



Although Meriam is located in Australian territory, it is classified as a Papuan language, not an Australian language. It has, however, around 25 percent common vocabulary with its Torres Strait Island neighbour Kala Lagaw Ya, which is an Australian language. There are some very minor Rotuman language from the erstwhile substantial community of Rotuman people as well as other Melanesian, Polynesian, Indonesian, Japanese and other influences in the form of vocabulary. Many such outsiders were recruited - or in some cases black-birded - in the 19th century for pearl diving, and other marine work.

Meriam was placed in the Eastern Trans-Fly family of Trans–New Guinea by Stephen Wurm, who however felt that these have retained remnants of pre-TransNG languages, and this is followed by Ethnologue (2005). In 2005 Malcolm Ross concluded that the Eastern Trans-Fly languages were not part of the Trans–New Guinea phylum, but kept the family itself with Meriam as a member. R.M.W. Dixon (2002) regards claims of a relationship between the Fly River languages and Meriam as unproven, though what he bases his claim on is not clear, as Meriam Mir has a high cognation rate with its sister language, and a certain amount of mutual intelligibility is claimed by Meriam speakers. Such cognates include the personal pronouns, verbs, nominals, verbal and nominal morphology, cultural vocabulary, and so on.

The other Eastern Trans-Fly languages are Bine, Gizra, and Wipii (also known as Gidra).


The language is dialectless. However, formerly there was a separate dialect spoken on Erub and Ugar, characterised in part by the retention of 'ng' and 'n' in distinction to 'g'/'n' and 'r'. These have fallen together in Modern Meriam, thus 'ng' becoming 'n' at the beginning of words and 'g' within words, and 'n' in general becoming 'r'. As examples, the earliest records (early 1800s) of Meriam Mìr, which were actually in the Erub dialect, Erubim Mìr, included the phrase debe lang good taste/nice, where lang is cognate with the Gizra lang of the same meaning. In present-day Meriam Mìr the phrase is debe lag. Similar changes were Erub ngenkep, Mer nerkep heart (ngen/ner breath, kep body part, cf. Kala Lagaw Ya ngœnakap[u] ngœna breath + kap[u] body part), Erub denger, Mer deger dugong (cf. Kala Lagaw Ya dhangal) and Erub ngeng, Mer neg, Bine ngango laugh.



Front Back
High i (i) u (u)
Retracted High ɪ (ì) ʊ (ù)
Mid e (e) o (o)
Low a, ə (a) ɔ (ò)

The sounds represented by [a] and [ə] are allophonic. Schwa appears in mainly syllables BEFORE the stress accent in words and in optionally in open unstressed syllables otherwise. [a] appears in stressed syllables and in unstressed closed syllables.


Bilabial Dental Alveo-Palatal Velar
Stop Voiceless p t k
Voiced b d ɡ
Nasal m n
Fricative Voiceless s
Voiced z
Lateral l
Trill/Tap r
Semivowel w j


Stress is contrastive in Meriam and can occur on the first or second syllable. Examples are tábo snake and tabó neck


  • Dixon, R. M. W. (2002). Australian Languages: Their Nature and Development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  
  • Passi, Gamalai Ken; Piper, Nick (1994). "Meryam Mir". in Nick Thieberger & William McGregor. Macquarie Aboriginal Words. Macquarie Library. pp. 320–351.  
  • Piper, N. (1989). A sketch grammar of Meryam Mer. Australian National University.  
  • Ross, Malcolm (2005). "Pronouns as a preliminary diagnostic for grouping Papuan languages". in Andrew Pawley, Robert Attenborough, Robin Hide and Jack Golson. Papuan pasts: cultural, linguistic and biological histories of Papuan-speaking peoples. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. pp. 15–66.  

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