Damin (Demiin in the practical orthography) was a ceremonial language register used by the advanced initiated men of the Lardil (Leerdil in the practical orthography) and the Yangkaal tribes in Aboriginal Australia. Both inhabit islands in the Gulf of Carpentaria, the Lardil on Mornington Island, the largest island of the Wesley Group, and the Yangkaal and Forsyth Islands. Their languages belong to the same family, the Tankic languages (Tangka means person in the Tankic languages). Lardil is the most divergent of the Tankic languages, while the others are mutually comprehensible with Yangkaal.
The Lardil word Damin can be translated as being silent.
The Lardil had two initiation ceremonies for men, namely luruku, which involved circumcision, and warama, which involved penile subincision. There were no ceremonies for women, although women did play an important role in these ceremonies, especially in the luruku ceremony.
It is sometimes said that Demiin 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. However it was taught during the warama ceremony and, therefore, in isolation from the uninitiated. At least one elder is known, who, though not having been subincised, had an excellent command of Demiin, but this seems to have been a unique case.
Damin lexical words were organised into semantic fields and shouted out to the initiate in a single session. As each word was announced, a second speaker gave its Lardil equivalent. However, it normally took several sessions before a novice mastered the basics and could use Damin openly in the community. One speaker did claim to have learned to speak Demiin in a single session, but on the other hand two senior warama men admitted that they lacked a firm command of the register.
Once Demiin had been learned, the speakers were known as Demiinkurlda (Demiin possessors). They spoke the register particularly in ritual contexts, but also in everyday secular life, when foraging, sitting about gossiping, and the like.
Damin had a much more restricted and generic lexicon than everyday language. With only about 150 lexical roots, each word in Damin stood for several words of Lardil or Yangkaal. It had only two pronouns (n!a "me" and n!u "not me"), for example, compared to Lardil's nineteen, and had an antonymic prefix kuri- (tjitjuu "small", kuritjitjuu "large").
Grammatically, the Demiin registers of the Lardil and Yangkaal use all the grammatical suffixes of those languages, and so therefore are broadly similar.
|plosives||b [p]||th [t̻]||d [t̺]||rd [t˞]||tj [t̠]||k [k]|
|nasal stops||m [m]||nh [n̻]||n [n̺]||rn [n˞]||ny [n̠]||ng [ŋ]|
|approximants||(w [w])||r [ɹ]||y [j]||w [w]|
|nasal clicks||m! [ŋʘ]||nh! [ŋǀ]||n! [ŋ!]||rn! [ŋ!˞]|
|ingressive fricative||L [ɬ↓]|
|egressive click||p' [kʘ↑]|
The origin of Demiin is unclear. The Lardil and the Yangkaal say that Demiin was created by a mythological figure in Dreamtime, while Hale et al. believe that it was invented by Lardil elders. Evans et al., after studying the mythology of both tribes, speculate that it was the Yangkaal elders who invented Demiin and passed it to the Lardil and not the other way around.