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.

Linguistic features

Demiin is noted for being the only click language outside of Africa.

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.


Damin had three of Lardil's four pairs of vowels, , in root words, plus the fourth, , in the suffixes. It had the same pulmonic egressive consonants as everyday Lardil, but this was augmented by four other airstream mechanisms: velaric ingressive (the nasal clicks), glottalic egressive (a velar ejective), pulmonic ingressive (a lateral fricative), and velaric egressive (a bilabial 'spurt'). The consonants of Damin, in the practical orthography and probable IPA equivalents, were:

bilabial laminal
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]
flap rr [ɾ]
approximants (w [w]) r [ɹ] y [j] w [w]
lateral l [l]
nasal clicks m! [ŋʘ] nh! [ŋǀ] n! [ŋ!] rn! [ŋ!˞]
ejective k' [kʼ]
ingressive fricative L [ɬ↓]
egressive click p' [kʘ↑]

The origin of Demiin

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.

Current situation

The cultural traditions of the Lardil and Yangkaal have been in decline for several decades, and the Lardil and Yangkaal languages are nearly extinct. The last warama ceremony was held in the 1950s, so nowadays Demiin is no longer in use by either the Yangkaal or the Lardil. However, recently a revival of cultural traditions has begun, and luruku has been celebrated. It remains to be seen whether warama ceremonies will also be reactivated.


  • R. M. W. Dixon, The Languages of Australia (1980)
  • D. McKnight, People, Countries and the Rainbow Serpent (1999)
  • K. Hale Deep-Surface Canonical Disparities in Relation to Analysis and Change (1973)
  • K. Hale and D. Nash Damin and Lardil Phonotactics 1997
  • P. Memmott, N. Evans and R. Robinsi Understanding Isolation and Change in Island Human Population though a study of Indigenous Cultural Patterns in the Gulf of Carpentaria

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