Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies


Mbabaram: a Dying Australian Language

Robert M. W. Dixon

Between October 1963 and August 1964 the writer was engaged in linguistic field-work in the Cairns Rain Forest of North Queensland, while employed as Research Officer by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. Intensive studies were made of the Dyirbal, Giramay, and Mamu languages, and linguistic descriptions of these languages are at present being prepared for publication. In 1942 Tindale had mentioned a language that he called ‘Barbaram’, spoken on top of the Dividing Range about 70 miles inland from Cairns. Entirely on the basis of the 11 words Tindale quoted, it seems, Mbabaram acquired a reputation of mystery, and has been singled out as one of the two Australian languages which seem least able to be fitted into the linguistic pattern of the continent. Recent work by Hale on 30 Cape York languages seemed to emphasize the possible uniqueness of Mbabaram.