MalakMalak employs all three “classic” types of spatial Frames of Reference: intrinsic, relative and absolute. Additionally, the language uses place names and body-part orientation to talk about space. The intrinsic Frame requires some kind of portioning of the ground object or landmark into named facets from which search domains can be projected. In English this would be, for example, the tree is in front of the man. And in MalakMalak it would be (5).

(5) intrinsic Frame of Reference

tjung

angundu-na

muyu

tree

behind-LOC

3SG.N*.stand.PST

“the tree was behind (the man)”

The relative Frame of Reference involves mapping from the observer’s own axes (front, back, left, right) onto the ground object. An English example is the ball is on the right. In MalakMalak it would be (6)

(6) relative Frame of Reference

yerra

tjalmiyiny

dek

kantjuk

purrat-ma

wuta

now

right

place

up/upwards

jump-CONT

3SG.N.go.PST

“now the ball was on the right, jumping up (lit. jumping in an upward place on the right)”

The absolute Frame of Reference requires xed bearings that are instantly available to all members of the community. An English example is the opera is west of here. In MalakMalak, three different types of absolute frames can be used. Those based on the course of the sun (east/west) (7a), on prevailing winds (northwesterly/southeasterly) (7b), and on two sides of the prominent Daly River (northeastern/southwestern bank) (7c).

(7a) absolute Frame of Reference (sun)

miri

tjalk-ma

yina,

yina

miri

paiga-ma

sun

go.down-CONT

this

this

sun

go.up-CONT

“this one is west and this one is east”

(7b) absolute Frame of Reference (wind)

Waliwali-nen

pudang

tjedali

yuyu

nul-yen

pudang

tjedali

yuyu

Daly.River-DIR

face.towards

stand.PART

3SG.M.stand.PRS

northwesterly-DIR

face.towards

stand.part

3SG.M.stand.PRS

“one is facing the river and the other one is facing northwest”

(7c) absolute Frame of Reference (riverbank)

duk

puyunduk

kinangga

yide

chair=we

place

underneath

north.eastern.bank/this.side

3SG.M.go/be.PRS

chair=FOC

“it is underneath, on the northeastern bank’s side, of the chair”

Also check out my blogpost on spatial language in Australia.

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