Diyari yawarra ngaramayi!

The late Leslie Russell taught Peter Austin the Dieri language in 1974 when they met in Maree in northern South Australia. Leslie was a retired cattle station worker and was well known as a singer and teller of stories. He had a very clear voice and the right level of patience to help a beginner, Peter, learn his language (Leslie also spoke Wangkangurru from the north side of Lake Eyre). Sadly, he passed away in 1975.

One of the first sentences Leslie taught Peter was the following:

Yini waparna warayi warrithandru, nhingkirda ngaralha diyari

It means: ‘You came from far away to hear Dieri here’.

Listen to Leslie speaking:

Here are what the words mean:

yini means ‘you’ speaking to one person (remember that Dieri has three ways to say ‘you’ depending on how many people are being spoken to)

waparna means ‘go, move’

warayi means ‘did recently’ and indicates an action that occurred in the last 24 hours or so

warrithandru consists of warritha which means ‘far, distant’ and the ending -ndru which means ‘from’, so warrithandru means ‘from far away’

nhingkirda consists of nhingki which means ‘here’ and the ending -rda which means ‘close to the speaker’, so nhingkirda means ‘hear near me’. For a place a little further away you can say nhingkiya and further away still is nhingkiwa

ngaralha consists of ngara which means ‘to hear, to listen’ and the ending -lha which means ‘in order to …’ when an action is performed by the same person who performs the first action. Here, we have ‘you came from far away in order (for you) to hear Dieri’. We don’t have to mention the second ‘you’ because -lha tells us it is the same person doing both actions of coming and hearing

diyari is the name of the Dieri language spelled according to its correct pronunciation

Why not try using this sentence yourself when you meet someone who is interested in learning to speak Dieri?

Note: The title of this blog post means ‘Listen to Dieri language’ — ngaramayi is made up of ngara ‘to hear, to listen’ and the ending -mayi which indicates a command (‘you do it!’).

Kudnarri wima

In 1974 the late Leslie Russell sang and explained a number of songs in the Dieri language for Peter Austin. These songs are associated with Cooper Creek in Dieri country to the east of Lake Eyre. Leslie referred to this area as kudnarri, so the songs are called kudnarri wima where wima means ‘song, ceremony’. They are general songs that can be performed any time and can be listened to by anyone.

Each song consists of four lines (which may be repeated), and each line is made up of two words, with each word consisting of two syllables. This means that for some words the endings we would normally use in speaking are missing in the song (so all verbs consist of just the root, without any of the usual endings). Each song is about some event or happening that Leslie witnessed, and usually they evoke one or more images, rather than describing a scene in detail.


One of the songs is about wirlu the bird called ‘curlew’ (its full English name is Bush Stone Curlew or Bush Thick-knee, and its scientific name is Burhinus grallarius).

Here are the words of the song:

wirlu wirlu
pirna purka
marna karta
ngathu ngara

This means:

Curlew curlew
A big one is wading
The sound of his call
I am hearing

and it is made up of these words:

wirlu ‘curlew’

pirna ‘big’

purka ‘wade in water’ (this is the root of the verb which normally occurs as purka-rna ‘to wade in water’ or purka-yi ‘is wading in water’)

marna ‘mouth’

karta ‘cracking sound’ (this refers to any short sharp sound of something cracking — you can hear an example of the curlew’s call below)

ngathu ‘I’ (used when I perform an action)

ngara ‘hear’ (this is the root of the verb which normally occurs as ngara-rna ‘to hear’ or ngara-yi ‘is hearing, is listening’

This song evokes the beautiful image of Leslie listening to the curlew calling out as it wades in the water of Cooper Creek. When speaking Dieri, rather than singing, we would say:

Wirlu pirna purkayi. Marna karta ngathu ngarayi

Here is a short video of curlews making their distinctive calls:

Yawarraya pipa

For the Dieri Aboriginal Corporation ILS project we are working on developing several bilingual dictionaries of the Dieri language. We expect that there will be a number of dictionaries that come out of the project, meant for different users and different uses.

Peter Austin has been working on creating a reference dictionary that will be a major resource for teachers and language learners and will include lots of information about words, meanings, cultural context and use and will include examples of the words taken from his recordings made in the 1970s, along with material from present-day speakers. He has created a draft of the dictionary that has three parts:

  1. Dieri-English section organised according to the Dieri words, with their English translations and explanations
  2. English-Dieri section that lists English words and their Dieri equivalents, but with less detail about meanings and uses
  3. Categories section organised according to meanings, so all the words for particular topics and concepts are group together

The Dieri-English and Categories sections contain illustrations for plants, animals, artefacts and other words so that readers can gain more information about a particular itemn. Here is one page from the list of words beginning with ka- that shows what the dictionary might end up looking like.


Here is what a page from the Categories section for Birds might look like:


We also hope in the future to make a web-based dictionary that includes sounds so that people can hear the words pronounced by a native speaker and then model their pronunciation on them.

Note: The title for this post consists of yawarra meaning ‘language’, the ending ya meaning ‘for, belonging to’ (called the ‘possessive ending’) and pipa meaning ‘book’ (and originally from the English word ‘paper’). Together this means ‘books for language’

Ngayani yathayatharna warayi

After the workshop

Language workshop participants

On 2nd and 3rd of February a group of Dieri Aboriginal Corporation members met at the Arkaba Hotel in Adelaide for a Dieri language revitalisation workshop. A total of 30 people attended the two-day workshop, coming from Maree, Lyndhurst, Port Augusta, Whyalla and Broken Hill. The workshop was facilitated by Peter Austin (who flew in from Canberra) and Greg Wilson. Rob Amery and Mary-Anne Gale from Adelaide University came along for one session and talked about language activities being carried out elsewhere in South Australia, especially by the Kaurna and Ngarrindjeri groups, as well as the Cert IV to be offered through TAFE SA called Learning and Teaching an Endangered Aboriginal Language.

A number of language focused activities were carried out over the two days, along with a discussion of goals and plans for the Dieri ILS project. We looked at how to write words for parts of the body, and this led to a discussion about spelling for Dieri, as well as how to make new words by combining together words and pieces of words. So ‘mouth’ is marna and ‘tooth’ is marna thandra, ‘eye’ is milki and ‘eyeball’ is milki thandra, ‘knee’ is pantya and ‘kneecap’ is pantya thandra. By itself thandra means ‘fruit’.

On Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning we translated the chorus of a song by Chris Dodd, who writes and sings country and western music (he won an award at the Tamworth Country Music Festival in 2011), called ‘The Cooper’s coming down’. Here is how the chorus turned out:

ngapa-ngapa pirna ngariyi
ngarrimatha wakarayi
thalara pirna kurdayi
ngayanarni mithanhi
daku pirna thana
matya ngayana pankiyilha
ngapa pirna ngakayi
parru pirna pakarna

Here is what it means in English:

Lots of water is coming down
A flood is coming
Lots of rain is falling
In our country
There are big sandhills
So we are happy now
Lots of water is flowing
And big fish (are coming) too

We talked about some of the grammar in this song, like the ending nhi which means ‘in, at, on’, as in mithanhi ‘in the country’, or nguranhi ‘at the camp’ or warlinhi ‘in the house’. We also saw the ending rni which is used to indicate ‘possession, belonging to’, as in ngayanarni mitha ‘our country’ or yularni ngura ‘your (two’s) camp’ (remember from the last blog post that Dieri has three words for ‘you’ depending on how many people we are talking about).


On Sunday Greg borrowed a guitar and we were able to record the whole group singing the new Dieri song, as well as two songs Greg had translated with the Port Augusta mob last year, namely ‘Heads, shoulders, knees and toes’ and ‘Old MacDonald’s farm’. Everyone had a great time joining in with the singing.

The next language workshop will be in Port Augusta towards the end of March.

Note: The title of this blog post means ‘We all talked to each other’ and it is made up of ngayani ‘we all (not including you)’, yathayatharna ‘talk together’, based on the verb yatharna ‘to talk, to speak’, and warayi ‘did’, indicating an action done in the recent past.

Wardaru yura?

Welcome to the Ngayana Dieri Yawarra Yathayilha blog. This blog is dedicated to supporting the Dieri language that belongs to the east of Lake Eyre in the far north of South Australia.

The name of the blog is made up of four words in the Dieri language:

Ngayana means ‘we all including you’

Dieri is the name of the language and the people who speak it (the word for person is karna so a Dieri person is Dieri karna

Yawarra means ‘language’

Yathayilha means ‘speaking now’. It is made up of three parts: yatha means ‘speak’, yi means ‘doing now’ (also called ‘present tense’) and lha means ‘new information’.

This is a sentence in the Dieri language and is the way we refer to the activities now going on to support and spread Dieri. You can also use it to mean ‘Let’s all speak Dieri language’.

The title of this particular blog post is a greeting in Dieri — it means ‘how are you?’. It is made up of:

wardaru which means ‘how’

yura means ‘you all’

In the Dieri language there are three ways of saying ‘you’: yini means ‘you’ when talking to one person, yula or yudla means ‘you’ when talking to two people, and yura means ‘you’ when talking to many people. So we have:

  • Wardaru yini? means ‘How are you (one person)?’
  • Wardaru yula? means ‘How are you (two people)?’
  • Wardaru yura? means ‘How are you (many people)?’

On this blog we will be presenting news and stories about Dieri language and our activities.