At the language workshop last weekend (16th and 17th March) for part of the time we worked on singing a Dieri version of the Johnny Cash song “Folsom Prison Blues”. Greg Wilson and the Port Augusta group had translated the whole song into Dieri last year, and Peter Austin had checked the translation, so we were ready to call on Chris Dodd to accompany the 45 attendees in singing it.
The song is a bit challenging because it contains some quite complex grammatical constructions (and long words) so we looked at the words and their meanings and then how these could be fitted to the tune. We practised several times and in the end made a good recording of the first verse. Here it is:
Here are the words in Dieri:
Ngathu traina ngarayi yara wakararnanhi
Ngathu wata dityi nhayirna warayi
Jailanhi nganha kurrarna Folsom Prisonanhi
Ya traina wapayilha San Antonaya
Translated into English this means:
I hear a train coming this way
I didn’t see the sun
(They) put me in Folsom Prison jail
And the train is now going to San Antone
Notice this is not exactly the same as the original Johnny Cash song as it had to be adjusted it to fit the Dieri words to the tune.
The words and their meanings are the following:
ngathu means ‘I’ when it is used with an action that affects someone or something else (used with a ‘transitive verb’)
traina means ‘train’ and comes from English (remember Dieri words need to end in a vowel so we add a here. Also, Dieri does not indicate ‘the’ or ‘a’ like English does.)
ngarayi means ‘hear’ — it consists of the verb root ngara ‘to hear’ and the ending -yi which marks something happening now (the ‘present tense’)
yara means ‘towards the speaker, this way’ (discussed here)
wakararnanhi means ‘coming’ — it consists of the verb root wakara ‘to come’ and the ending -rnanhi which means ‘something happening at the same time as another event but with a different subject’. We use this form because the person who hears (in this case ‘I’) is different from the one who comes (in this case ‘train’).
wata means ‘not’
dityi means ‘sun’ (and also ‘day, daylight’)
nhayirna warayi means ‘saw’ and refers to an action that took place earlier in the day
Jailanhi means ‘in jail’ and consists of jaila from English ‘jail’ (with the necessary final a) and the ending -nhi which means ‘in or at a place’
nganha means ‘me’ and is the object of an action (transitive verb)
kurrarna means ‘put’ — this is the dictionary form and would normally be followed by a word showing the time when the action took place. Here it is left out as it is clear from the context, but if we wanted to we could include wanthiyi ‘action which happened a long time ago’, to give us kurrarna wanthiyi. (Notice also that the people who put me in jail are not mentioned — in Dieri we don’t have to include the agent who does an action if it is clear from the context, or if it is an unspecified person like English ‘they’ (‘they put me in jail’, ‘they say he is sick’). In English we might use what is called a ‘passive verb’ when we don’t want to mention the agent, as in ‘I was put in jail’. Dieri has no passive of this type, so an unclear agent is simply left out and the rest of the sentence stays the same.)
Folsom Prisonanhi is the English ‘Folsom Prison’ (with the required final vowel a added) plus the Dieri -nhi ending signalling ‘in or at a place’
ya means ‘and’
wapayilha means ‘is going now’ and consists of the verb root wapa ‘to go’ plus the endings -yi ‘action happening now, present tense’ and -lha ‘new information that the speaker thinks the hearer does not know’
San Antonaya is English ‘San Antone’ plus final a and the ending -ya which indicates ‘direction towards a place’, so ‘to San Antone’
We will discuss the translations of other verses of this song in later posts.