The Dieri language has a rich vocabulary for talking about the environment. One interesting feature is that there are quite a few words for talking about different kinds of sounds. It is hard to translate many of these into a single word in English and they often require a detailed explanation to get across the Dieri meaning.
We have already seen one of these words in last month’s post about kudnarri wima sung by Leslie Russell. This is the word karta which refers to a short sharp cracking sound. Leslie described the call of wirlu ‘curlew’ as marna karta ‘mouth cracking sound’. We can add the ending -nga to make an action word (verb) meaning ‘to make a cracking sound’. An example is: thurru kartangayi ‘The fire is making a crackling sound’
Other Dieri words for sounds are:
kanpu ‘booming sound’, mara kanpu ‘hand boom’ is how we describe handclaps. We also use kanpu to describe the sound an emu makes. Again, we can add -nga to make an action word (verb). Examples are: warrukathi kanpungarna ngamayi ‘The emu is sitting down making a booming sound’ and kupa-kupa mara kanpungayi ‘The children are clapping hands’
daltyi ‘rattling or jangling sound’, as in thurru wilpara daltyingarna parlkayi ‘The train makes a rattling sound as it goes along’
kandru ‘snoring sound’, as in pinarru kandrungayi ‘The old man is snoring’
kaldra ‘sound of human voices in the distance’ (when the sound is from far away and you cannot tell who is talking’)
ngayarla ‘sound of human voices in the vicinity’ (when the sound is close by but you cannot tell who is talking)
ngaru ‘sound of an identifiable human voice nearby, echo’, An example is: ngathu yinha ngaru ngararna warayi ‘I heard the sound of your voice nearby’
kunngara ‘sound of something moving in the distance’, for example: ngathu puluka kunngara ngarayi ‘I hear the sound of cattle moving in the distance’.
So, while English needs lots of words to describe the sounds we hear, in Dieri there are separate words for each of these kinds of sounds.
Note: The title of this post means ‘What do you hear?’