Nganhi wapayi ya ngathu yinha nandrayi

The Dieri language makes a fundamental distinction between situations involving two participants and those that involve just one. Some situations involve a person or thing carrying out an action and another person or thing being affected by that action. We call sentences in Dieri that express such two-participant situations transitive sentences, and an example would be ngathu yinha nandrayi ‘I hit you’. Other situations only involve just a person or thing and are expressed as intransitive sentences, as in nganhi wapayi ‘I am going’.

For words that describe people and things in Dieri (called ‘nouns’) there is one form for the single participant of an intransitive sentence (called the ‘intransitive subject’, or IS for short) and for the affected participant in a transitive sentence (called the ‘transitive object’, or TO for short). This form is the one that appears in wordlists and dictionaries, for example, kupa ‘child’, kanku ‘boy’, thari ‘young man’, kinthala ‘dog’ and pirta ‘tree’. For the active participant in a transitive sentence (the ‘transitive subject’, or TS for short) there is a separate form which involves adding an ending to the basic root form:

-yali added to roots of two syllables ending in i or u (remember that counting the vowel sounds a and i and u will tell you how many syllables a word has). Here are some examples (notice that the action word (the ‘verb’) comes at the end in Dieri):

kanku-yali kinthala nandrayi ‘The boy hits the dog’
thari-yali kanku nhayiyi ‘The young man sees the boy’

-li added to other roots, that is roots of two syllables ending in a and roots of three or more syllables. Here are some examples:

kupa-li kinthala nandrayi ‘The child hits the dog’
kinthala-li kupa nhayiyi ‘The dog sees the child’

Notice, that if a root is three syllables and it ends in i or u then this vowel changes to a before -li is added. Examples are:

kadnhina-li kupa nhayiyi ‘Grandmother sees the boy’
pinarra-li kupa nhayiyi ‘The old man sees the boy’

For words use for talking about the speaker ‘I’, the hearer ‘you’ and a third person ‘he,she, it’ (called ‘pronouns’) there are three separate forms for IS, TS and TO, as the following examples show:

nganhi wapayi ‘I am going’
yini wapayi ‘You (one person) are going’
nhawu wapayi ‘He is going’
nhani wapayi ‘She is going’

ngathu kinthala nhayiyi ‘I see the dog’
yundru kinthala nhayiyi ‘You see the dog’
nhulu kinthala nhayiyi ‘He sees the dog’
nhandru kinthala nhayiyi ‘She sees the dog’

kinthalali nganha nhayiyi ‘The dog sees me’
kinthalali yinha nhayiyi ‘The dog sees you’
kinthalali nhinha nhayiyi ‘The dog sees him’
kinthalali nhanha nhayiyi ‘The dog sees her’

Of course, if we have both pronoun transitive subject and pronoun transitive object then the separate forms are clear:

ngathu yinha nhayiyi ‘I see you’
yundru nganha nhayiyi ‘You see me’
nhulu nhanha nhayiyi ‘He sees her’
nhandru nhinha nhayiyi ‘She sees him’

The following table summarises all the various forms we have discussed:

root IS TS TO
boy kanku kankuyali kanku
young man thari thariyali thari
child kupa kupali kupa
old man pinarru pinarrali pinarru
grandmother kadnhini kadnhinali kadnhini
I nganhi ngathu nganha
you yini yundru yinha
he nhawu nhulu nhinha
she nhani nhandru nhanha

There are a few other complications involving people’s names and pronouns referring to two or more people (‘we two’, ‘you all’ and so on) — we will discuss these is a later post.


8 thoughts on “Nganhi wapayi ya ngathu yinha nandrayi

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