On the 4th April the third ILS-funded language revitalisation workshop was held in Adelaide and attended by 35 members of the Dieri Aboriginal Corporation. In the morning Peter Austin and Greg Wilson ran parallel sessions, with Greg’s group working on materials for the Dieri language school programme and Peter’s group revising previous workshop materials and learning new words and expressions with a focus on everyday language use. In the afternoon Peter worked with the whole group on Dieri songs, and extending and practising everyday conversation, with an emphasis on functional language use.
During the day yawarra marra ‘new words’ (yawarra means ‘word, sentence, language’ and marra means ‘new’ — remember that modifying words follow the thing they modify in Dieri) of two types came up. Some were terms that Peter had not learnt before and so were not yet in the dictionary, and the others were terms that we discussed as being appropriate new expressions to add to the Dieri language.
An example of the first type of words that Peter had not heard before came up when we were discussing how to instruct or order people to do things, like ‘sit down!’, ‘be quiet!’, ‘go away!’ and so on. Some of the karna from Broken Hill remembered their Nanna calling out kurrakani! when she wanted them to leave her alone. With the help of the Elders we were able to work out that this is a command form based on the word base kurraka which means ‘to gallop, run quickly’ plus the ending -ni meaning ‘you all’, so it means ‘you all run away quickly!’. We also learnt that you could say nhanthu kurrakayi ‘The horse is galloping’.
The second type of new words are terms for things we use every day that did not exist previously, so have no traditional names. An example of this is mobile phone. We discussed what to call it in Dieri during the last session of the workshop. Languages generally follow two patterns when they want to make up new words. The first is borrowing a word from another language, and adapting it in pronunciation (English has done this with words from lots of languages, including Dieri — for example English ‘mulga’ comes from Dieri malka). So, we could, for example, say pana for ‘phone’ in Dieri (remember Dieri does not have f or o and all words must end in a vowel). The second pattern for creating new words is to use existing materials and combine them in new ways. Chinese tends to do this so their word for ‘telephone’, for example, means “electric speech”.
For ‘mobile phone’ it was suggested that we could use tharlpa ‘ear’ and combine it with daltyi ‘rattling noise’ (see the previous discussion of words for sounds). This gives us tharlpa daltyi for ‘mobile phone’. Next we discussed ‘video game’ — the Dieri word for ‘game’ is pirkini (based on the verb pirki-rna ‘to play). We combined this with paratyi ‘lightning’ (and hence ‘electric’) to give paratyi pirkini for ‘video game’. The last word we discussed was ‘computer’. Again, we decided to use paratyi ‘lightning’ and combine it with puwa ‘matter, soft insides’ (as in muku puwa ‘marrow’, where muku means ‘bone’, and tyuru puwa ‘brain’, where tyuru means ‘intelligence’). This gives us paratyi puwa for ‘computer’.
In the future, new words can be added to Dieri in this way to express new terms and concepts.