Minha nhawuya?

In previous blog posts we looked at how to ask questions in Dieri, first how to ask about ‘who?’ and then to ask about ‘which?’. In this blog post we will learn about how to ask about ‘what?’.

We use ‘what?’ in English to ask about an object, thing or creature that is not human (and use ‘who?’ for humans). The corresponding element in Dieri is minha, which is a noun meaning ‘what?’.

Like all other nouns in Dieri, minha ‘what?’ has different forms (and takes different endings) depending upon its role in the sentence. Here are the different forms we need to learn, together with their functions (notice that they always appear as the first word in the question):

Intransitive Subject minha
minha nhawuya? ‘What is this?’
minha parrayi nhaka? ‘What is lying over there?’

Transitive Subject minhali
minhali nganha mathayi? ‘What is biting me?’
minhali nhinha nandrayi? ‘What hit him?’

Transitive Object minha
minha kinthalali nhayiyi? ‘What is the dog looking at?’
minha yundru thayiyi? ‘What are you eating?’

Location minhanhi
minhanhi nhawuwa wapayi? ‘What is that one going with?’
minhanhi nhani ngamayi? ‘What is she sitting with?’

Source minhandru
minhandru nhawu kinthala mindriyi? ‘What is the dog running away from?’
minhandru nhani wakararna warayi? ‘What did she come from?’

Notice that the locative in Dieri is also used to express some goal that the subject has in mind when doing an action, as in:

nganhi wapayi warliya nganthinhi ‘I am going to the house for meat’
nhawu wapayi kararraya ngapanhi ‘He is going to the creek for water’

So when we want to ask about a goal we use minhanhi ‘what for?’ which often translates into English as ‘why?’

minhanhi yini wapayi? ‘What are you going for?’ or ‘Why are you going?’
minhanhi nhawu wakarayi nhingkirda? ‘What is he coming here for?’ or ‘Why is he coming here?’

You can hear Alec Edwards (recorded by Luise Hercus in 1968) asking in Dieri minhanhi yura thirri? ‘What are you all angry for?’, first at normal speed: and now repeated slowly:

The source in Dieri is also used to express a reason that causes or explains an action, as in:

thana yathamaliyi widlhaya yawarrandru ‘They are arguing with each other because of the woman’s words’
marda karku pantyirna wanthiyi kumarrandru ‘The stones became red ochre because of the blood’

Here is Alec Edwards saying slowly tharindru thanaya thirri ‘They are angry because of the young man’

Now, when we want to ask about a reason or cause we use minhandru ‘what from?, because of what?’ which also often translates into English as ‘why?’

minhandru yura nandramaliyi? ‘What are you all hitting each other from?’ or ‘Why are you hitting each other?’
minhandru yini mindrirna kurrayi? ‘For what reason did you run away? or ‘Why did you run away?’

It is important to remember that if we want to translate ‘why?’ from English to Dieri we need to be careful to make a difference between minhanhi ‘why for?’ (purpose) and minhandru ‘why from?’ (reason).

Finally, we can add the ending -ya to minha and then add the endings we saw in the forms above to mean ‘something’, as the following examples show. Notice that these are not questions so the different forms for ‘something’ do not have to be at the beginning of the sentence but occur where we normally find other nouns serving the relevant function in Dieri:

minhaya parrayi nhaka ‘Something is lying over there’
minhayali nganha mathayi ‘Something is biting me’
nhanhi pirkiyi minhayanhi ‘She is playing with something’
thana nandramaliyi minhayandru ‘They are fighting because of something’

When you don’t know what to call something in Dieri, or you briefly forget the name of something, we can use minhaya to mean ‘something or other, what-you-may-call-it, thingummyjig’, as in:

ngathu ngararna warayi, minhaya, thurru wilpara ‘I heard the, what-you-may-call-it, train’

This little word can be really useful in conversation when you can’t remember what Dieri word to use next!

Note: Dieri has two words that can be translated into English as ‘to lie down, to be lying’, namely thurara-rna and parra-rna, but you can only use the first of these to talk about humans or animals lying down while the second one is used for non-humans (like trees, water etc.). So, in the examples above you will see minha parrayi nhaka? ‘what is lying there?’ — compare this with waranha thurarayi nhaka? ‘Who is lying there? Who is sleeping there?’

2 thoughts on “Minha nhawuya?

  1. Pingback: Minha thanali nhinhaya yawarra dikayi? | Ngayana Diyari Yawarra Yathayilha

  2. Pingback: Waranhaya wakarayi | Ngayana Diyari Yawarra Yathayilha

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