Minha thanali nhinhaya yawarra dikayi?

Visitors to this blog may not realise that in addition to the posts in the main window, like this one, there is useful background information to be found on the other pages that are linked from the grey banner that runs across the page between the title and each new post. The red arrows in the following picture point to links to these pages (click on the picture to enlarge it):


  • About — gives the background explaining why this blog was set up and thanking our sponsors, the ILS programme
  • Dieri language — discusses where the Dieri language is spoken and gives some brief history of its study by non-Dieri people
  • More information — describes sources where readers can find more details about the Dieri language
  • Spelling — describes the Dieri spelling system and how to pronounce Dieri words and sentences

The title of this blog post refers specifically to the last of these. It means in English ‘How do they say this word?’ and is made up of:

minha ‘what’ (discussed in a previous blog post) — this is the transitive object form
thanali ‘they (all)’ — this is the transitive subject form
nhinhaya ‘this’, consists of nhinha ‘him, this’ which is the transitive object form, plus the ending -ya meaning ‘near the speaker’
yawarra ‘word, expression, language’
dikayi ‘calls, names’ — this is the present tense form (indicating something happening now, or a general statement that is always true) and is made up of the verb root dika-rna ‘to call, to name’ plus the ending -yi which marks present tense

In Dieri there is a saying paya parlpa thana dikatharriyi which can be translated into English as ‘Some birds say their own name’. It is made up of these words:

paya ‘bird’
parlpa ‘some’
thana ‘they (all)’
dikatharriyi ‘name themselves’, which consists of the verb root dika-rna mentioned above plus the ending -tharri which indicates an action done to oneself, plus the ending -yi which marks present tense

What this refers to is that in Dieri the names of some birds (but not all) are similar to the sounds that the birds make. An example of this is the crow kawalka which makes the sound ka-ka-ka.

This ending -tharri can be used with just about any verb to indicate an action done to oneself — notice that the person or thing acting on themself with such a verb is always in the intransitive subject form:

thana dikatharriyi ‘They name themselves’ (compare thanali nhinha dikayi ‘They name him’)

nganhi damatharrirna warayi nhayipali ‘I cut myself with a knife’ (compare ngathu nganthi damarna warayi nhayipali ‘I cut the meat with a knife’)

kupakupa wajamatharriyi ngapali ‘The children are washing themselves with water’ (compare kupakupali wajamayi kinthakinthala ngapali ‘The children are washing the little dog with water’)

yini nhayitharriyi ngapanhi? ‘Do you see yourself in the water?’ (compare yundru nganha nhayiyi ngapanhi? ‘Do you see me in the water?’)

Notice that in English expressing actions done to oneself is complicated because you have to change the ‘…self’ word depending on who does the action (‘I … myself’, ‘you … yourself’, ‘he … himself’, ‘she … herself’, ‘it … itself’, ‘we … ourselves’, ‘you … yourselves’, ‘they … themselves’), but in Dieri it is very simple: just add -tharri to the verb.

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