Kartyimalkani yawarra

The previous blog post presented a conversation in Dieri and readers were invited to test their language knowledge by answering some questions about it. In this blog we give a translation of the conversation, the answers to the questions, and some notes on grammar.

Speaker A: Hey. How are you younger brother/sister?
Speaker B: I’m good. How are you older sister?
Speaker A: I’m not good. My stomach is bad
Speaker B: Why?
Speaker A: I must have eaten some rotten meat. My stomach hurts
Speaker B: Go home to our camp and have a sleep
Speaker A: I don’t want to leave you alone here
Speaker B: Don’t say that. Go home to our camp so mother can look after you
Speaker A: OK, younger brother/sister. I’m going home now
Speaker B: Run quickly!

Questions and Answers

  1. What is the relationship between Speaker A and Speaker B? — they are related as older sister and younger brother or sister (Dieri does not make a gender difference for younger siblings so we can’t tell if Speaker B is male ‘younger brother’ or female ‘younger sister’).
    In Dieri two people who are related in this way are called kaku-mara which uses the ending -mara. You can add this ending to any term “X” that refers to an older relative and X-mara means ‘a group of two or more people where one of them is called X by the others’. So, kaku-mara means ‘a group of two or more people one of whom is called ‘older sister’ by the others’. Dieri has a lot of these kinds of useful short-hand expressions: ngandri-mara means ‘a group made up of mother and her children’ (from ngandri ‘mother’) and kadnhini-mara means ‘a group made up of grandmother and her grandchildren’ (from kadnhini ‘mother’s mother, grandmother’).
  2. Is Speaker A male or female? — Speaker A is female. She is the older sister of Speaker B.
  3. What happened to Speaker A earlier in the day? — Speaker A says she might have eaten some rotten meat earlier. Note that the use of the auxiliary warayi tells us that it was earlier today, not before.
  4. What does Speaker B suggest that Speaker A does? — Speaker B suggests that the older sister goes back home to have a sleep.
  5. Why doesn’t speaker A want to do this? — Speaker A does not want to leave her younger brother or sister alone. Notice the use of the modifier kurnu-kurnu which is a doubling of kurnu ‘one, alone’.
  6. What happens in the end? — Speaker B tells Speaker A not to worry and to go home so that their mother can look after her. Notice the use of ngandriyali which consists of ngandri ‘mother’ and the ending -yali to mark transitive subject (mother is the one who does the looking after), nhayinhayiparnanthu which consists of nhayi- ‘to see, look’ (repeated) and the endings -ipa ‘do something for someone else’ (so nhayipa means ‘to look after’) and -rnanthu which means ‘purposive action done by someone other than the subject of the main action’. Here what we have is ‘you go home to our camp so mother can look after you’ — ‘you’ and ‘mother’ are different so we must use -rnathu on the second verb here. If we had something like ‘you go home to our camp so you can look after mother’ then we would use the ending -lha for ‘same subject’ and the resulting sentence would be: Thikamayi ngaldrarni nguraya ngandri nhayinhayipalha.
    Notice that the last sentence uses the order form of the verb mindri-rna ‘to run’, so mindriyamayi, plus the doubled modifier nhurru ‘quick, fast’ to mean ‘really quickly’.

Note: the title of this blog means ‘Translation’ and consists of two parts. The element kartyimalkani is based on the root verb kartyimalka-rna ‘to turn over, translate’ and the ending -ni which creates an abstract noun referring to the action expressed by the verb, so ‘translating’. The second element is yawarra ‘word, language’ so taken together this means ‘translating words’. Other examples of the -ni ending are the following:

  • ngankani ‘work, job’ (from nganka-rna ‘to do, make, work’) as in ngakarni ngankani katyu ‘my work clothes’
  • thukatharrini ‘riding’ (from thukatharri-rna ‘to ride, be carried on the back’ which is derived from thuka-rna ‘to carry on the back’ plus the ending -tharri which here makes the verb intransitive meaning ‘to be carried on the back, ride’) as in yingkarni thukatharrini nhantu ‘your riding horse’

Mayi, ngayana yathayathayilha

Over the past few months we have introduced quite an amount of Dieri language, vocabulary, expressions and grammar. Regular readers of this blog should now be ready to practice a conversation in Dieri using what we have been learning so far. To check your knowledge, look at the following conversation and see if you can understand it. Try to answer the questions below. To really test your Dieri knowledge you should not look at the vocabulary list below the questions. If you have a friend who is also learning Dieri you can take turns in being the two speakers. All the vocabulary and grammar has been covered in previous blog posts, and in the next blog post we will give the full English translation and some grammar notes.

Ready? Here we go.

Speaker A: Mayi! Wardaru yini ngathata?
Speaker B: Matya nganhi manyu. Wardaru yini kaku?
Speaker A: Wata nganhi manyu. Nganhi mandra madlhantyi
Speaker B: Minhandru?
Speaker A: Ngathu kara nganthi thungka thayirna warayi. Karari nganhi mandra katyakatyayi
Speaker B: Thikamayi ngaldrarni nguraya muka thuraralha
Speaker A: Wata ngathu ngantyayi yinha kurnu-kurnu wararalha nhingkirda
Speaker B: Wata yaruka yathamayi. Thikamayi ngaldrarni nguraya ngandriyali yinha nhayinhayiparnathu
Speaker A: Kawu, ngathata. Karari nganhi thikayilha
Speaker B: Mindriyamayi nhurru-nhurru!


  1. What is the relationship between Speaker A and Speaker B?
  2. Is Speaker A male or female?
  3. What happened to Speaker A earlier in the day?
  4. What does Speaker B suggest that Speaker A does?
  5. Why doesn’t speaker A want to do this?
  6. What happens in the end?

kara ‘perhaps, maybe, or’
kaku ‘older sister’
karari ‘today, now’
katyakatya-rna ‘to be sore’
kawu ‘yes’
kurnu ‘one, single, alone’
madlhantyi ‘bad’
mandra ‘stomach’
manyu ‘good, well’
matya ‘already, OK, just’
mayi ‘hey!’
mindri-rna ‘to ru’
minha ‘what’
muka ‘sleep’
ngaldra ‘we two (including you)’
ngandri ‘mother’
nganhi ‘I’ — intransitive subject
nganthi ‘meat’
ngantya-rna ‘to want, like, love’
ngathata ‘younger sister, younger brother’
ngathu ‘I’ — transitive subject
ngura ‘camp’
nhayi-rna ‘to see, look’
nhingkirda ‘here’
nhurru ‘fast, quick’
thayi-rna ‘to eat’
thika-rna ‘to return, go back, come back’
thungka ‘rotten’
thurara-rna ‘to lie down, sleep’
warara-rna ‘to leave’
warayi ‘recent past’ — auxiliary
wardaru ‘how’
wata ‘not’
yaruka ‘like that’
yatha-rna ‘to speak, say’
yinha or yinanha ‘you (one person)’ — transitive object
yini ‘you (one person)’ — intransitive subject


Nhawuya kurikantyi

In the previous blog post we mentioned words like mawa ‘hunger’, thardi ‘thirst’ and kuri ‘stealth’ that are nouns in Dieri. These words are special because not only can they modify a verb, as we saw in that blog post, they also take the ending -li or -yali when used with ngana-rna ‘to be’ to express an internal state of affairs (discussed in this blog post), as in:

Nganhi mawali nganayi ‘I am hungry’
Yini thardiyali nganayi ‘Are you thirsty?

This set of words have another special characteristic. They can all take the ending -kantyi to describe a person who habitually always has the characteristics described by the noun root. Here are some examples:

mawa-kantyi ‘someone who is always hungry’
thardi-kantyi ‘someone who is always thirsty’
yardi-kantyi ‘someone who always lies, liar’
kuri-kantyi ‘someone who always steals, thief’
yapa-kantyi ‘someone who is always afraid, timid person’

There is one more useful ending for describing people in Dieri (in addition to -kantyi, and the -rnayitya ending discussed in this blog post). This is -lha which is added to locations or names of places to refer to a person who comes from that place. Examples are the following:

mardalha ‘hill person’ (from marda ‘hill, stone’)
pantulha ‘salt lake person’ (from pantu ‘salt lake’)
kudnarralha ‘person from Cooper Creek (from kudnarri ‘Cooper Creek’)

Notice that this ending causes the final i or u vowel of a three-syllable root to change to a (as in kudnarralha above), just like we have seen when endings like -li ‘transitive subject’ or -nhi ‘in, at’ are added to such roots.

Nhawuya kinthala ngurra yathayi

In Dieri it is possible to modify the meaning of a verb by adding words like ngurra ‘always’ or marla ‘more’ before the verb. We call these adverbs because they “add to the verb”.

Examples are:

Nhawuya kinthala ngurra yathayi ‘This dog is always barking’

Nhani paku ngamayi ‘She is sitting down quietly doing nothing’

When we use one of these elements to describe a situation that involves two participants and the verb is a transitive verb then we have to add the ending -li (or -yali if the root is two syllables and ends in i or u) to the adverb, as in:

Nhuluya kinthalali karna ngurrali mathayi ‘This dog always bites people’

Nhandru nganha pakuyali nandrarna warayi ‘She hit me for no reason’

Notice that is also possible to use nouns like mawa ‘hunger’, thardi ‘thirst’, or kuri ‘stealth’ to modify verbs, and these also take the -li or -yali ending when tthe verb is transitive. Here are some examples:

Thana kupa mawa ngamayi ‘Those kids are sitting down hungry’
Thanali nganthi mawali thayiyi ‘They are eating the meat hungrily’

Nhawu kuri thikalha nganayi thinkanhi ‘He will come back secretly at night’
Nhulu marda kuriyali pardalha nganayi ‘He will take the money stealthily’ or ‘He will steal the money’

As we have seen many times before, Dieri pays particular attention to the difference between intransitive and transitive verbs, and this applies when we want to express modifying meanings using adverbs as well.

Note: the verb yatha-rna in the title of this blog post is a very versatile word. When we use it to talk about humans we can translate it as ‘speak’ (as in nhawu karna yathayi ‘the man is speaking’) but with animals it refers to the characteristic sounds that the animal makes, so we get kinthala yathayi ‘the dog barks’, tyukityuki yathayi ‘the chickens cheep’, or nhantu yathayi ‘the horse neighs’.

Wata nganhi waparna warayi ngarla nganhi wapalha nganayi karari

In today’s blog post we are going to learn about how to express in Dieri when an action or event has taken place or will take place. The general term for this is tense.

In English to express time relations we use special words placed in front of the verb — these are called auxiliary verbs and they function to indicate when a situation takes place. Examples are:

I have seen your uncle’s house — happened before now (in the past)
She is singing in the bathtub — is happening right now (in the present)
I will go to town tomorrow — will happen later (in the future)

In Dieri we also use auxiliaries to express time reference but they follow the main verb. There are two forms that the main verb takes in these constructions:

  1. the dictionary form of the verb which consists of the verb root plus the ending -rna, which is what is listed in the dictionary. Examples are wapa-rna ‘to go’, thayi-rna ‘to eat’ and paku-rna ‘to dig’
  2. the -lha form of the verb which consists of the verb root plus the ending -lha, which we have seen in previous blog posts used to mark a subsequent action in a sequence that involves the same subject, eg. nganhi wapayi nguraya puka wayilha ‘I am going home to cook food’ (the person who goes is the same one who does the cooking). Examples are wapa-lha ‘to go’, thayi-lha ‘to eat’ and paku-lha ‘to dig’

In the following table we use the example of wapa- ‘to go’ and give the different auxiliary verbs that can follow it, together with their functions. Notice that three of these are in common use and are coloured red in the list — the others are rather rare in use:

Verb+Auxiliary Function
waparna wanthiyi ‘went long ago’ — a situation that took place a long time ago
waparna wapaya ‘went a while ago’ — a situation that took place some time ago, perhaps one or two months ago
waparna wapayi ‘always goes’ — a situation that habitually takes place
waparna parraya ‘went a couple of weeks ago’ — a situation that took place one or two weeks ago
wapalha wirriyi ‘went yesterday’ — a situation that took place yesterday
waparna warayi ‘went earlier’ — a situation that took place earlier today
wapalha nganayi ‘will go’ — a situation that will take place later

We can use any verb in combination with these auxiliaries to express the meanings that we want. Here are some examples from Dieri stories:

waru thanali kapirri thayirna wanthiyi ‘They ate goannas long ago’
pula nandramalirna wapaya ‘Those two had a fight a good while ago’
ngathu kathi karparna wapayi ‘I sew clothes’
nhawu thikarna parraya ‘He came back a few weeks ago’
nandru nhinha nhayilha wirriyi ‘She saw him yesterday’
nhulu nganha nandrarna warayi ‘He just hit me’
yundru nganha marda yingkilha nganayi? ‘Will you give me some money?

Note: The title of this blog posts shows the use of these different forms. It can be translated as ‘I did not go but I will go soon’ and consists of:

wata ‘not’
nganhi ‘I’
waparna warayi ‘went earlier’
ngarla ‘but’
nganhi ‘I’
wapalha nganayi ‘will go’
karari ‘soon, today’

Yini wapalha nganayi piranhi

Yini wapalha nganayi piranhi

Wirdirdi yini wapayi?

Back in February when we started this blog the first blog post introduced the expressions for how to greet someone and say “hello” in Dieri. Basically, what we say is wardaru ‘how’ plus the relevant pronoun yini ‘you (one person)’, yula ‘you (two people)’ or yura ‘you (more than two people)’. Interestingly, since then Dieri people are increasingly using these expressions in conversation when they meet, and also in emails.

So, how do we start and continue the conversation? In Australian English, we might say ‘g’day, how are you going?’. What about in Dieri?

The usual way to open a conversation in Dieri is to say mayi ‘hey’ followed by wardaru plus the proper pronoun mentioned above. We can then continue with one of these expressions:

wirdirdi yini wapayi? ‘Where are you (one person) going?’
wirdirdi yula wapayi? ‘Where are you (two people) going?’
wirdirdi yura wapayi? ‘Where are you (more than two) going?’

In English it might seem rude to ask someone who you have just met: ‘Where are you going?’ (unless they are a good friend) but in Dieri this is quite normal.

And the answer? We can tell the other person the place to which we are going using the ending -ya ‘to …’ attached to the location or the name of the place, as in these examples:

nganhi wapayi nguraya ‘I am going to the camp’
ngali wapayi ngakarni warliya ‘We two are going to my house’
ngayani wapayi marriya ‘We all are going to Marree’

Notice that if the place is a three syllable word ending in i or u this changes to a before we add -ya, as in:

nganhi wapayi karirraya ‘I am going to the creek’ (‘creek’ is karirri)
ngali wapayi mitha puthurraya ‘We are going to the dusty place’ (‘dust’ is puthurru)

You can also give a short reply in which you just mention the place to which you are going (always with the -ya ending), as in:

nguraya ‘to the camp’
ngakarni warliya ‘to my house’
marriya ‘to Marree’
karirraya ‘to the creek’
mitha puthurraya ‘to the dusty place’

Another alternative is to use the verb wirari-rna ‘to wander about’ when there is no particular place that you are going to, as in:

nganhi wirariyi ‘I am just wandering about’

And when the conversation is over, what do you say then? In English we would say ‘goodbye’ or ‘bye’ or ‘see you later’ or something similar. There is nothing exactly like this in Dieri, and at the end of a conversation you would usually just say:

nganhi wapayilha ‘I am going now’
ngali wapayilha ‘We (two) are going now’
ngayani wapayilha ‘We (all) are going now’

Notice the ending -lha added to wapayi to indicate new information about something happening now.

Again, this might seem a little odd to speakers of English but different societies have different ways of greeting each other and saying goodbye and this just happens to be the Dieri way.

Here is a full imaginary conversation:

Speaker A: mayi, wardaru yula?
Speakers B & C: matya ngali manyu
Speaker A: wirdirdi yula wapayi?
Speakers B & C: karirraya, ngapa pardalha
Speaker A: yara wapalumayi
Speakers B & C: ngali wapayilha
Speaker A: nganhi pakarna wapayilha

Here is the literal translation into English:

Speaker A: Hey, how are you two?
Speakers B & C: We’re good
Speaker A: Where are you two going?
Speakers B & C: To the creek to get some water
Speaker A: Go that way.
Speakers B & C: We’re going now
Speaker A: I’m going too


Dieri yawarra kartyimalkarnayitya

German Lutheran missionaries lived among the Dieri for 45 years from 1869 to 1914. The missionaries studied the Dieri language and used it in their work and their daily lives, including preaching in Dieri and teaching it in the mission school. They prepared primers, schools books and dictionaries and grammars of Dieri, and translated a large number of Christian works into the language, including hymns and the Old and New Testaments.


One of the missionaries who was most keen to study Dieri language and culture was Rev. Johannes Georg Reuther who arrived at the mission in 1888 at the age of 27. According to the South Australian Museum, by July 1899 Reuther had completed a grammar of Dieri, followed by grammars of the neighbouring Wangkangurru and Yandruwantha languages. From 1903 to 1906 Reuther spent most of his research time completing a dictionary of Dieri that contains 4,200 entries. Reuther left Killalpaninna in 1906, after 18 years as a missionary; his massive collection of unpublished materials are now in the South Australian Museum. Reuther’s 13 volumes of manuscript notebooks were translated into English by Philipp Scherer between 1974 and 1978. The translation was published on microfilm in 1981 by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. In the 1990s David Nash and Jane Simpson scanned and OCRed the dictionary section of Scherer’s translation and deposited them as 66 digital files in the Aseda electronic archive.

Here is page 1920 of Reuther’s dictionary.

Unfortunately, in this form the dictionary is difficult to use and to find information easily, especially as there is no English-Dieri index that allows users to look up words by their English translation. Also, Reuther used the missionary spelling which is inconsistent and does not represent the sounds of Dieri very well (compare the entries here with those for thina in Peter Austin’s draft dictionary page shown in this previous blog post).

Over the last few years Bernhard Schebeck has been processing the Scherer dictionary translation files (including some work as part of the current ILS revitalisation project) to mark them up for the type of content (Dieri word, part of speech, English translation etc) and to create an English to Dieri listing. This is very useful, but the materials are still not yet fully usable or widely available.

The Dieri Aboriginal Corporation has now decided to fund a project by David Nathan of ELAR at SOAS to create a web version of the Reuther dictionary, building on and extending Scherer’s and Schebeck’s work. We hope that a hypertext version of Reuther’s dictionary will be available on the internet next year.

Note: The title of this blog consists of the familiar Dieri yawarra ‘Dieri words/language’, plus a new word kartyimalkarnayitya which is made up of:

kartyimalka the verb root meaning ‘turn over’
-rna the verb ending used to create a dictionary form
-yitya an ending which turns a verb into a noun referring to the person or animal who does the action described by the verb (like the “-er” ending in English: talk – talker (person who talks) or run – runner (person who runs)

The combination yawarra kartyimalka-rna in Dieri is how we say ‘to translate’ — it literally means ‘to turn over words’. So, Dieri yawarra kartyimalkarnayitya means ‘Dieri language translators’ (“the ones who turn over Dieri words”).

We can use this combination of endings -rna-yitya with any verb in Dieri to create a noun that refers to the person who does an action. Here are some examples:

nganthi damarnayitya ‘butcher’ (one who cuts up meat)
yawarra yingkirnayitya ‘preacher’ (one who gives words)
yindrarnayitya ‘crier’ (one who cries)