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 Reuther left Killalpaninna in 1906, after 18 years as a missionary; his massive collection of unpublished materials are now in the South Australian Museum.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)

One thought on “Dieri yawarra kartyimalkarnayitya

  1. Pingback: Nhawuya kurikantyi | Ngayana Diyari Yawarra Yathayilha

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