Kanku ngampu purirna warayi

In today’s blog post we look at the cartoon that was presented yesterday, and translate it into English, as well as discuss some grammar points.


Here is what the characters are saying in Dieri with translation into English:

Boy: Ngapiri! Ngapiri! ‘Dad! Dad!’

Man: Minha? ‘What?’

Boy: Nganha nhayiyamayi karlkungarna ‘Look at me jumping!’

Man: Yini karlkungayi manyu marla ‘You are jumping really well’

Man: Ngamamayi! Yini puriyathi ‘Sit down! You might fall down’

We have seen all the grammar constructions used here in previous posts — the forms for ordering someone to do something nhayiyamayi ‘Look!’ and ngamamayi ‘Sit down!’ were discussed in this blog post and the use of the ending -yathi for something bad that might happen, as in puriyathi ‘might fall down’, was discussed in this blog post.

Notice that in the middle box the father could have also said Yini kantyi karlkungayi manyu marla ‘You can jump really well’ using the little word kantyi which means ‘can, be able to do’.

The title of this blog post contains another useful little word ngampu which means ‘almost, nearly’. So the title means ‘The boy almost fell down’. Other examples of its use are:

Ngandri ngampu muka thurararna warayi ‘Mother nearly fell asleep’

Nhinha waldrali ngampu nharingankarna wanthiyi ‘The heat almost killed him long ago’

Kanku karlkungayi

Today’s cartoon includes some simple expressions that we have seen before (you might find it useful to revise this blog post and this blog post). You can click on the cartoon to see a bigger version in a new window.


Here is what the characters are saying in Dieri:

Boy: Ngapiri! Ngapiri!

Man: Minha?

Boy: Nganha nhayiyamayi karlkungarna

Man: Yini karlkungayi manyu marla

Man: Ngamamayi! Yini puriyathi

Can you work out what the cartoon is about? We have seen all the words before, except for karlkunga-rna which means ‘to jump’. Try to understand the dialogue and how the Dieri language is being used.

The translation and a discussion of the cartoon will be in the next blog post.

Kanku ya mankarra

In Dieri the word ya ‘and’ can be used to link two words together to express the idea of ‘A and B’. For example:

kanku ya mankarra ‘boys and girls’
nganthi ya puka ‘meat and vegetable food’
mara ya thidna ‘hand and foot’

Note that this combination acts like a single unit in Dieri and so if we need to express a meaning that involves adding an ending, then we can just add it to the last word and both will be included. Here is an example:

ngapiri ngamayi kanku ya mankarranhi ‘Father is sitting with the boys and girls’
kanku ya mankarrali nganha nhayirna warayi ‘The boys and girls saw me’

Alternatively, we can add the ending to both of the elements linked by ya, as in:

ngapiri ngamayi kankunhi ya mankarranhi ‘Father is sitting with the boys and girls’
kankuyali ya mankarrali nganha nhayirna waray ‘The boys and girls saw me’

These two sentences mean the same as the previous two and it is up to you whether you add the ending to both words linked by ya or just the last one.

When we have a word identifying a person or thing (a noun) that is modified or described by an adjective, then the noun plus adjective can be linked by ya as well, as in:

nhulu nganthi karti ya ngapa marra manirna warayi ‘He got raw meat and fresh water’

Notice here that ya is linking together nganthi karti ‘raw meat’ (karti means ‘raw’) and ngapa marra ‘fresh water’ (marra means ‘fresh’ or ‘new’).

We can also link together actions words (verbs) with ya, as in:

nhawu thikayi ya muka thurarayi ‘He comes back and sleeps’
nhulu nganthi damarna wanthiyi ya thayirna wanthiyi ‘He cut up the meat and ate it long ago’

To express contrast between two ideas we can link two sentences together in Dieri with ngarla meaning ‘but’, as in:

ngathu nhinha ngantyayi ngarla wata ngathu yinanha ngantyayi ‘I like him but I don’t like you’
nganthi wapayi warliya ngarla wata ngathu wirrilha nganayi ‘I am going over to the house but I won’t go inside’

There is another useful word in Dieri that can link nouns, verbs and sentences together — it is kara which means ‘or’, as in these examples of A kara B:

kanku kara mankarra pirkiyi nhaka ‘Boys or girls are playing over there’
ngathu ngantyayi warrukathi kara karlathurra thayilha ‘I like to eat emu or wild turkey’

Notice that we can also say A kara B kara to mean ‘either A or B’ (but not both), as in:

kanku kara mankarra kara pirkiyi nhaka ‘Either boys or girls are playing over there’
ngathu ngantyayi warrukathi kara karlathurra kara thayilha ‘I like to eat either emu or wild turkey’

We can also link pronouns together with kara, as in this example which comes from a story:

waranha tyika nganayi, yini kara nganhi kara? ‘Who is wrong, either you or me?’

Notice here we have kara after both words because either I am wrong or you are wrong (but we both cannot be, according to the speaker).

Finally, kara can link together two whole sentences, as in:

nganhi wapalha nganayi kara nhingkirda ngamalha nganayi ‘Either I will go or I will stay here’

So, you can see that ya, ngarla and kara are useful little linking words in Dieri.

Minha thandra nhawuya?

The Dieri language has a very helpful word thandra that has several different uses, but mainly refers to small round objects attached to some other larger object.

One of its main uses is with names of plants to refer to their fruit or seeds. The general terms are:

puka thandra ‘edible fruit or seed’ — where puka means ‘vegetable food (not meat)’
pawa thandra ‘plant seed’ — where pawa means ‘seed’

The names of the fruits or seeds of specific trees or plants consist of the plant name followed by thandra. An example is:

malka thandra ‘seed of mulga tree’ (photo from this website)


Other examples are:

karlku thandra ‘seed of bulrushes’
tharlpa thandra ‘seed of kind of bush’
yawa thandra ‘corm (fruit) of onion grass’


A second main use is to refer to things in nature, including:

dirtyi thandra ‘grain of drifting sand’
karku thandra ‘piece of red ochre’
maru thandra ‘piece of black ochre’
mirka thandra ‘ants eggs’
ngapa thandra ‘drop of water’
thalara thandra ‘rain drop’
thurla thandra ‘piece of a stone chisel’

The third use is with the names of parts of the body — again these are generally small round parts attached to something else:

marna thandra ‘tooth’ (marna is ‘mouth’)
milki thandra ‘eyeball’ (milki is ‘eye’)
ngama thandra ‘nipple’ (ngama is ‘breast’)
pantya thandra ‘kneecap’ (pantya is ‘knee’)

We also find mangathandra ‘head’ but because there is no separate word manga in Dieri we write this all as one word. Interestingly, Dieri also has a word mangawarru ‘widow’ (a woman whose husband has died) — this is a single word in Dieri now but it might be made up of an old word manga ‘head’ and the word warru ‘white’. In the old days Dieri people used to put a white cap made of gypsum on the heads of widows to show they were in mourning for their dead husbands. When the mourning period was over the cap would be taken off the widow’s head and placed on the dead man’s grave (photo from Australian Museum).


The widow’s cap was made by women who first cut the hair of the mangawarru and placed a pirli ‘net made of human hair or plant fibres’ on her head. They then mixed gypsum (the soft white mineral that is used to make plaster) with water to make a fine paste that they painted on in layers. When it was finished the cap could be 10 centimetres thick, and weigh between 2 kilograms and 7 kilograms. Imagine carrying that around on your mangathandra all day!


In Dieri country we can often see an animal that is called in Dieri warrukathi and in English ’emu’. Its scientific name is Dromaius novaehollandiae.


The emu is a special animal for a number of reasons:

  • in English we call the emu a ‘bird’, but in Dieri it is not considered to be a paya, because it cannot fly. Only birds like karrawara ‘eaglehawk’ (see this previous post) or thindrithindri ‘willy wagtail’ are considered to be paya in Dieri
  • there is a special word ngarru for ’emu feathers’ which is different from kutya the term for feathers of all other birds


    Traditionally, ngarru were used to make a special kind of shoes called maltharra that were worn by thidnanipa the men on a revenge expedition, which is called pinya in Dieri. Such an expedition would be organised when someone had committed a major crime, or someone died of unknown causes and people suspected foul play by some other group. The emu feather shoes would not leave a track so the identity of the thidnanipa would remain unknown.

  • emus can run fast so we can use the verb mindri-rna ‘to run’ when talking about how the emu moves.


  • warrukathi is used to refer to a constellation in the sky. It is defined by dark clouds visible against the Milky Way background rather than by stars (the way that Europeans define their constellations). The warrukathi manganthara ’emu head’ is the very dark Coalsack nebula, next to the Southern Cross (the stars that are also found on the Australian flag), and the body and legs are other dark clouds trailing out along the Milky Way to the star called Scorpius.


  • the term warrukathi milki ’emu eyes’ is used to describe what are called Australites in English, a kind of small meteor (or tektite) that is usually round and black in colour.


    Europeans found out about warrukathi milki in 1857, when the explorer Thomas Mitchell gave to the famous naturalist Charles Darwin a mysteriously shaped piece of natural black glass. Darwin thought that warrukathi milki must have come from a volcano because they look similar to volcanic glass but he was wrong because they actually come from space.

So, next time you see a warrukathi remember all these new words:

kutya ‘feather of a paya bird that can fly’
maltharra ‘shoes made of emu feathers’
ngarru ’emu feather’
paya ‘bird that can fly’
pinya ‘revenge expedition’
thidnanipa ‘man on a pinya revenge expedition’
warrukathi milki ‘Australite, small meteor’

Nhawuya mawakantyi

Today we look at the dialogue in the continuation of the cartoon story we presented in the previous blog post (click to open a larger version in a new window):


Did you work out what the boy wants from his mother now?

Here is the dialogue and the English translation:

Boy: ngandri! ngandri! ‘Mother! Mother!’
Mother: minha yundru ngantyayi karari? ‘What do you want now?’
Boy: yini mardanthu? ‘Do you have any money?’
Mother: minhandru? ‘Why?’
Boy: ngathu ngantyayi minha kurnu thayilha ‘I want to eat something’
Mother: matya yundru thayirna warayi puka pirna ‘You have already had a lot to eat!’
wapamayi ngathatamara pirkilha ‘Go and play with your older sister’

We have seen all the grammatical structures here before, except for one new thing, and that is minha kurnu ‘something’ — we use this when we are thinking of something but don’t want to name it (in this example the boy is thinking of pizza). If we don’t know what the thing is then we use minhaya ‘something or other’ (we also have waranhaya ‘someone or other’).

Finally, notice that the last thing that the mother says is difficult to translate into English — ngathatamara means ‘a group of two or more people one of whom is called ngathata ‘younger sibling’ by the others’ (the uses of -mara are explained near the bottom of this blog post. We know from the previous cartoon that the boy has an older sister so I have translated this sentence as ‘Go and play with your older sister’, but depending on the context it could also mean ‘Go and play with your older (or younger) brother(s) (or sister(s))’. If the mother wanted to be a bit clearer she could have said kaku-mara instead, which would have meant ‘a group of two or more people one of whom is called kaku ‘older sister’ by the others’.

And the title of the previous blog? We can translate it as ‘The greedy boy’ since kanku means ‘boy’ and mawakantyi means ‘someone who is hungry all the time’. The title of today’s blog post can be translated ‘He is a greedy one’.

Kanku mawakantyi

Here is the continuation of the story from the previous cartoon. It uses words and grammar discussed in the last blog, plus a couple of expressions introduced earlier (click to open a larger version in a new window):


Can you work out what the boy wants from his mother now? You might find it useful to go back and review the previous cartoon and blog post.

Here are a few additional words you might need:

  • minhandru ‘why?’ — this consists of minha ‘what’ and the ending -ndru ‘from’
  • minha kurnu ‘something’ — this is made up of minha ‘what’ and kurnu ‘one’
  • ngathata ‘younger brother or sister’
  • pirki-rna ‘to play’
  • pirna ‘big, a lot’
  • puka ‘vegetable food’ — this covers any food that is not nganthi ‘meat’ so includes bread, damper, vegetables, fruit, cereals, beans, and rice

We will give the dialogue, translation, and discussion for this cartoon in the next blog post.

Note: To translate the title of this post you might want to review this previous post.

Nganhi marda padni — yini mardanthu — nhawu mardamara

I yesterday’s blog post we presented another cartoon in the Dieri language. Here it is again:


Here is the dialogue, together with the English translation — did you work it out for yourself also?

Boy: ngandri! ngandri! ‘Mother! Mother!’
Mother: minha yundru ngantyayi? ‘What do you want?’
Boy: nganhi mawali nganayi ‘I am hungry’
nganha marda yingkiya ‘Give me some money!’
Mother: nganhi marda padni ‘I’m broke’
karari wata ngathu marda ngamalkayi ‘I don’t have any money now’
yini karlkamayi thangkuparnayarlu ‘You wait until tomorrow!’

We have seen all the grammatical structures here before, except for one new thing, and that is how to express a situation where you don’t have something.

In Dieri to say ‘don’t have X’ where X is a thing (a noun) you simply say X padni where padni means ‘no, none’. You can use this as a statement or a question, as in these examples:

  • nganhi marda padni ‘I don’t have any money, I’m broke’
  • yini mutuka padni? ‘You don’t have a car?’
  • karna tyata padni ‘The man does not have a shirt’
  • ngaldra nhuwa padni ‘We two are without a spouse, we two are unmarried’ (Dieri nhuwa means ‘wife’ for a man, and ‘husband’ for a woman — we use the English word ‘spouse’ to cover these meanings)
  • ngayana warli padni ‘We all don’t have a house, we have nowhere to live’

Alternatively, we can use the particle wata ‘not’ plus the verb ngamalka-rna ‘to have’ in a transitive sentence with a subject and an object, as in (notice that for some words the transitive subject has a different form from the intransitive subject that we saw above):

  • wata ngathu marda ngamalkayi ‘I don’t have any money, I’m broke’
  • wata yundru mutuka ngamalkayi? ‘You don’t have a car?’
  • wata karnali tyata ngamalkayi ‘The man does not have a shirt’
  • wata ngaldra nhuwa ngamalkayi ‘We two don’t have a spouse, we two are unmarried’
  • wata ngayana warli ngamalkayi ‘We all don’t have a house, we have nowhere to live’

To express having something, there are again two possibilities. We can just use ngamalka-rna ‘to have’, as in:

  • ngathu marda ngamalkayi ‘I have money’
  • yundru mutuka ngamalkayi? ‘Do you have a car?’
  • karnali tyata ngamalkayi ‘The man has a shirt’
  • ngaldra nhuwa ngamalkayi ‘We two have spouses, we two are married’
  • ngayana warli ngamalkayi ‘We all have a house’

The second way to express this is to use the ending -nthu attached to the thing that is owned — there is no verb here so we use the intransitive subject form for the person who is the owner, as in:

  • nganhi mardanthu ‘I have money’
  • yini mutukanthu? ‘Do you have a car?’
  • karna tyatanthu ‘The man has a shirt’
  • ngaldra nhuwanthu ‘We two have spouses, we two are married’
  • ngayana warlinthu ‘We all have a house’

There is another alternative as well, and that is to use the ending -mara instead of -nthu — both -mara and -nthu mean exactly the same:

  • nganhi mardamara ‘I have money’
  • yini mutukamara? ‘Do you have a car?’
  • karna tyatamara ‘The man has a shirt’
  • ngaldra nhuwamara ‘We two have spouses, we two are married’
  • ngayana warlimara ‘We all have a house’

When -mara is used with a word that refers to a relative, like nhuwa ‘spouse’ or kaku ‘older sister’ then X-mara creates a noun that means ‘two or more people, one of whom is called X by the others’. So we have:

  • nhuwa-mara ‘a married couple’
  • kaku-mara ‘an older sister and her brothers and/or sisters’
  • ngandri-mara ‘a mother and her children’
  • ngapiri-mara ‘a father and his children’
  • kadnhini-mara ‘a grandmother and her grandchildren’

To be clear about the number of people involved, we can use pula ‘they two’ or thana ‘they all’ together with these words:

  • pula kakumara wakarayi ‘an older sister and one younger sister or brother are coming’
  • thana kakumara wakarayi ‘an older sister and two or more younger sisters or brothers are coming’

And so on for the other relationship terms.

Note: The title of this blog means ‘I have no money — you have money — he has money’.

Nganhi marda padni

Today’s blog post features another cartoon that contains some ordinary everyday use of the Dieri language.


Here is the dialogue in Dieri. See if you can work out what it means in English (Hint: look back at the previous blog post — some extra new words you might need are given at the bottom of this page, along with some links to where you can find out about the grammar for these words).

Boy: ngandri! ngandri!
Mother: minha yundru ngantyayi?
Boy: nganhi mawali nganayi
nganha marda yingkiya
Mother: nganhi marda padni
karari wata ngathu marda ngamalkayi
yini karlkamayi thangkuparnayarlu

New words

  • karlka-rna ‘to wait’ — for grammar click here
  • marda ‘stone, money’
  • mawa ‘hunger’ — for grammar click here
  • ngamalka-rna ‘to have’
  • nganha ‘me’ — transitive object form (for grammar click here)
  • padni ‘no, none’
  • thangkuparna ‘later, tomorrow’ — for grammar click here
  • yingki-rna ‘to give’ — for grammar click here

In the next blog post we will give the translation and discuss this cartoon. In the meantime, try to work out how the Dieri language is being used for yourself.

Dieri yawarra kupa wakaya

Today’s Dieri language post is for our younger readers (or for older readers to share with younger language learners — if you click on the panel you will see it full size in a new window, which you can then print out if you want to).


Here is the dialogue and its translation going left to right.

Boy: wardaru yini kaku? ‘How are you older sister?’
Girl: matya nganhi manyu ‘I’m fine.’
minha yundru ngankayi? ‘What are you doing?’
Boy: nganhi wapayi schoolanhi ‘I am going to school.’
yundru ngantyayi wapalha ngakangu? ‘Do you want to walk with me?’
Girl: pulu nganhi wapayi karari ‘I can’t go now.’
ngandri ngakarni muntya ‘My mother is sick.’

Here are the words in this dialogue — we have seen them all in previous blog posts but you can revise them here:

  • kaku ‘older sister’ – but note that in Dieri we can use this term for both actual older sisters and for classificatory older sisters, that is, a girl who is like an older sister, such as an older female cousin
  • karari ‘now, today’
  • manyu ‘well, fine’
  • matya ‘just, OK’
  • minha ‘what?’
  • muntya ‘sick, ill, unwell’ – this is the opposite of manyu ‘well, fine’
  • ngakangu ‘with me’ – this is the location form
  • ngakarni ‘my’ – this is the possessor form
  • ngandri ‘mother’ – this word is also used traditionally for ‘mother’s sister’, your aunt on your mother’s side
  • nganhi ‘I’ – the intransitive subject form
  • ngankayi ‘be doing’ – this is made up of the verb root nganka-rna ‘to do, work, make’ and the ending -yi ‘present tense, doing now’
  • ngantyayi ‘want’ – this is made up of the verb root ngantya-rna ‘to want, like’ and the ending -yi ‘present tense, doing now’
  • pulu ‘cannot’ – this word must come before the verb (the action word in the sentence)
  • schoolanhi ‘to school’ — this is made up of the English noun school and the ending -nhi ‘location, in(to) a place’
  • wapayi ‘be going, be walking’ – this is made up of the verb root wapa-rna ‘to go, walk’ and the ending -yi ‘present tense, doing now’
  • wapalha ‘to go, to walk’ – this is made up of the verb root wapa-rna ‘to go, walk’ and the ending -lha ‘in order to’ when the subject is the same as the subject of the previous verb (in this example ngantyayi ‘want’)
  • wardaru ‘how?’
  • yini ‘you (one person)’ – the intransitive subject form
  • yundru ‘you (one person)’ – the transitive subject form

Note: The title of today’s post means ‘Dieri language for young children’. I made this cartoon with Make Beliefs Comix, a free website where you can create your own comics and print them out — give it a try and make your own Dieri language comic!