In 1959 the late Kenneth Hale did an interview at Hermansburg in the Northern Territory with Johannes, a Dieri man who had been born north of Marree in South Australia and who had lived on Bethesda Mission (at Killalpaninna, on Cooper Creek) until it closed in 1915. Johannes then moved to Hermansburg, but fondly remembered his own country and his family and friends still living in South Australia. He spoke to Hale in Dieri, telling him about his early life and his wish to see his family again.
Hale’s recording (a copy of which is to be found on archive tape A4604a in the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) in Canberra) is one of the earliest existing sound recordings of Dieri, and is remarkable since Johannes is very clear and fluent on the recording. Hale made 66 pages of notes of his interview and these can be found in the AIATSIS library as MS 872.
Kenneth Hale kindly gave me permission to use his recording in 1980 and I present the first one and a half minutes here, followed by a transcription and translation of what Johannes said, together with some notes on the grammar. It is hoped that this material will be especially useful for Dieri language learners who wish to study a longer story in Dieri.
Here is my analysis of what is said in Dieri. We give a sentence-by-sentence breakdown below:
Nganhi kupa nganarna wanthiyi. Nganhi, Bethesdanhi kupa darnkarna wanthiyi. Ngardanhi nganhi pirnarirna nhaka. Ngardanhi ngayaninha missionary-li warararna wanthiyi. Ngardanhi ngayani pensioner pantyirna wanthiyi. Ngardanhi nganhi waparna wanthiyi Hermansburg Mission nhaka ngamalha. Nganhi karariyarlu nhingkirda ngamayi Hermansburg. Ngathu ngurrali ngundrarna wanthiyi ngakarni ngura Bethesda. Ngathu pirna ngantyarna wanthiyi nhakanhi thikalha. Ngathu mirluru ngantyayi nhakanhitha thikalha. Ngathu wata ngantyayi nhinha wararalha. Ngathu ngantyayi thangkuparna nhingkarda nhayilha, nhakaldra mitha nhayilha. Ngakarni kupa parlpa nhaka nganayi ngarirnarlu. Ngathu ngantyayi thananha nhayilha. Nganhi thangkuparna nhingkirdanhi wapalha nganayi Marree. Nhaka ngakarni kupa parlpa ngamayi. Thana kupa parlpa ngakarni ngamayi Port Augusta.
I was a child. I was born at Bethesda. Then I grew up there. Then the missionaries left us all. Then we became pensioners. Then I went to Hermansburg Mission to live there. I am living here at Hermansburg until today. I always thought about my home Bethesda. I really want to go back there. I want to go back there. I want in future to see it here, to see the country again. Some of my children are down there. I want to see them. I will go in future to Marree. There some of my children live. Some of those children of mine live in Port Augusta.
Sentence by sentence discussion
1. Nganhi kupa nganarna wanthiyi. ‘I was a child long ago’ — note the distant past auxiliary wanthiyi after ngana-rna ‘to be’
2. Nganhi, Bethesdanhi kupa darnkarna wanthiyi. ‘I was born at Bethesda’ — note the location ‘at Bethesda’ is expressed by the ending -nhi on the place name. Also, in Dieri we use the expression kupa darnka-rna ‘to find a child’ to express ‘to be born’ — in traditional Dieri belief it is the mother who finds the spirit child, which is then born into the world as a baby
3. Ngardanhi nganhi pirnarirna nhaka. ‘Then I grew up there’ — here we find adjective pirna ‘big’ and the ending –ri meaning ‘to become’ so the resulting verb pirnari-rna means ‘to become big, to grow’
4. Ngardanhi ngayaninha missionary-li warararna wanthiyi. ‘Then the missionaries left us all’ — notice the word order here is a little unusual as the object ngayaninha ‘we all (not including you)’ comes before the subject missionary-li. As usual, the verb comes at the end
5. Ngardanhi ngayani pensioner pantyirna wanthiyi. ‘Then we became pensioners’ — the verb pantyi-rna ‘to become’ is used with nouns, including words from English, whereas to express ‘become’ with an adjective, we add the ending –ri- seen with pirnari-rna ‘to become big’ above
6. Ngardanhi nganhi waparna wanthiyi Hermansburg Mission nhaka ngamalha. ‘Then I went to Hermansburg Mission to live there’ — notice that with place names we don’t need to add an ending to show the place we go to (the ending -ya can optionally be added). The -lha on ngama-rna ‘to sit, live’ indicates purpose with the same subject as the previous verb (in this example it is wapa-rna ‘to go’)
7. Nganhi karariyarlu nhingkirda ngamayi Hermansburg. ‘I live here at Hermansburg until today’ — notice the word karariyarlu is made up of karari ‘today, now’ plus the endings -ya ‘to’ and -rlu ‘still, yet’ which together means ‘up till today’
8. Ngathu ngurrali ngundrarna wanthiyi ngakarni ngura Bethesda. ‘I always thought about my home Bethesda’ — be careful to pronounce ngurra meaning ‘always’ with a trilled ‘r’ sound but ngura ‘camp, home’ with a short flapped ‘r’. Also, when we use ngurra ‘always’ in a transitive sentence (one with an object and a subject) it must take the transitive subject marker -li, as in this sentence
9. Ngathu pirna ngantyarna wanthiyi nhakanhi thikalha. ‘I really want to return there’ — to emphasise a verb we use pirna ‘big’ so pirna ngantya-rna means ‘to really want’
10. Ngathu mirluru ngantyayi nhakanhitha thikalha. ‘I really want to go back there’ — the word nhakanhitha is made up of nhaka ‘there’ plus -nhi ‘to’ and -tha ‘old information, something mentioned previously’ (in this example ‘there’ refers to Bethesda, which was mentioned by Johannes before)
11. Ngathu wata ngantyayi nhinha wararalha. ‘I did not want to leave it’ — here we find nhinha ‘him (object)’ used to refer back to Bethesda
12. Ngathu ngantyayi thangkuparna nhingkarda nhayilha, nhakaldra mitha nhayilha. ‘I want in future to see it here, to see the country again’ — the word thangkuparna usually means ‘tomorrow’ but Johannes seems to be using it to mean ‘in future’, not just limited to the day after today
13. Ngakarni kupa parlpa nhaka nganayi ngarirnarlu. ‘Some of my children are down there’ — the word ngarirnarlu means ‘down’ and it is used here to refer to places to the south of Hermansburg, namely Marree and Port Augusta
14. Ngathu ngantyayi thananha nhayilha. ‘I want to see them’ — here thananha ‘them (object)’ refers back to the children
15. Nganhi thangkuparna nhingkirdanhi wapalha nganayi Marree. ‘I will go in future to Marree’ — again, Johannes uses thangkuparna to mean ‘in future’ in general. Notice also that he uses nhingkirdanhi ‘to here (close by the speaker)’ to refer to Marree, probably because it is considered much closer to Hermansburg then where his other children are, namely Port Augusta
16. Nhaka ngakarni kupa parlpa ngamayi. ‘Some of my children live there’ — in this sentence nhaka ‘there (far from speaker and hearer)’ is pointing to Port Augusta
17. Thana kupa parlpa ngakarni ngamayi Port Augusta. ‘Some of those children of mine live in Port Augusta’ — notice that the order of the words kupa parlpa ‘some children’ and ngakarni ‘my’ is different from what we saw in the previous examples above where ngakarni ‘my’ comes before kupa ‘child’ and parlpa ‘some’. This is because we have thana ‘they all, those’ before kupa here so the order must be ‘those child some my’ while in English we say ‘some of those children of mine’
Note: Many thanks to Kenneth Hale for making his recording available to me; he is not responsible for any mistakes here.