All languages in the world have short expressions that can be used by themselves to express emotions or feelings, or to fill up silence when we can’t think of a word or anything to say. We can call these interjections or exclamations.

Here are some useful expressions of this type in Dieri, firstly, to fill in space while you think:

aa ‘um, ah, er’ (when you can’t think of anything to say)
minhaya ‘what’s-it, whatchamacallit, thingummy’ (when you can’t remember the name of something)
waranhaya ‘who’s-i-whatsit, someone-or-other’ (when you can’t remember the name of someone)

Here are some words to express emotions or feelings. To disagree with someone:

wata! ‘No!’

malhantyi marla! ‘Really bad!’

madlhantyi marla! ‘Really bad!’

To agree:

kawu! ‘Yes!’

matya ngumu! ‘That’s good!’

To express sorrow and sympathy for someone who has suffered from something bad:

nguyala! ‘Poor thing!’

To express surprise at something unexpected happening:

yakayayi! ‘Oh heck!, oh my goodness!’

Even if you don’t speak much Dieri you can still express yourself with these useful little words.

Note: Thanks to Greg Wilson and the Dieri Language Committee for sharing the sound recordings used in this post.

Yathani yaruldramatha

man bites dog
In English the order of words in a sentence is important and switching words around can drastically change the meaning. So:

The dog bit the man

does not mean the same thing as:

The man bit the dog

In English the subject (person or thing doing the action) comes first, the verb (action word) comes next and finally the object (person or thing affected by the action) comes at the end. In English we always have subject-verb-object.

In Dieri, the functions of the words in a sentence are indicated by the endings that they take. So, the subject of a transitive sentence (one that involves two participants) takes the ending -li or -yali while the object does not take an ending. Look at these examples:

karnali kinthala matharna warayi ‘The man bit the dog’
kinthalali karna matharna warayi ‘The dog bit the man’

Because they have different endings, we can switch the order of the words in Dieri without changing the meaning (the verb normally goes at the end of Dieri sentences):

kinthala karnali matharna warayi ‘The man bit the dog’
karna kinthalali matharna warayi ‘The dog bit the man’

So, even though the one affected comes first in these sentences we know who does the action because of the -li ending.

English allows a little bit of variation when we add things like places to describe a situation, but you cannot switch around subjects and objects without changing the meaning:

John took his sister from Adelaide to Port Augusta
John took his sister to Port Augusta from Adelaide

Here there is a shift in emphasis but the meaning is the same. If we switch the subject and object, however, the meaning changes completely:

His sister took John from Adelaide to Port Augusta
His sister took John to Port Augusta from Adelaide

Now, in Dieri there is a lot more freedom to change around word order because of the role that the endings play. For example, when Aunty Rene was asked how to say the following:

I want to teach my children my language

she said in Dieri:

ngathu ngantyayi ngakarni kupa kirringankalha ngakarni yawarra

Word-by-word this is: ‘I-subject want my child to-teach my language’

When Aunty Winnie was asked how to say the same thing, she said in Dieri:

ngathu ngantyayi yawarra kirringankalha ngakarni kupa-kupa

Word-by-word this is: ‘I-subject want language to-teach my child’

(Aunty Winnie uses kupa-kupa ‘small child’, while Aunty Rene just uses kupa ‘child’. Remember that Dieri does not generally make a difference between one or more than one person or thing, so kupa means ‘child’ or ‘children’. To be more specific we can say kupa-wara ‘children’ which uses the ending -wara meaning ‘three or more’.)

So, don’t be surprised when speaking Dieri that words can occur in different orders but the meaning stays the same.

Note: The title of today’s post yathani yaruldramatha means ‘talking the same’: yathani is a noun based on the verb yatha-rna ‘to speak, talk’ while yaruldramatha means ‘same, identical’.

Welcome (back) to the Dieri language blog

Welcome to the Dieri language blog where you can learn about the Dieri language which is spoken in the far north of South Australia. For more details about Dieri click here.

If you are new to this blog you will find it contains about 70 posts that present materials of different types — songs, stories, conversations, words and meanings, grammar descriptions, cartoons, games and information about the Dieri people and their history and culture. All of the posts are classified according to their topic and general area of interest, and you can access all the posts on a particular topic by clicking on the “Categories” links that are listed on the lower left of this page (so if you want to see all the comics just click on “Comics” category). Most of the language learning posts are classified according to level (introductory, intermediate, advanced) so if you are starting out click on the “Introductory” category and read the posts from the oldest to the most recent, because later posts build upon information in earlier posts.

If you are coming back after a time away, it can be good to refresh your memory of Dieri by choosing the topic or level from the “Categories” list and reviewing your knowledge from oldest post to most recent post so that you are fully up-to-date with what you have learned about the Dieri language.

If you are a regular reader, great to see you again! You can write comments on blog posts, or “like” them on Facebook and Twitter, or you might even like to “follow” us and get notified when a new post is put up.

Ngakarni parlku

Today we will learn Dieri words for internal parts of the body.


You can click on the picture to see it full size. Here are the names for body organs and their pronunciation in Dieri, starting from the head and moving down the body:

tyuru ‘brain’
muku ‘bone’
puwa ‘marrow’
kuldrumuku ‘spine’
pankithirri ‘ribs’
thiltya ‘sinew’
kundrukundru ‘nasal mucus, snot’
kangu ‘sweat’
kumarri ‘blood’
ngarangara ‘heart’
punnga ‘lungs’
kadlhu ‘liver’
pundrapundra ‘kidneys’
kunangandri ‘intestines’
mandra ‘stomach’

You might find is useful to draw your own picture of the human body (or print out the one above) and then add labels in Dieri to all the parts. You can also create matching games, or bingo games, from the materials we have presented today as a way of learning and practising these Dieri words.

Note: The title of today’s post ngakarni parku means ‘my body’. Thanks to Greg Wilson and the Dieri Language Committee for sharing the picture and Dieri language recordings.

Nhawurdatha nganhi!

Here is the comic we presented in the last blog post:

Here is what the two characters (Thidnamara ‘Frog’ on the left, and Mawakantyi ‘Greedy’ on the right) are saying:

Thidnamara: wardaru yini mawakantyi? ‘How are you?’
Mawakantyi: matya nganhi manyu ‘I’m fine’
Thidnamara: waranha nhaniya? ‘Who is she?’
Mawakantyi: nhaniya ngakarni papa ‘She is my aunt’
Thidnamara: waranha nhawurda? ‘Who is he?’
Mawakantyi: nhawurda ngakarni kaka ‘He’s my uncle’
Mawakantyi: nhawurdatha nganhi! ‘This is me!’

The English translation misses some important parts of the meaning in the Dieri original because English does not have a way to express certain concepts, like the distance someone is from the speaker. Notice that Frog uses nhaniya to refer to the aunt who is a little distance away, using the ending -ya. But when he points to the uncle who is understood to be right close by he uses nhawurda with the ending -rda that means ‘close by’. Similarly, when Greedy sees himself on the computer screen he uses nhawurda because it is close by (he could reach out and touch it) — he also adds the ending -tha which indicates old information, something that everyone can see and know about. Notice if the character was female she would say nhanirdatha nganhi! ‘This is me!’ using the female term for ‘this, she’.

You can use these expressions by yourself or in a group to practise Dieri in several ways. One possibility is to draw pictures of your relatives (and yourself!) and write the term for their relation to you in Dieri under the picture. Then place them on a table at various distances away and practice saying things like nhawurda ngakarni kaka ‘This (right here) is my uncle’ or nhaniwa ngakarni ngandri ‘That (far away) is my mother’. You can also do this with a friend as question and answer pairs, like:

Question: waranha yingkarni kaka ‘Who is your uncle?’
Answer: nhawurda ngakarni kaka ‘This (nearby) is my uncle’


Question: nhaniya yingkarni kaku kara yingkarni ngathata ‘Is this your older sister or your younger sister?’
Answer: nhaniya ngakarni kaku ‘This is my older sister’

If you can use Powerpoint you can also scan the pictures with their Dieri relation terms, and create a Powerpoint show with them, one on each slide, and then narrate the slides in Dieri as you present them. You can end your presentation with nhawurdatha nganhi! or nhanirdatha nganhi!, depending on whether you are male or female.

Note: Thanks to Greg Wilson and the Dieri Language Committee for sharing some of the materials and ideas in this blog post.

Waranha nhawurda?

Today’s comic talks about different relations:


Here is what the two characters (Thidnamara ‘Frog’ on the left, and Mawakantyi ‘Greedy’ on the right) are saying — to help understand them you might have a look back at this blog post and this blog post. For some of the dialogue listen to the recordings of Aunty Rene and Aunty Winnie below:

Thidnamara: wardaru yini mawakantyi?
Mawakantyi: matya nganhi manyu
Thidnamara: waranha nhaniya?
Mawakantyi: nhaniya ngakarni papa
Thidnamara: waranha nhawurda?
Mawakantyi: nhawurda ngakarni kaka
Mawakantyi: nhawurdatha nganhi!

Listen to Aunty Rene and Aunty Winnie saying part of the dialogue:

nhaniya ngakarni papa

nhawurda ngakarni kaka

nhawurdatha nganhi!

In the next blog post we will look at the translation of this dialogue and also some ways it can be used in language learning activities, either by yourself or in a group, such as in a classroom.

Note: Thanks to Greg Wilson and the Dieri Language Committee for sharing their sound recordings.

Mithanhi ngamamayi!


Today we present another Dieri language game similar to the one in yesterday’s post.

One person is chosen to be Mayatha ‘boss’ and the others stand in a straight line in front of Mayatha.

Mayatha calls out an order in Dieri for the others to follow. It begins like this:

Mithanhi ngamamayi ‘Sit on the ground!’

You can replace the first word with other places to sit, as in:

Mithanhi ngamamayi ‘Sit on the ground!’

Pulawanhi ngamamayi ‘Sit on the floor!’

Tyiyanhi ngamamayi ‘Sit on the chair!’

The person who is Mayatha should try to trick the others and say the sentence wrong by leaving out the ending -nhi indicating location, as in this example:

Mitha ngamamayi

If anyone sits down when they hear this command they are out of the game.

Keep going until only one person is left who has not been tricked. That person then can play Mayatha.

You can also use this game to practice colours in Dieri. If you have coloured chairs then put several of each colour mixed up in a big circle around the players and the Mayatha calls out the names of each coloured chair that the people playing the game have to sit on. (If you don’t have coloured chairs you can put coloured postit notes on the chairs or write colour names in Dieri and stick them on the chairs.) Anyone who sits on a chair of the wrong colour it out of the game.

Here are the colours you can use:

maru ‘black’
warru ‘white’
marralyi ‘red’
kulyakulya ‘green’

So the Mayatha would call out:

Tyiya warrunhi ngamamayi ‘Sit on the white chair!’

Tyiya kulyakulyanhi ngamamayi ‘Sit on the green chair!’

Tyiya marralyanhi ngamamayi ‘Sit on the red chair!’

If you think that it might be too rowdy or dangerous to sit on the chairs the Mayatha can say mara kurramayi ‘put your hand!’ instead:

Tyiya warrunhi mara kurramayi ‘Put your hand on the white chair!’

Tyiya kulyakulyanhi mara kurramayi ‘Put your hand on the green chair!’

Tyiya marralyanhi mara kurramayi ‘Put your hand on the red chair!’

Anyone who makes a mistake is out of the game.

The game continues until there is only one player left. The last player left can now play at being Mayatha.

Note: Thanks to Greg Wilson and the Dieri Language Committee for the idea for this game and for the sound recordings.