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’.

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.

Yawarra pinarru Johannesaya

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.

Translation
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.

Thana Dieri yawarra yathayi nhurru-nhurru

In all human languages, speakers can choose to speak quickly (in Dieri nhurru-nhurru yathayi) or to speak slowly (in Dieri marnka yathayi). Typically, in ordinary conversation with other people who also speak the same language as us we use a quicker more colloquial style, and when talking to others who can’t understand well, or to emphasise something, we can speak more slowly. Dieri speakers can do the same thing, and in a previous blog post we presented some examples of this from Luise Hercus’ recordings of the late Alec Edwards.

In today’s post we focus on some of the common features of Dieri fast speech.

  1. We saw in a previous blog post that Dieri uses auxiliary verbs to express locations in time when an action or event takes place. Here are the forms discussed earlier:
    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

    In fast speech the auxiliary verbs get mashed onto the end of the main verb. Here are two examples — the first one involves the future auxiliary nganayi and comes from Alec Edwards (recorded by Luise Hercus). Listen to this recording of the sentence nganhi yathalha nganayi thanangu ‘I will speak to them’:

    Notice that yathalha ‘speak’ and nganayi ‘will’ sound squashed together. This is clear when Alec repeats the sentence slowly:

    The second example involves the distant past auxiliary wanthiyi and comes from a recording of Aunty Winnie Naylon made by Greg Wilson. Listen to this recording of the sentence nhani pirkirna wanthiyi tyaputyapu schoolanhi ‘She played ball long ago at school’:

    So pirki-rna wanthiyi sounds like pirkirnanthiyi. A similar effect occurs with the recent past auxiliary warayi so that in fast speech pirki-rna warayi ‘played recently’ sounds like pirkirnaurayi. Here is another example that Greg Wilson recorded with Aunty Rene of her saying yini wakararna warayi pinarru ‘You just came old man’. Notice that wakararna warayi gets run together:

    Interestingly, the policeman Samuel Gason published a book in 1874 called “THE MANNERS AND CUSTOMS OF THE DIEYERIE TRIBE OF AUSTRALIAN ABORIGINES” (a reproduction of the book can be seen on this website). It includes some Dieri words and expressions and, interestingly, he recorded the fast conversational forms of verbs and did not write down the slower clearer forms. So his materials include:

    • “I shall love — Athooyoralauni” for ngathu yuralha nganayi
    • “I did or have loved — Athooyooranaori” for ngathu yurarna warayi
    • “Has asked — Achanaori” for ngantyarna warayi

    Notice that Gason’s spelling is not very accurate and he seems not to have heard the sound ng at the beginning of Dieri words!

  2. The sequence ngathu ‘I’ (transitive subject) followed by yinha ‘you’ (transitive object) is often squashed together so instead of ngathu yinha nhayiyi ‘I see you’ in fast speech we would say something that sounds like ngathinha nhayiyi

In a future blog post we will present some stories recorded with speakers in the 1970s that clearly show these fast speech conversational features.