Kararaya yawarra — word of the week: mudlha

Today we look at the Diyari word mudlha (also pronounced mulha) which can be translated into English as ‘face’ and ‘nose’, but also has a wider range of other uses. It is also found in a lot of idioms — ways of speaking where the parts do not necessarily add up to the meaning of the whole (like English ‘kick the bucket’ to mean ‘to die’).

Here are some examples showing the different uses:

  1. ‘nose’
    • thanali muku kurrarna wanthiyi mudlhanhi ‘They used to put a bone in their noses long ago’
    • mudlha kilthi ‘snot, nasal mucus’
    • mudlha murru ‘dried crust of snot under the nose’
    • mudlha kumarri ‘nosebleed’
    • mudla wirlpa ‘nostril, hole in nose’
    • mudla durru ‘hook of the nose’
    • mudlha ngankarna ‘to rub the nose’ (ngankarna generally means ‘to do, make’)
    • nganhi mudlha pununu parrayi ‘my nose is itching’. People believe that when your nose itches then someone must be talking about you behind your back.
  2. ‘tip of a body part’
    • mara mudlha ‘tip of the finger’ (mara means ‘hand, finger’)
    • thidna mudla ‘tiptoe’ (thidna means ‘foot, toe’)
  3. ‘tip or edge of something in nature’
    • ngarrimatha mudlha ‘the edge of rising flood waters’
    • wathara mudlha ‘the edge of an approaching windstorm’
    • daku mudlha ‘the point of a sandhill’
    • karirri mudlha ‘the line of trees marking the edge of watercourse or creek’
    • pirta mulha ‘the thick end of a fallen tree’
    • kalku mudlha ‘the bottom end of a reed where is is broken off the root or stalk’
  4. ‘tip or end of something that people make’
    1. katu mudlha ‘the end of a windbreak’
    2. palthu mudlha ‘the end of a road or path’
    3. marda mudlha ‘the pointed end of a grinding stone’
  5. ‘face’
    • mudlha ngumu ‘beautiful, attractive face’
    • mudlha manyu ‘friendly face’
    • mudlha kurlikirri ‘clean washed face’
    • mudlha dulyardulya ‘dirty face’
    • mudlha malka ‘stripes painted on the face’. Traditionally, when someone died the women would paint their faces with black and white stripes using charcoal and gypsum

Here are some idioms that use mudlha where the overall meaning is not predictable from the other words in the expression:

  • mudlha putyu (literally ‘face blind’) ‘not paying attention when something bad could be predicted to happen’, for example, minhandru yundru kupa yinparna warayi ngapa padninhi? Yidni mudlha putyu?. ‘Why did you send the children out without any water? Couldn’t you see (they would nearly die of thirst)?
  • mudlha yarkirna (literally ‘face burn’) ‘to look angry’
  • mudlha pirtarirna (literally ‘face become wood’) ‘to become sullen, surly, glum’
  • mudlha wararna (literally ‘face throw’) ‘to pull a long face, to look sad or disapproving’
  • mudlha thiri pardakarna (literally ‘face angry take’) ‘to make up, become reconciled with someone’. When two people are upset with each other meet and make up then they take the angry faces away.
  • mudlha wathirna (literally ‘face search’) ‘to look for someone among a group of people’
  • mudlha punthiparna (literally ‘face separate’) ‘to separate people into two groups and send them on their way’
  • mudlha matharna (literally ‘nose bite’) ‘to give someone the cold shoulder, for a woman to turn down an offer of marriage’
  • mudlha murruwarna (literally ‘nose scratch’) ‘to beat around the bush, to ask for something indirectly’
  • mudlha ngurdarna (literally ‘face stretch’) ‘to hurry ahead of someone’
  • mudlha kutya (literally ‘face feather’) ‘leader of a revenge expedition’. Traditionally, when someone died a group of men called a pinya would be sent out to avenge the death by killing someone from another group. The leader of the pinya is called mudlha kutya because they have feathers stuck on their face with blood.

Words in the examples :

durrubent over
karirricreek, watercourse
kilthijuice, liquid
kupachild, children
kurrarnato put
kutyafeather of a bird (not emu)
malkamark, line, stripe
manyugood, sweet
marahand, finger
mardastone, rock, money
matharnato bite
murruwarnato scratch
ngankarnato make, to do
ngurdarnato stretch
padninone, nothing
palthuroad, path
parrayiis lying down (of inanimate objects)
pinyarevenger expedition
pirtatree, wood
pirtarirnato be come wood
punthiparnato separate, divide in two
thidnafoot, toe
wararnato throw
wirlpahole in solid object
yarkirnato burn
yinparnato send

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.

Nhingkirda, nhingkiya, nhingkiwa, nhaka

The previous blog post presented a comic where the characters talk about ‘this’ and ‘that’ and ‘here’ and ‘there’ in Dieri. Here it is again:


Here is what the two characters are saying (Warrangantyu means ‘left, left-hand’ and is the character on the left, and Ngunyari means ‘right, right-hand’ and is the character on the right in each panel):

Warrangantyu: minha nhawuwa? ‘What’s that?’
Ngunyari: wirdirdi? nhingkirda? ‘Where? Here?’
Warrangantyu: wata! nhawuparra nhingkiwa ‘No, that one, there’
Ngunyari: nhaka? pirtanhi? ‘There? In the tree?’
Warrangantyu: wata yaruka warritha marla ‘Not that far away’
Ngunyari: aa nhingkiwa ‘Oh, there’
Warrangantyu: kawu ‘Yes’
Ngunyari: nhawuparramatha mutaka ngakarni ngapiraya ‘That’s my father’s car’

English has only two words ‘this’ and ‘that’ to talk about things, and ‘here’ and ‘there’ to talk about locations. Dieri has more terms and is able to make subtle contrasts that are lacking in English.

To point out something we can use the words nhani ‘she, this’ for females and nhawu ‘he, it, this’ for everything else (these are the forms we use for intransitive subject in Dieri — the full set of forms for other functions are listed in this blog post). We can then add to these words endings that show distance from the speaker and the person spoken to:

-rda ‘right next to the speaker’, around 1 metre away
-ya ‘near the speaker’, around 2-3 metres away
-wa ‘far from speaker’, over 5 metres away

This gives us the following diagram:


Dieri has two other useful endings:

-parra ‘previously mentioned’, indicates something that the speaker or another person has mentioned previously, or that is being pointed to
-matha ‘identified information’, indicates that the speaker is able to identify the thing being spoken about

This gives us:
nhawuparra ‘this one we were talking about’
nhawumatha ‘this one that I just realised what it is’

You can combine these to give:
nhawuparramatha ‘this one that we were talking about that I just realised what it is’

This is used Ngunyari in the last frame when he realises exactly what it is that Warrangantyu has been pointing to all the time.

Finally, to talk about locations we have the following terms in Dieri (notice that English has only ‘here’ and ‘there’):

nhingkirda ‘here, right next to the speaker’, around 1 metre away
nhingkiya ‘here, near the speaker’, around 2-3 metres away
nhingkiwa ‘there, far from speaker’, over 5 metres away
nhaka ‘there, far from the speaker and the person spoken to’, a long distance away (including places that cannot be seen, like places over a hill or on the other side of the world)

This gives us:


Note: The two characters also use two very useful Dieri words kawu ‘yes’ and wata ‘no’ in their discussion.

Nhawuparra nhingkiwa

Today’s comic is about saying ‘this’ and ‘that’ and ‘here’ and ‘there’ in Dieri.


Here is what the two characters are saying (Warrangantyu is on the left and Ngunyari is on the right in each panel):

Warrangantyu: minha nhawuwa?
Ngunyari: wirdirdi? nhingkirda?
Warrangantyu: wata! nhawuparra nhingkiwa
Ngunyari: nhaka? pirtanhi?
Warrangantyu: wata yaruka warritha marla
Ngunyari: aa nhingkiwa
Warrangantyu: kawu
Ngunyari: nhawuparramatha mutaka ngakarni ngapiraya

Here is the vocabulary you need to understand this conversation:

kawu ‘yes’
marla ‘very’
minha ‘what?’
mutuka ‘car’
ngakarni ‘my’
ngapiraya ‘of father’ (consisting of ngapiri and the ending -ya ‘possessor, of’, with a change in the last vowel of the root element)
nhaka ‘there’
nhawu ‘he, this/that’
nhingki ‘here’
pirtanhi ‘in the tree’ (consisting of pirta ‘tree’ and the ending -nhi ‘in, located at’)
warritha ‘far, distant’
wata ‘no, not’
wirdirdi ‘where?’

There are also some endings that can be added to pronouns like nhawu ‘he, this/that’ and nhani ‘she, this/that’ and to the location word nhingki ‘here’ that appear in this conversation:

-rda ‘right next to the speaker’
-matha ‘identified information’
-parra ‘previously mentioned’
-wa ‘far from speaker’

Using this information, try to understand the conversation and to translate it into English. We will present the translation and some grammar notes in the next blog post.

Note: Thanks to Greg Wilson for suggesting the topic of today’s post.

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.

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!

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.