Learning the Diyari language – Songs

The Diyari Language Blog is not a series of language lessons, and is not meant by itself to teach you how to speak or learn Diyari. The best way to do that is to work together with a member of the Dieri community and follow their pronunciation and expression as a model. Audio recordings can also be a useful help. However, with a bit of effort you can learn about the vocabulary and structure of Diyari, and how the language is used by working your way through the various blog posts on topics you might be interested in (see the list of Categories on the bottom left of this page).

Today, we present a listing of posts about songs, arranged according to their context and their level of difficulty – we suggest you work through them in the order of this listing. If you click on the links you will find sound recordings for most of them that you can listen to and/or download for yourself.

Let us know in the comments below if you enjoyed the songs or if you have any questions about them, or anything to do with the Diyari language.

Children’s songs

  1. Naidoc 2017: kupaya wima – “Children’s song” link
  2. Mangathandra, pilpiri, pantya, thidna – “Head, shoulders, knees and toes” link
  3. Diyari wima – “Diyari songs” translation of “Old MacDonald had a farm” link
  4. Ngayani Australiamara – “We are Australian” link

Adult’s songs

  1. Ngayani yathayatharna warrayi – “We talked to each other” includes the Diyari translation of the chorus for the song “The Cooper’s coming down” by Chris Dodd link
  2. Folsom Prisonanhi – translation of “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash link
  3. Folsom Prisonanhi mandru – second part of translation of “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash link
  4. Folsom Prisonanhi parkulu – third part of translation of “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash link
  5. Folsom Prisonanhi mandru-mandru – fourth part of translation of “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash link

A traditional song

  • Kudnarri wima – “Curlew song” link

Wata nhawu puka padni

In today’s post we learn how to say “no” in Diyari.

The English word “no” corresponds to a number of different expressions in Diyari and it is important to learn how to use them. In answer to a question or a demand we can use the word wata for ‘no’, as in:

Yini wapayi karari? Are you going now?

Wata. No.

Yundru nganthi thayirna warayi? Did you eat the meat?

Wata. No.

Nganha yingkiyamayi! Give it to me!

Wata. No.

We also use wata at the beginning of sentence to negate it, that is, to say ‘do not …’ or ‘did not …’, as in:

Wata nganhi wapayi. I’m not going.

Wata yundru nganthi thayirna warayi. You didn’t eat the meat.

Wata nganha yingkiyamayi! Don’t give it to me!

We also use this to express ‘no-one, nobody’ or ‘nothing’, like the following examples:

Wata karna wakararna warayi. No-one came. (literally, ‘not person came’)

Wata ngathu thayirna minha kurnu. I ate nothing. (literally, ‘not I eat something one’)

When talking about not having something, or lacking something (without X, or X-less), then we use padni after the thing we don’t have rather than wata at the beginning, as in:

Nganhi marda padni. I have no money.

Nhawu puka padni. He has no food.

Nhani mankarra nhintha padni. That girl is shameless (OR That girl has no shame).

Karna thidna padniyali nganha nandrarna warayi. The man with no shoes hit me (OR The man without shoes hit me) .

Kupanhi nhani yatharna warayi kathi padninhi. She spoke to the child with no clothes on (OR I spoke to the child without clothes).

If someone asks if you have something and you don’t have it, then you can simply answer padni, as in:

Yidni mardanthu? Do you have any money?

Padni. ‘None’

Diyari people, like many other Aboriginal groups, can use a hand gesture together with or instead of padni to indicate they have nothing — place one spread hand in front of the body at a 45 degree angle with palm facing away and then rotate it away from the body. (There is a video of a Wangkatjungka man demonstrating this hand sign here — it’s the second one he shows.)

Notice that we can use both expressions in the same sentence, so the title of today’s blog post can be translated as ‘No, he doesn’t have any food’.

Kararaya yawarra — word of the week: thaparna

This is the first of a series of posts discussing Diyari words, roughly one each week.

Diyari has two important words: thayirna, which generally translates as ‘to eat’ and thaparna, which we are going to look at today.

The Diyari word thaparna is generally used when we would say ‘drink’ in English, for example:

  • Ngathu ngapa thapayi ‘I am drinking water’
  • Yundru kupula thaparna warayi ‘You drank beer’
  • Nhulu thirti thapalha nganayi ‘He will drink tea’

However, it is used more widely in Diyari in situations where English might use ‘eat’, ‘suck’ or some other word. Here are some examples showing its wider use:

  • to suck liquid or soft matter out of a container, as in:
    • Kupali ngama thapayi ‘The child is sucking the breast’
    • Thanali paya kapi thapayi ‘They are sucking (the contents out of) the (raw) bird’s eggs’
    • Kankuyali thurintyi thapayi mukundru ‘The boy is sucking marrow out of the bone’
  • to eat, slurp up, or chew on soft or semi-liquid food or fruit [for hard food we use thayirna ‘to eat’], as in:
    • Ngathu ngantyayi kilthi thapalha ‘I like to eat stew’
    • Thanali pawa thapayi ‘They are slurping up ground seed (mixed with water)’
    • Nhandru danyu thapayi ‘She is eating danyu fruit’ [for all soft fruits like grapes or ripe peaches we would say thaparna but for hard fruits like apple then we use thayirna]
  • to kiss, as in [notice the word marna for ‘mouth’]:
    • Ngandriyali kupa marna thapayi ‘The mother is kissing the child’
    • Ngathu yinha marna thapalha nganayi ‘I will kiss you’
    • Karnali parru thapayi ‘The man is kissing a fish’. The missionary Reverend Reuther reports that in the old days when men when fishing with yama ‘nets’ if no fish are caught in the net, one man would go down into the water, whistle into a hollow bone, and sing his mura ancestral song. After this, the first fish to be caught is kissed while the man has bread in his mouth, and then released to swim again, in order to entice other fish into the net.

So remember, thayirna is used for eating hard foods like meat, bread or hard fruit and vegetables, while thaparna is used for eating soft or semi-liquid food and fruit, for kissing, and for drinking liquids.

Words in the examples

danyutype of fruit
kankuyaliboy (active subject form)
kilthijuice, stew
kupalichild (active subject form)
kupulabeer, alcohol, grog
ngamamilk, breast
nganayi‘to be’, also used to indicate future ‘will do’
ngandriyalimother (active subject form)
ngantyarnato like, want’
ngathuI (active subject form)
pawaground seed, flour
thaparnato drink, suck, slurp, kiss
thayirnato eat
thurintyisinew, marrow
yinhayou (one person), object form
yundruyou (one person), active subject form

Saying hello in Diyari

In many languages in the world there are special expressions called “greetings” that are used when we meet someone. For example, English has “hello” or “hi” or “good day”, or we can use expressions that relate to the time of day, like “good morning”, “good afternoon” or “good evening”.

In Diyari, there is nothing equivalent to this, and if you meet someone you don’t know then you would begin the conversation with:

Waranha yini

This means ‘who are you?’ and is made up of:

waranha which means ‘who’

yini which means ‘you’

In the Diyari language there are three ways of saying ‘you’: yini (which can also be pronounced yidni) means ‘you’ when talking to one person, yula (or yudla) means ‘you’ when talking to two people, and yura means ‘you’ when talking to three or more people. So we have:

  • Waranha yini? means ‘Who are you?’ (to one person)
  • Waranha yula? means ‘Who are you?’ (to two people)
  • Waranha yura? means ‘Who are you?’ (to more than two people)

To answer, you simply say nganhi, which means ‘I’ plus your name. In English we have to link these with the word ‘am’ but in Diyari we do not — just place the two words side by side:

Nganhi Peter ‘I am Peter’
Nganhi Mary ‘I am Mary’

The same structure can be used to express ‘you are …’, as in:

Yini Peter ‘You are Peter’
Yini Mary ‘You are Mary’

If you raise the tone of your voice at the end, then this becomes a question:

Yini Peter? ‘Are you Peter?’
Yini Mary? ‘Are you Mary?’

Notice that English requires the order of words to be switched around and ‘are’ to be placed first. In Diyari the question is indicated by a rising tone at the end only.

As an alternative to Waranha yini? we can also say the following:

Waranha yingkarni tharla ‘What is your name?’ (literally ‘Who your name?’)

Notice the new words: yingkarni ‘your’ (speaking to one person) and tharla ‘name’.

As you might have guessed, when speaking to more than one person we use different words:

  • Waranha yingkarni tharla? means ‘What is your name?’ (to one person)
  • Waranha yularni tharla? means ‘What are your names?’ (to two people)
  • Waranha yurarni tharla? means ‘What are your names?’ (to more than two people)

Notice that tharla translates as ‘name’ or ‘names’ — in Diyari words for things that are not alive do not change for singular or plural.

To answer this question you simply say ngakarni tharla, which means ‘my name’ plus your name. Like we saw above, in English we have to use a linking word (this time it’s ‘is’) but in Diyari we do not — just place them side by side:

Ngakarni tharla Peter ‘My name is Peter’
Ngakarni tharla Mary ‘My name is Mary’

The same structure can be used to express ‘your name is …’, as in:

Yingkarni tharla Peter ‘Your name is Peter’
Yingkarni tharla Mary ‘Your name is Mary’

If you raise the tone of your voice at the end, then this becomes a question:

Yingkarni tharla Peter? ‘Is your name Peter?’
Yingkarni tharla Mary? ‘Is your name Mary?’

In the next blog post we will learn how to say hello to someone that you already know.

New words

nganhi ‘I’
ngakarni ‘my’

yini ‘you’ (to one person)
yingkarni ‘your’ (to one person)

yula ‘you’ (to two people)
yularni ‘your’ (to two people)

yura ‘you’ (to more than two people)
yurarni ‘your’ (to more than two people)

waranha ‘who’
tharla ‘name(s)’

Ngayani Australiamara

In 1987 Bruce Woodley, who had been a member of the famous The Seekers singing group, together with Dobe Newton, lead singer of The Bushwackers band, wrote a song (with music by Bruce Woodley) to celebrate the history and diversity of Australia called “I am Australian” (for the lyrics and other details see here).

The chorus of this song has now been translated into a number of languages, including Yawuru from the Kimberley region of Australia — there is an enthusiastic rendition by Broome Primary School students available on the ABC Kimberley Facebook page (click the picture to watch the video).

Here is a translation of the chorus of the song into Diyari, together with the original English words:

ngayani kurnu, ngarla ngayani marpu
ya mitha partyarnandru ngayani nganayi
ngayani ngapitya pardayi ya wima wangkayi yarla
nganhi, yura, ngayani Australiamara

We are one, but we are many
And from all the lands on earth we come
We share a dream and sing with one voice:
I am, you are, we are Australian

Here is what each word means in the Diyari version:

ngayani we all (including you)
kurnu one
ngarla but
ngayani we all (including you)
marpu many
ya and
mitha country, land
partyarnandru from all (made of partyarna ‘all’ and the ending -ndru ‘from’)
ngayani we all (including you)
nganayi are (made of ngana ‘to be’ and the ending -yi ‘present tense’)
ngayani we all (including you)
ngapitya dream
pardayi hold (made of parda ‘to hold’ and the ending -yi ‘present tense’)
ya and
wima song
wangkayi sing (made of wangka ‘to sing’ and the ending -yi ‘present tense’)
yarla together
nganhi I
yura you all
ngayani we all (including you)
Australiamara Australian (made of Australia and the ending mara ‘group of people who are related to one another’)

I hope readers like this Diyari version of the song.


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.

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.

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.

Mayatha yatharna warayi mara kurramayi mangathandranhi


Here is a game that you can play using the Dieri language. It is designed for 4 or more players and is similar to the English game “Simon says”. The game was designed and developed by Greg Wilson and the Dieri Language Committee.

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

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

Mayatha yatharna warayi mara kurramayi ‘The boss said put your hand …’

and ends with a word for some part of the body with the ending -nhi, indicating location. For example mangathandranhi ‘on the head’ or pilpiranhi ‘on the shoulder’.

The action should be followed only when the command ends with a word that has the -nhi ending like Mayatha yatharna warayi mara kurramayi mangathandranhi ‘The boss said put your hand on your head’. Listen to how Aunty Rene says this:

If Mayatha states the action without saying -nhi on the last word and one of the players follows the action, that player must sit down. Listen to the following recording, you will hear several ‘correct’ words and one that is incorrect:

Did you hear which one is incorrect? The recording says: tharlpanhi ‘on your ears’, mulhanhi ‘on your nose’, pilpiri ‘shoulder’, milkinhi ‘on your eye’ and pantyanhi ‘on your knee’. Notice that Aunty Winnie says pilpiri ‘shoulder’ not the correct pilpiranhi. Here it is in a full sentence:

Anyone who does the action of touching their shoulders after hearing Mayatha yatharna warayi mara kurramayi pilpiri would be out of the game and have to sit down.

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

Here are some useful terms for playing the game:

mangathandra ‘head’
para ‘hair’
tharlpa ‘ear’
mulha ‘nose’
marna ‘mouth’
tharli ‘tongue’
marnathandra ‘tooth’
murnampiri ‘chest’
pilpiri ‘shoulder’
thinthipiri ‘elbow’
thuku ‘back’
mandra ‘stomach’
wulu ‘thigh’
pantya ‘knee’
thina ‘foot’

Have a go at this Dieri game with your friends.

Note: Many thanks to Greg Wilson and the Dieri Language Committee for sharing this material and the sound recordings.


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’