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’

Dieri yawarra kupa wakaya

Today’s Dieri language post is for our younger readers (or for older readers to share with younger language learners — if you click on the panel you will see it full size in a new window, which you can then print out if you want to).


Here is the dialogue and its translation going left to right.

Boy: wardaru yini kaku? ‘How are you older sister?’
Girl: matya nganhi manyu ‘I’m fine.’
minha yundru ngankayi? ‘What are you doing?’
Boy: nganhi wapayi schoolanhi ‘I am going to school.’
yundru ngantyayi wapalha ngakangu? ‘Do you want to walk with me?’
Girl: pulu nganhi wapayi karari ‘I can’t go now.’
ngandri ngakarni muntya ‘My mother is sick.’

Here are the words in this dialogue — we have seen them all in previous blog posts but you can revise them here:

  • kaku ‘older sister’ – but note that in Dieri we can use this term for both actual older sisters and for classificatory older sisters, that is, a girl who is like an older sister, such as an older female cousin
  • karari ‘now, today’
  • manyu ‘well, fine’
  • matya ‘just, OK’
  • minha ‘what?’
  • muntya ‘sick, ill, unwell’ – this is the opposite of manyu ‘well, fine’
  • ngakangu ‘with me’ – this is the location form
  • ngakarni ‘my’ – this is the possessor form
  • ngandri ‘mother’ – this word is also used traditionally for ‘mother’s sister’, your aunt on your mother’s side
  • nganhi ‘I’ – the intransitive subject form
  • ngankayi ‘be doing’ – this is made up of the verb root nganka-rna ‘to do, work, make’ and the ending -yi ‘present tense, doing now’
  • ngantyayi ‘want’ – this is made up of the verb root ngantya-rna ‘to want, like’ and the ending -yi ‘present tense, doing now’
  • pulu ‘cannot’ – this word must come before the verb (the action word in the sentence)
  • schoolanhi ‘to school’ — this is made up of the English noun school and the ending -nhi ‘location, in(to) a place’
  • wapayi ‘be going, be walking’ – this is made up of the verb root wapa-rna ‘to go, walk’ and the ending -yi ‘present tense, doing now’
  • wapalha ‘to go, to walk’ – this is made up of the verb root wapa-rna ‘to go, walk’ and the ending -lha ‘in order to’ when the subject is the same as the subject of the previous verb (in this example ngantyayi ‘want’)
  • wardaru ‘how?’
  • yini ‘you (one person)’ – the intransitive subject form
  • yundru ‘you (one person)’ – the transitive subject form

Note: The title of today’s post means ‘Dieri language for young children’. I made this cartoon with Make Beliefs Comix, a free website where you can create your own comics and print them out — give it a try and make your own Dieri language comic!

Nhawuya kurikantyi

In the previous blog post we mentioned words like mawa ‘hunger’, thardi ‘thirst’ and kuri ‘stealth’ that are nouns in Dieri. These words are special because not only can they modify a verb, as we saw in that blog post, they also take the ending -li or -yali when used with ngana-rna ‘to be’ to express an internal state of affairs (discussed in this blog post), as in:

Nganhi mawali nganayi ‘I am hungry’
Yini thardiyali nganayi ‘Are you thirsty?

This set of words have another special characteristic. They can all take the ending -kantyi to describe a person who habitually always has the characteristics described by the noun root. Here are some examples:

mawa-kantyi ‘someone who is always hungry’
thardi-kantyi ‘someone who is always thirsty’
yardi-kantyi ‘someone who always lies, liar’
kuri-kantyi ‘someone who always steals, thief’
yapa-kantyi ‘someone who is always afraid, timid person’

There is one more useful ending for describing people in Dieri (in addition to -kantyi, and the -rnayitya ending discussed in this blog post). This is -lha which is added to locations or names of places to refer to a person who comes from that place. Examples are the following:

mardalha ‘hill person’ (from marda ‘hill, stone’)
pantulha ‘salt lake person’ (from pantu ‘salt lake’)
kudnarralha ‘person from Cooper Creek (from kudnarri ‘Cooper Creek’)

Notice that this ending causes the final i or u vowel of a three-syllable root to change to a (as in kudnarralha above), just like we have seen when endings like -li ‘transitive subject’ or -nhi ‘in, at’ are added to such roots.