Ngatyani yawarra The Lord’s Prayer

The Diyari translation by Reuther and Strehlow in 1897 of the New Testament of the Christian Bible contains the verses known as The Lord’s Prayer. They appear in Matthew Chapter 6 verses 9 to 13, as follows, written in the missionary spelling:

9. Jeruja ngatjianau: “Ngaperi ngaianini, jidni pariwilpani ngamala wapaia; Tala jinkani kulikiri pantjiatimai;

10. Milila jinkani wokaraiatimai; Jertapaterina jinkani pantjiatimai, worderu pariwilpani jeruja bakana mitani;

11. Buka ngaianini ngaianingu karari jinkiamai;

12. Madlentji ngaianini woramai, worderu bakana ngaiani kana nguruja madlentji worala wapaia;.

13. Ja wata ngaianina wontjanilani wirilkamai, a-ai, ngaianina madlentjani kulkamai; Ngangau jinkangu milila nganai ja ngurula ja pirnala ngurali. Amen.”

We can rewrite this in the modern spelling as follows:

  1. Yaruya ngatyiyanawu:
  2. Ngapiri ngayanirni, yini pariwilpanhi ngamalha wapaya”
  3. Tharla yingkarni kurlikirri pantyiyathimayi.
  4. Mirlilha yingkarni wakarayathimayi.
  5. Yathapatharrirna yingkarni pantyiyathimayi.
  6. Wardaru pariwilpanhi yaruya pakarna mithanhi.
  7. Puka ngayanirni ngayaningu karari yingkiyamayi.
  8. Madlhantyi ngayanirni waramayi.
  9. Wardaru pakarna ngayani karna nguruya madlhantyi waralha wapaya.
  10. Ya wata ngayaninha wantyanilhanhi wirrilkamayi.
  11. A’ayi ngayaninha madlhantyanhi kurlkamayi.
  12. Ngangawu yingkangu mirlilha nganayi.
  13. Ya ngurrulha ya pirnalha ngurrali.
  14. Amen.

We can also assign meanings to each of the words in the prayer, and give the lines a literal translation:

like thatyou all pray
‘You all pray like this!’
fatherouryouin the skylivedo
‘Our father, you live in the sky’
nameyourcleanmay become
‘May your name become clean’
place of followersyourmay come
‘May your place of followers come’
supportingyoumay become
‘May it become that (people) support you’
howin the skylike thatalsoon the ground
‘Just like in the sky also like that on the ground’
vegetable.foodourto ustodaygive
‘Give our vegetable food to us today!’
badourthrow away
‘Throw away our badness!’
howalsowepersonto otherbad
‘Just like we also habitually  throw away the badness of other people.’
andnotusinto the place of tryinggo in with
‘And do not take us into places of trying!’
nousfrom badsave
‘No, save us from badness!’
?? becauseto youplace of followersis
‘Because(?) your place of followers exists.
‘And strength and greatness for ever.’


  1. thanks to Fritz Schweiger for prompting me to present this material for people interested in the Lord’s Prayer, and for picking up errors in the first draft.
  2. the title of today’s post is “Prayer Words” made up of ngatyi- ‘to pray’ plus the ending -ni which creates a noun ‘prayer’. The word yawarra means ‘word, language, speech’.
  3. line 1 – the verb ngatyiyanawu is in the order (imperative) form containing the ending -ya-, with the ending –ni– that indicates speaking to many people, plus the -wu ending that is usually occurs in shouted speech
  4. line 2 – the Diyari form for ‘our father’ uses the ngayani which is the exclusive second person pronoun, ‘we all excluding you’, presumably because the prayer is addressed to God
  5. line 3 – the missionaries extended the term kurlikirri ‘clean’ to mean ‘holy’. They also used the ending -yathimayi to express a wish, but it never occurs in the spoken language
  6. line 5 – the verb yatha- means ‘to scold, dress someone down’, while -pa- is the altruistic ending meaning ‘do something for the benefit of someone other than the subject’, here indicated as yingkarni ‘for you’, so literally the verb plus pronoun means ‘continuously scold someone for the benefit of you’
  7. line 7 – the noun puka means ‘vegetable food’ (bread, seeds, greens) in contrast to nganthi ‘meat food’
  8. line 8 – this seems to be a literal translation of ‘take away evil’.
  9. line 9 – the verb waralha wapaya is the habitual form of ‘throw’, that is ‘throw all the time, every day’
  10. line 10 – the verb wirrilka ‘go with’ implies that the subject (God) enters somewhere with the object ‘us’ (which is not controlling the motion)
  11. line 12 – a form like ngangawu which is used by the missionaries for ‘because, rather’ does not occur in my Diyari recordings. It occurs 30 times in example sentences in Reuther’s dictionary of Diyari, always in the second sentence in a sequence. He did not include a headword entry for this word, which is strange given that he has entries for all other words in the dictionary examples.
  12. line s 12-13 – this is the doxology, which appears in English as ‘For thine is kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever’.

Reuther. J. G. & Carl Strehlow. 1897. Testamenta marra. Jesuni Christuni ngantjani jaura ninaia karitjimalkana wonti Dieri jaurani. Adelaide: G. Auricht.

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’.

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 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.

Nganhi marda padni — yini mardanthu — nhawu mardamara

I yesterday’s blog post we presented another cartoon in the Dieri language. Here it is again:


Here is the dialogue, together with the English translation — did you work it out for yourself also?

Boy: ngandri! ngandri! ‘Mother! Mother!’
Mother: minha yundru ngantyayi? ‘What do you want?’
Boy: nganhi mawali nganayi ‘I am hungry’
nganha marda yingkiya ‘Give me some money!’
Mother: nganhi marda padni ‘I’m broke’
karari wata ngathu marda ngamalkayi ‘I don’t have any money now’
yini karlkamayi thangkuparnayarlu ‘You wait until tomorrow!’

We have seen all the grammatical structures here before, except for one new thing, and that is how to express a situation where you don’t have something.

In Dieri to say ‘don’t have X’ where X is a thing (a noun) you simply say X padni where padni means ‘no, none’. You can use this as a statement or a question, as in these examples:

  • nganhi marda padni ‘I don’t have any money, I’m broke’
  • yini mutuka padni? ‘You don’t have a car?’
  • karna tyata padni ‘The man does not have a shirt’
  • ngaldra nhuwa padni ‘We two are without a spouse, we two are unmarried’ (Dieri nhuwa means ‘wife’ for a man, and ‘husband’ for a woman — we use the English word ‘spouse’ to cover these meanings)
  • ngayana warli padni ‘We all don’t have a house, we have nowhere to live’

Alternatively, we can use the particle wata ‘not’ plus the verb ngamalka-rna ‘to have’ in a transitive sentence with a subject and an object, as in (notice that for some words the transitive subject has a different form from the intransitive subject that we saw above):

  • wata ngathu marda ngamalkayi ‘I don’t have any money, I’m broke’
  • wata yundru mutuka ngamalkayi? ‘You don’t have a car?’
  • wata karnali tyata ngamalkayi ‘The man does not have a shirt’
  • wata ngaldra nhuwa ngamalkayi ‘We two don’t have a spouse, we two are unmarried’
  • wata ngayana warli ngamalkayi ‘We all don’t have a house, we have nowhere to live’

To express having something, there are again two possibilities. We can just use ngamalka-rna ‘to have’, as in:

  • ngathu marda ngamalkayi ‘I have money’
  • yundru mutuka ngamalkayi? ‘Do you have a car?’
  • karnali tyata ngamalkayi ‘The man has a shirt’
  • ngaldra nhuwa ngamalkayi ‘We two have spouses, we two are married’
  • ngayana warli ngamalkayi ‘We all have a house’

The second way to express this is to use the ending -nthu attached to the thing that is owned — there is no verb here so we use the intransitive subject form for the person who is the owner, as in:

  • nganhi mardanthu ‘I have money’
  • yini mutukanthu? ‘Do you have a car?’
  • karna tyatanthu ‘The man has a shirt’
  • ngaldra nhuwanthu ‘We two have spouses, we two are married’
  • ngayana warlinthu ‘We all have a house’

There is another alternative as well, and that is to use the ending -mara instead of -nthu — both -mara and -nthu mean exactly the same:

  • nganhi mardamara ‘I have money’
  • yini mutukamara? ‘Do you have a car?’
  • karna tyatamara ‘The man has a shirt’
  • ngaldra nhuwamara ‘We two have spouses, we two are married’
  • ngayana warlimara ‘We all have a house’

When -mara is used with a word that refers to a relative, like nhuwa ‘spouse’ or kaku ‘older sister’ then X-mara creates a noun that means ‘two or more people, one of whom is called X by the others’. So we have:

  • nhuwa-mara ‘a married couple’
  • kaku-mara ‘an older sister and her brothers and/or sisters’
  • ngandri-mara ‘a mother and her children’
  • ngapiri-mara ‘a father and his children’
  • kadnhini-mara ‘a grandmother and her grandchildren’

To be clear about the number of people involved, we can use pula ‘they two’ or thana ‘they all’ together with these words:

  • pula kakumara wakarayi ‘an older sister and one younger sister or brother are coming’
  • thana kakumara wakarayi ‘an older sister and two or more younger sisters or brothers are coming’

And so on for the other relationship terms.

Note: The title of this blog means ‘I have no money — you have money — he has money’.

Nganhi marda padni

Today’s blog post features another cartoon that contains some ordinary everyday use of the Dieri language.


Here is the dialogue in Dieri. See if you can work out what it means in English (Hint: look back at the previous blog post — some extra new words you might need are given at the bottom of this page, along with some links to where you can find out about the grammar for these words).

Boy: ngandri! ngandri!
Mother: minha yundru ngantyayi?
Boy: nganhi mawali nganayi
nganha marda yingkiya
Mother: nganhi marda padni
karari wata ngathu marda ngamalkayi
yini karlkamayi thangkuparnayarlu

New words

  • karlka-rna ‘to wait’ — for grammar click here
  • marda ‘stone, money’
  • mawa ‘hunger’ — for grammar click here
  • ngamalka-rna ‘to have’
  • nganha ‘me’ — transitive object form (for grammar click here)
  • padni ‘no, none’
  • thangkuparna ‘later, tomorrow’ — for grammar click here
  • yingki-rna ‘to give’ — for grammar click here

In the next blog post we will give the translation and discuss this cartoon. In the meantime, try to work out how the Dieri language is being used for yourself.

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!

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.

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.

Paya pirtanhi ngamayi

During the Dieri language committee meeting in Port Augusta last month the group described a number of pictures and recorded short dialogues in the Dieri language. Here is one of the dialogues about an eaglehawk sitting in a tree.

To begin, listen to the sound recording of the whole dialogue recorded by Reg, Rene and Peter, and see how much you can understand. Then, have a look at the sentences below and listen to each one individually.


Reg: paya pirtanhi ngamayi

Rene: paya karrawara pirtanhi ngamayi

Peter: minha paya nhawuya?

Rene: karrawara

Rene: paya karrawara pirtanhi ngamayi


Reg: A bird is sitting in a tree
Rene: An eaglehawk is sitting in a tree
Peter: What bird is it?
Rene: Eaglehawk
Rene: An eaglehawk is sitting in a tree

Grammar notes
These sentences illustrate several features of Dieri grammar; we have seen most of them in previous blog posts:

  1. the verb in Dieri goes at the end of the sentence, so here ngamayi ‘is sitting’ is the last word
  2. to express location add the ending -nhi to a noun, such as pirta ‘tree’, so pirtanhi means ‘in a tree’
  3. when Reg describes the picture he uses the general word paya ‘bird’ (which covers any flying bird in Dieri, so cannnot be used for warrukathi ’emu’), however Rene is more specific and identifies the particular type of bird. Dieri speakers can combine words with a general meaning, like paya ‘bird’, together with a word with more specific meaning to be clear about exactly what the speaker is referring to, so paya karrawara ‘bird eaglehawk’ is used by Rene here. Other examples would be nganthi tyukurru ‘kangaroo’ which is made up of the general term nganthi ‘edible animal, meat’ and the specific term tyukurru ‘kangaroo’, and also marda pukartu ‘red ochre (from Parachilna)’ which is made up of the general term marda ‘stone’ and the specific term pukartu ‘ochre from the Bookatoo mine near Parachilna in the Flinders Ranges’

Wirdirdi yini wapayi?

Back in February when we started this blog the first blog post introduced the expressions for how to greet someone and say “hello” in Dieri. Basically, what we say is wardaru ‘how’ plus the relevant pronoun yini ‘you (one person)’, yula ‘you (two people)’ or yura ‘you (more than two people)’. Interestingly, since then Dieri people are increasingly using these expressions in conversation when they meet, and also in emails.

So, how do we start and continue the conversation? In Australian English, we might say ‘g’day, how are you going?’. What about in Dieri?

The usual way to open a conversation in Dieri is to say mayi ‘hey’ followed by wardaru plus the proper pronoun mentioned above. We can then continue with one of these expressions:

wirdirdi yini wapayi? ‘Where are you (one person) going?’
wirdirdi yula wapayi? ‘Where are you (two people) going?’
wirdirdi yura wapayi? ‘Where are you (more than two) going?’

In English it might seem rude to ask someone who you have just met: ‘Where are you going?’ (unless they are a good friend) but in Dieri this is quite normal.

And the answer? We can tell the other person the place to which we are going using the ending -ya ‘to …’ attached to the location or the name of the place, as in these examples:

nganhi wapayi nguraya ‘I am going to the camp’
ngali wapayi ngakarni warliya ‘We two are going to my house’
ngayani wapayi marriya ‘We all are going to Marree’

Notice that if the place is a three syllable word ending in i or u this changes to a before we add -ya, as in:

nganhi wapayi karirraya ‘I am going to the creek’ (‘creek’ is karirri)
ngali wapayi mitha puthurraya ‘We are going to the dusty place’ (‘dust’ is puthurru)

You can also give a short reply in which you just mention the place to which you are going (always with the -ya ending), as in:

nguraya ‘to the camp’
ngakarni warliya ‘to my house’
marriya ‘to Marree’
karirraya ‘to the creek’
mitha puthurraya ‘to the dusty place’

Another alternative is to use the verb wirari-rna ‘to wander about’ when there is no particular place that you are going to, as in:

nganhi wirariyi ‘I am just wandering about’

And when the conversation is over, what do you say then? In English we would say ‘goodbye’ or ‘bye’ or ‘see you later’ or something similar. There is nothing exactly like this in Dieri, and at the end of a conversation you would usually just say:

nganhi wapayilha ‘I am going now’
ngali wapayilha ‘We (two) are going now’
ngayani wapayilha ‘We (all) are going now’

Notice the ending -lha added to wapayi to indicate new information about something happening now.

Again, this might seem a little odd to speakers of English but different societies have different ways of greeting each other and saying goodbye and this just happens to be the Dieri way.

Here is a full imaginary conversation:

Speaker A: mayi, wardaru yula?
Speakers B & C: matya ngali manyu
Speaker A: wirdirdi yula wapayi?
Speakers B & C: karirraya, ngapa pardalha
Speaker A: yara wapalumayi
Speakers B & C: ngali wapayilha
Speaker A: nganhi pakarna wapayilha

Here is the literal translation into English:

Speaker A: Hey, how are you two?
Speakers B & C: We’re good
Speaker A: Where are you two going?
Speakers B & C: To the creek to get some water
Speaker A: Go that way.
Speakers B & C: We’re going now
Speaker A: I’m going too