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


Minha nhawuya nhingkirda pityanhi?

Dier language committee at work

Dier language committee at work

Following the two-day Dieri ILS revitalisation workshop the Dieri Language Committee met for one and a half days to check over the draft Dieri-English dictonary, and to make recordings for the planned Dieri talking dictionary. We approached this by describing a set of pictures drawn by a Pitjantjatjara artist and made available to the group by Greg Wilson. Each language committee member took turns in describing some aspect of the pictures, making up Dieri sentences that they felt said something about what they saw in the drawings. Three generations of speakers were present, and everyone contributed according to their knowledge and abilities. The result was a nice selection of more and less complex constructions that will be excellent source materials for future Dieri language learners.

Winnie and Marjorie describing a picture

Winnie and Marjorie describing a picture

The group enjoyed the process and the opportunity to share their knowledge, especially when Aunty Winnie kept making jokes that got us all laughing. We even got some new words that were missing from the dictionary (and some example sentences that were a bit too rude to be included).

Note: the title of this blog post means “What is this here in the picture?” and uses a word borrowed from English pitya ‘picture’. You should be able to work out the rest of the sentence and its grammar from previous blog posts.

Dieri yawarra workshop

The Dieri Aboriginal Corporation organised a final language workshop for the ILS language revitalisation project on 1st and 2nd September. On Sunday, 55 community members participated, and on Monday there were 35 enthusiastic participants — on both days ages ranged from 6 months to 82 years, so there was quite an age range! Community members came from Port Augusta, Maree and Broken Hill. There was also a representative of the Parnkalla community who welcomed us to Port Augusta — Aunty Rene and Uncle Reg responded in Dieri to the welcome. Peter Austin flew out from London (via Brunei, Singapore and Sydney) and Greg Wilson took part on Sunday, driving the 7 hours Adelaide-Port Augusta-Adelaide within less than 24 hours.


The goal of this workshop was to practise language use, and also to try out the draft Dieri-English dictionary. We ran various activities, including using the dictionary to look up words so we could make up Dieri sentences describing some pictures, making sure the words were in the right Dieri order and had the proper endings, like the marker for the transitive subject that has been discussed in previous blogs. Everyone enthusiastically joined in the group activities, and there was a lot of use of the draft dictionary and the Dieri language materials that Greg Wilson and the Dieri Langiage Committee produced a couple of years ago. The only thing missing was a guitar player so we could properly song Dieri songs!

Discussing words in the Dieri Yawarra resource book

Discussing words in the Dieri Yawarra resource book

Ngapuriyamayi ngathu yinha nandrayathi

The Dieri language has a very useful ending -yathi which can be added to verbs to indicate a situation that is bad and undesirable. It is often used to warn someone that something bad might happen. For example, if I see a nasty looking dog coming towards you I could say:

nhulu kinthalali yinanha mathayathi ‘This dog might bite you’

which consists of nhulu ‘he, this’, the transitive subject, kinthalali ‘dog’, also the transitive subject (indicated by the ending -li), yinanha ‘you (one), the transitive object, and mathayathi which is made up of the verb root matha ‘bite’ and the ending -yathi.

If it’s clear from the context, for example, we are both looking at the dog, I can also just say:

nhulu yinanha mathayathi ‘He might bite you’

or simply:

yinanha mathayathi ‘(He) might bite you’

Note that yinanha can be reduced to yinha in fast speech, so the quickest warning would be:

yinha mathayathi ‘(He) might bite you’

We also often find this -yathi form used with commands, telling someone to do or not do something, in case something bad might happen. Recall from this blog post that commands are made up of just the verb root if it ends in a, or the ending -ya is added if it ends in i or u. We can also add the emphasis ending -mayi after this if we want to. Here are some examples:

  • ngamamayi yini puriyathi ‘Sit down or you’ll fall over’

this is: ngamamayi the order form of ngama ‘sit’, yini ‘you (one)’ intransitive subject, puriyathi ‘might fall’ based on puri ‘fall over, fall down’

  • wata yarra wapalumayi thanali yulanha nhayiyathi ‘Don’t you two go over that way or they will see you’

this is: wata ‘not’, yarra ‘that way’, direction away from the speaker, wapalumayi ‘you two go!’, thanali ‘they all’, the transitive subject form, yulanha ‘you two’, the transitive object form, and nhayiyathi ‘might see’

  • wata thirrimaliyamayi yulyali yuranha maniyathi ‘Don’t fight one another or the police will get you all’

this is: wata ‘not’, thirrimaliyamayi ‘fight one another!’, consisting of thirri ‘fight’ -mali ‘one another’, -ya ‘order’ and -mayi ’emphasis’, yulyali ‘police’, the transitive subject form, yuranha ‘you all’, the transitive object form, and maniyathi ‘might get’

  • ngapuriyamayi ngathu yinha nandrayathi ‘Be quiet or I’ll hit you’

this is: ngapuriyamayi ‘be quiet!’, made up of ngapu ‘silence, quiet’, -ri ‘become’, -ya ‘command’, -mayi ’emphasis’, ngathu ‘I’, transitive subject, yinha ‘you’ transitive object, and nandrayathi ‘might hit’.

Note that in very fast speech the sequence ngathu yinha ‘I you’ is squeezed down to ngathinha so a useful warning is:

ngathinha nandrayathi ‘I might hit you’


Yawarra warulha

Did you try the challenge at the end of the previous blog post? Did you try to translate into English the Dieri title nhawu dalkiyi nhungkarni ngandrinhi?

Well, it means ‘He disobeys his mother’, and is made up of these words:

  • nhawu ‘he, this’ — this is the intransitive subject form
  • dalkiyi ‘disobeys’ consists of the extended intransitive verb root dalki ‘to disobey’ and the ending -yi which marks present tense (something happening now)
  • nhungkarni ‘his’ — this is the possessive form
  • ngandrinhi ‘with/at mother’ consists of the root ngandri ‘mother’ and the locative ending -nhi ‘with, at’ which marks the second participant of an extended intransitive verb.

This sentence is based on a line from a traditional Dieri story that was written down by Dieri man Sam Dintibana and published in the journal Folklore in 1937 by the Adelaide-based anthropologist Henry Kenneth Fry, with translations by Theodor “Ted” Vogelsang, the son of a mission helper Hermann Vogelsang. Ted Vogelsang was born and grew up at the Killalpaninna mission near Cooper Creek and spoke Dieri fluently (see this previous blog post for discussion of letters in Dieri sent to Ted Vogelsang in Adelaide). Look at the material in the box in the following picture:


Sam Dintibana wrote using the spelling developed by the missionaries which unfortunately does not capture Dieri pronunciation well, however we can clearly recognise this Dieri sentence:

nhawu dalkirna wanthiyi pulangu ya nhungkarni ngandrinhi ‘He disobeyed them two and his mother’

The extra words here are:

  • wanthiyi follows the verb and indicates something that happened a long time ago in the past
  • pulangu is the locative form meaning ‘them two’
  • ya means ‘and’.

The main character in the story is a boy, who is told by his older sister (kaku) and brother-in-law (kardi) to stay at home with his mother (ngandri) while they go off somewhere else. He disobeyed them and his mother, and followed along behind his older sister and her husband. Various adventures follow, including the boy being told to climb a tree which is then magically sung by the brother-in-law so that it grows and grows and the boy is trapped high up at the top. He is eventually rescued by his two older brothers (nhiyiwurlu); one of them is left-handed (ngunyari) and the other is right-handed (warrangantyu). Eventually, the three brothers catch up to the evil brother-in-law and finish him off.

Fry published a number of Dieri traditional stories from Dintibana in two issues of the journal. The only one Peter Austin was able to check with Dieri speakers in the 1970s was this one.

Fry, H. K. 1937. Dieri Legends, Part II. Folklore, Vol. 48, No. 3, pp. 269-287.

Nhawu dalkiyi nhungkarni ngandrinhi

The Dieri language makes a fundamental distinction between verbs (words describing actions or events) that are intransitive and verbs that are transitive (see this blog post for an introduction).

Intransitive verbs involve just one participant, and include concepts like wapa-rna ‘to go, walk’ or ngama-rna ‘to sit’ or thurara-rna ‘to lie down, sleep’. The person or thing who does this action is called the intransitive subject (shown in purple), as in:

thanaya kupakupa wapayi ‘These children are going’
nhawu ngamayi warlinhi ‘He is sitting in the house’
waranha thurarayi nhaka? ‘Who is sleeping over there?’

Transitive verbs involve two participants, one who does the action (the transitive subject, shown in red) and one who is affected by the action (the transitive object, shown in green) and include concepts like dama-rna ‘to cut’ or thayi-rna ‘to eat’ or nhayi-rna ‘to see, look at’, as in:

thanaliya kupakupali nhinhaya pipa damayi ‘These children are cutting this paper’
nhulu nganthi pandra thayiyi ‘He eats cooked meat’
warli yinanha nhayiyi ‘Who is looking at you?’

Now, Dieri also has a different set of verbs that involve two participants, however one takes the same form as an intransitive subject (shown in purple) while the second one (shown in orange) is in the locative form which we usually use to indicate where something or someone is located (like warlinhi ‘in the house’ in the example above). These verbs (which we call extended intransitive verbs) are different from transitive verbs because they involve two participants but they don’t affect or change anything, and usually describe speech or thoughts rather than physical actions. These verbs include the following:

dalki-rna ‘to disobey’
darni-rna ‘to say goodbye to’
kilpari-rna ‘to disbelieve’
kurutharra-rna ‘to forget’
murda-rna ‘to finish with’
tyampa-rna ‘to be very fond of’

Here are some examples:

thanaya kupakupa kalapayi thanarni ngapiranhi ‘These children answer their father’
yaruka nganhi murdayi nhangkangu ‘That’s how I finished with her’
wata yini tyampayi walypalaya puka ‘You are not really fond of white people’s food’

When we learn a new verb in Dieri it is important to also learn whether it is intransitive, transitive or extended intransitive as this will affect the number and form of the participants that can occur together with the verb.

Question: Can you translate the title of this blog post? The sentence actually comes from a traditional Dieri story. The answer will be in the next blog post.

Waranhaya wakarayi

In a previous blog post we introduced how to say ‘who?’ in Dieri when we want to ask about the identity of a person. Here is a reminder of all the different forms we looked at:

Dieri English Function
warli who? transitive subject
waranha who? intransitive subject and transitive object
warni whose? possessor
warangu with who? location
warangundru from who? source

In another recent blog post we saw that the ending -ya can be added to minha ‘what?’ to express the meaning ‘something’. The same ending can be used with forms for ‘who?’ in Dieri to mean ‘someone’, such as waranhaya ‘someone’ (intransitive subject or transitive object). The different forms of ‘someone’ that contain this -ya are then used in statements and do not have to be at the beginning of the sentence, unlike how we use ‘who?’ in questions. Here are some examples:

waranhaya wakarayi
‘Someone is coming’

waranhaya thurarayi ngakarni pangkanhi
‘Someone is sleeping in my bed’

ngathu waranhaya nhayirna warayi thinkanhi
‘I saw someone in the night’

warliya nganha nandrarna warayi
‘Someone hit me’

nhaniya thurarayi warniya pangkanhi
‘This one is sleeping in someone’s bed’

pula pirkiyi waranguya
‘They two are playing with someone’

thana nandramaliyi warangundruya
‘They all are fighting because of someone’

Of course, it is possible to use both ‘someone’ and ‘something’ in the same sentence, if you really are unsure what is going on:

warliya minhaya thayiyi
‘Someone is eating something’

minhayali waranhaya matharna warayi
‘Something bit someone’