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.

Waru pula warapamalirna wanthiyi

Luise Anna Hercus

Luise Anna Hercus

In the late 1960s and early 1970s Luise Hercus (now a Research Associate at the Australian National University in Canberra) began recording and studying the Aboriginal languages spoken to the west of Lake Eyre, especially Arabana and Wangkanguru.

At Umeewara Old People’s home on Davenport Reserve just outside Port Augusta in 1968 Luise met Alec Edwards, a Dieri man who was born in the 19th century and had lived on the Bethesda Mission at Killalpaninna. He retired to Port Augusta with his wife Catharina Edwards, and when he saw Luise interviewing speakers of Arabana and Wangkanguru he asked her to record his language too, starting in 1971. The result of this is about 12 hours interviews and conversations between Luise Hercus and Alec Edwards recorded on reel-to-reel tapes. Alec Edwards passed away before Peter Austin began his studies of Dieri in 1974.


With the help of Paul Sidwell of the University Phonetics Laboratory we have now digitised all these recordings and Luise Hercus has made them available for the Dieri Aboriginal Corporation members to use in their language revitalisation project. This is a very valuable addition to the sound recordings of the Dieri language we now have available, especially as they come from the last generation of people to have lived at Bethesda and spoken Dieri as their main daily language.

Note: The title of this blog means ‘They told one another things long ago’. It is made up of the following words:

waru means ‘long ago’

pula means ‘they two’ (for three or more we use thana)

warapamalirna means ‘told one another things’. It consists of the action word (verb) root warapa ‘tell someone a story’ and the endings -mali ‘one another’ and -rna ‘to do’

wanthiyi means ‘did long ago’. It is a helping word (auxiliary) that follows the verb to indicate action done in the distant past.