Kararaya yawarra — word of the week: mudlha

Today we look at the Diyari word mudlha (also pronounced mulha) which can be translated into English as ‘face’ and ‘nose’, but also has a wider range of other uses. It is also found in a lot of idioms — ways of speaking where the parts do not necessarily add up to the meaning of the whole (like English ‘kick the bucket’ to mean ‘to die’).

Here are some examples showing the different uses:

  1. ‘nose’
    • thanali muku kurrarna wanthiyi mudlhanhi ‘They used to put a bone in their noses long ago’
    • mudlha kilthi ‘snot, nasal mucus’
    • mudlha murru ‘dried crust of snot under the nose’
    • mudlha kumarri ‘nosebleed’
    • mudla wirlpa ‘nostril, hole in nose’
    • mudla durru ‘hook of the nose’
    • mudlha ngankarna ‘to rub the nose’ (ngankarna generally means ‘to do, make’)
    • nganhi mudlha pununu parrayi ‘my nose is itching’. People believe that when your nose itches then someone must be talking about you behind your back.
  2. ‘tip of a body part’
    • mara mudlha ‘tip of the finger’ (mara means ‘hand, finger’)
    • thidna mudla ‘tiptoe’ (thidna means ‘foot, toe’)
  3. ‘tip or edge of something in nature’
    • ngarrimatha mudlha ‘the edge of rising flood waters’
    • wathara mudlha ‘the edge of an approaching windstorm’
    • daku mudlha ‘the point of a sandhill’
    • karirri mudlha ‘the line of trees marking the edge of watercourse or creek’
    • pirta mulha ‘the thick end of a fallen tree’
    • kalku mudlha ‘the bottom end of a reed where is is broken off the root or stalk’
  4. ‘tip or end of something that people make’
    1. katu mudlha ‘the end of a windbreak’
    2. palthu mudlha ‘the end of a road or path’
    3. marda mudlha ‘the pointed end of a grinding stone’
  5. ‘face’
    • mudlha ngumu ‘beautiful, attractive face’
    • mudlha manyu ‘friendly face’
    • mudlha kurlikirri ‘clean washed face’
    • mudlha dulyardulya ‘dirty face’
    • mudlha malka ‘stripes painted on the face’. Traditionally, when someone died the women would paint their faces with black and white stripes using charcoal and gypsum

Here are some idioms that use mudlha where the overall meaning is not predictable from the other words in the expression:

  • mudlha putyu (literally ‘face blind’) ‘not paying attention when something bad could be predicted to happen’, for example, minhandru yundru kupa yinparna warayi ngapa padninhi? Yidni mudlha putyu?. ‘Why did you send the children out without any water? Couldn’t you see (they would nearly die of thirst)?
  • mudlha yarkirna (literally ‘face burn’) ‘to look angry’
  • mudlha pirtarirna (literally ‘face become wood’) ‘to become sullen, surly, glum’
  • mudlha wararna (literally ‘face throw’) ‘to pull a long face, to look sad or disapproving’
  • mudlha thiri pardakarna (literally ‘face angry take’) ‘to make up, become reconciled with someone’. When two people are upset with each other meet and make up then they take the angry faces away.
  • mudlha wathirna (literally ‘face search’) ‘to look for someone among a group of people’
  • mudlha punthiparna (literally ‘face separate’) ‘to separate people into two groups and send them on their way’
  • mudlha matharna (literally ‘nose bite’) ‘to give someone the cold shoulder, for a woman to turn down an offer of marriage’
  • mudlha murruwarna (literally ‘nose scratch’) ‘to beat around the bush, to ask for something indirectly’
  • mudlha ngurdarna (literally ‘face stretch’) ‘to hurry ahead of someone’
  • mudlha kutya (literally ‘face feather’) ‘leader of a revenge expedition’. Traditionally, when someone died a group of men called a pinya would be sent out to avenge the death by killing someone from another group. The leader of the pinya is called mudlha kutya because they have feathers stuck on their face with blood.

Words in the examples :

durrubent over
karirricreek, watercourse
kilthijuice, liquid
kupachild, children
kurrarnato put
kutyafeather of a bird (not emu)
malkamark, line, stripe
manyugood, sweet
marahand, finger
mardastone, rock, money
matharnato bite
murruwarnato scratch
ngankarnato make, to do
ngurdarnato stretch
padninone, nothing
palthuroad, path
parrayiis lying down (of inanimate objects)
pinyarevenger expedition
pirtatree, wood
pirtarirnato be come wood
punthiparnato separate, divide in two
thidnafoot, toe
wararnato throw
wirlpahole in solid object
yarkirnato burn
yinparnato send

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

NAIDOC 2017 — kupaya wima

This week, 2nd to 9th July 2017 is National NAIDOC Week. The theme this year is “Our Languages Matter”. Around Australia, there will be national celebrations of the importance, resilience and richness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages.

On the Dieri Yawarra blog this week we are presenting a traditional story in the Dieri language in five parts. Today, we provide an additional blog post: a children’s song. The song uses the tune of Frère Jacques (“Brother John, are you sleeping?”) and the words are adapted from the English children’s rhyme “Where is Thumbkin?” (see here). Instead of introducing the names for fingers, the Dieri song uses the names of close relatives, such as ‘mother’, ‘father’, ‘elder sister’, ‘mother’s mother’ etc. (we call these kinship terms and they are discussed in a previous post). The words were translated by Greg Wilson and Rene Warren, and this recording was made at a Dieri Aboriginal Corporation workshop in Port Augusta in March 2013.

Words of song

Wirdirdi ngandri
Wirdirdi ngandri
Nganhi nhingkirda
Nganhi nhingkirda
Wardaru yidni?
Nganhi matya manyu
Nganhi wapayilha

English translation

Where is mother?
Where is mother?
Here I am.
Here I am.
How are you?
I’m very well.
I’m going now.

In place of ngandri you can use another kinship term. Here is the next verse with kaku ‘older sister’ instead of ngandri ‘mother.

Notice that Dieri distinguishes older brother and sister from younger siblings, and also has four terms for grandparents, depending on whether it’s father’s mother/father or mother’s mother/father. Here is a list of terms you can use:

ngapiri ‘father’
kaku ‘elder sister’
nhiyi ‘elder brother’
ngathata ‘younger brother, younger sister’
kaka ‘uncle, mother’s brother’
papa ‘aunt, father’s sister’
kadnhini ‘grandmother, mother’s mother’
kami ‘grandmother, father’s mother’
ngardarda ‘grandfather, mother’s father’
yanku ‘grandfather, father’s father’

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.

Minha thandra nhawuya?

The Dieri language has a very helpful word thandra that has several different uses, but mainly refers to small round objects attached to some other larger object.

One of its main uses is with names of plants to refer to their fruit or seeds. The general terms are:

puka thandra ‘edible fruit or seed’ — where puka means ‘vegetable food (not meat)’
pawa thandra ‘plant seed’ — where pawa means ‘seed’

The names of the fruits or seeds of specific trees or plants consist of the plant name followed by thandra. An example is:

malka thandra ‘seed of mulga tree’ (photo from this website)


Other examples are:

karlku thandra ‘seed of bulrushes’
tharlpa thandra ‘seed of kind of bush’
yawa thandra ‘corm (fruit) of onion grass’


A second main use is to refer to things in nature, including:

dirtyi thandra ‘grain of drifting sand’
karku thandra ‘piece of red ochre’
maru thandra ‘piece of black ochre’
mirka thandra ‘ants eggs’
ngapa thandra ‘drop of water’
thalara thandra ‘rain drop’
thurla thandra ‘piece of a stone chisel’

The third use is with the names of parts of the body — again these are generally small round parts attached to something else:

marna thandra ‘tooth’ (marna is ‘mouth’)
milki thandra ‘eyeball’ (milki is ‘eye’)
ngama thandra ‘nipple’ (ngama is ‘breast’)
pantya thandra ‘kneecap’ (pantya is ‘knee’)

We also find mangathandra ‘head’ but because there is no separate word manga in Dieri we write this all as one word. Interestingly, Dieri also has a word mangawarru ‘widow’ (a woman whose husband has died) — this is a single word in Dieri now but it might be made up of an old word manga ‘head’ and the word warru ‘white’. In the old days Dieri people used to put a white cap made of gypsum on the heads of widows to show they were in mourning for their dead husbands. When the mourning period was over the cap would be taken off the widow’s head and placed on the dead man’s grave (photo from Australian Museum).


The widow’s cap was made by women who first cut the hair of the mangawarru and placed a pirli ‘net made of human hair or plant fibres’ on her head. They then mixed gypsum (the soft white mineral that is used to make plaster) with water to make a fine paste that they painted on in layers. When it was finished the cap could be 10 centimetres thick, and weigh between 2 kilograms and 7 kilograms. Imagine carrying that around on your mangathandra all day!


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’

Folsom Prison mandru-mandru


Today, we look at the fourth and final verse of the Dieri translation of Johnny Cash’s song Folsom Prison Blues (for the first verse go here, for the second verse go here and for the third verse go here). In English, the fourth verse reads like this:

Well if they freed me from this prison
If that railroad line was mine
I bet I’d move on over
A little further down the line
Far from Folson Prison
That’s where I want to stay
And I’d let that lonesome whistle
Blow my blues away

As usual, we have had to adapt the Dieri translation so that the words could fit the melody, so here is the fourth verse in Dieri:

Thanali jaila wirlpangankarnanhi
Nganhi nhurru marla wapayi
Trainali nganha pardakayi
Nguraya warrithaya
Folsom Prisonandru waparna
Ngurra ngamalha nganayi
Ya trainaya wirlpinali
Matya nganha manyungankayi

Translated into English this means:

If they open the jail
I would go very quickly
The train would take me
To a home far away
Going from Folsom Prison
I will always stay
And the train’s whistle
Would make me feel better

The words and their meanings are the following:

thanali means ‘they’ referring to three or more people. This is the transitive subject form

jaila is the English word ‘jail’ with an a added since Dieri words must all end in a vowel and have two syllables

wirlpangankarnanhi means ‘if (someone) opens’ and consists of the root wirlpa ‘hole, opening’ and the endings -nganka ‘to cause, make’ and -rnanhi meaning ‘event happening at the same time with a different subject’ (the subject of wirlpanganka ‘to open, cause to be open’ is ‘they’ and the subject of the next line is ‘I’)

nganhi means ‘I’. This is the the intransitive subject form

nhurru means ‘quick, fast’

marla means ‘very, more’ and serves to emphasise the previous word here, so ‘very quickly’

wapayi means ‘am going’ and consists of the root wapa ‘to go’ and the ending -yi indicating present tense, a situation happening now

trainali means ‘by the train’ and is the transitive subject form (it consists of the English word ‘train’ (with a added to make it two syllables and ending in a vowel) plus the ending li which marks transitive subject for roots of two syllables ending in a)

nganha means ‘me’ and is the transitive object form (the object of the verb ‘carry’ here)

pardakayi means ‘is carrying’ and consists of the root pardaka ‘to carry’ and the ending -yi indicating present tense, a situation happening now. As we saw in a previous post traditionally pardaka-rna means ‘to carry in the hands’ — here it is extended to the train carrying the singer away inside it

nguraya means ‘to home’ and consists of ngura ‘camp, home’ plus the ending -ya which indicates ‘direction towards a place’ (the technical term for this is the allative case — we will discuss it in more detail in a future post)

warrithaya means ‘to far away’ and consists of warritha ‘far, distant’ plus the ending -ya which indicates ‘direction towards a place’. It modifies the previous word so we have ‘to a home far away’

Folsom Prisonandru means ‘from Folsom Prison’ and uses the English name (with added final a for ‘prison’, as we have seen previously for ‘jail’ and ‘train’) plus the ending -ndru which means ‘from (a place)’ (the technical term for this is the ablative case — we will discuss it in more detail in a future post)

waparna means ‘going’ and consists of the root wapa ‘to go’ and the ending -rna indicating ‘event happening at the same time with a same subject’ (the subject of wapa ‘to go’ is the same as the subject of the next line, namely ‘I’)

ngurra means ‘always’ (be careful to make a clear pronunciation difference between ngurra ‘always’ with a trilled-r sound (like a Scottish r) and ngura ‘camp, home’ with a short flapped-r sound as confusing the two words makes a lot of difference in meaning!)

ngamalha means ‘(will) sit, (will) stay’ and consists of the root ngama ‘to sit, stay, live’ and the ending -lha which indicates future tense (something happening later) in combination with the next word

nganayi indicates a future situation when it follows a verb that ends with the -lha component — it is equivalent to English ‘will’ in ‘will sit’

ya means ‘and’

trainaya means ‘of the train’, and is the possessive form of the word ‘train’ that is borrowed from English (using the ending -ya meaning ‘belonging to, owned by’)

wirlpinali means ‘by the whistle’ and is made up of the root wirlpi ‘to whistle’, the ending -ni which indicates ‘thing that does an action’ and turns verbs into nouns (so wirlpi-ni is used to describe the thing ‘whistle’), and the ending li which marks transitive subject. For nouns of three syllables ending in i like wirlpini, the last vowel changes to a before we add -li (this is also true for root words of three syllables ending in i, so kadnhini ‘mother’s mother’ has the transitive subject form kadnhinali)

matya means ‘already’

nganha means ‘me’ and is the transitive object form (the object of the next word which is the verb ‘make feel good’)

manyungankayi means ‘is making feel good’ and consists of the root manyu ‘good’ and the endings -nganka ‘to cause, to make’ and -yi ‘present tense’

This is the last verse and completes our translation of Johnny Cash’s song.

Note: Many thanks to Greg Wilson and the Port Augusta Dieri Language Committee, especially Aunty Renie Warren, for passing on to me the draft of their song translation

Minha yundru waltharna parlkayi?

In some areas of vocabulary the Dieri language has many more words and expressions than we find in English. One of these are words having to do with carrying things — Dieri has several different verbs, depending on how the object or person is carried. Here they are with examples:

  • pardaka-rna means ‘to carry in the hands’, as in:

    nhulu ngardanhi pardakayi yinka ‘Then he carried the string in his hands’

  • thuka-rna means ‘to carry on the back’, as in:
    nhantuyali nganha thukayi ‘The horse carries me on its back’

    Notice that the intransitive verb thukatharri-rna derived from this root is how we express ‘to ride on’ in Dieri (it literally means, ‘to be carried on the back of’), as in:

    nganhi thukatharriyi ngandrinhi ‘I ride on my mother’s back’

  • waltha-rna means ‘to carry on the head’, as in:
    katyi nhulu waltharna wanthiyi ‘He used to carry spears on his head long ago’

  • wanpa-rna means ‘to carry on the shoulder’, as in:
    nhandru pirlipirli wanparna parlkayi ‘She carries a little bag on her shoulder as she goes along’

The title for this blog post can be translated into English as ‘What are you carrying on your head as you go along?’, and is made up of these words:

minha meaning ‘what?’

yundru meaning ‘you (one person)’ — this is the transitive subject form

waltharna means ‘carrying on the head’

parlkayi means ‘is going along’ and consists of the root parlka ‘to go along, to go on a journey’ and the ending -yi present tense, indicating that the event is happening now. The combination of two words at the end of the sentence here waltharna parlkayi is called a compound verb and we will discuss this type of combination some more in a later blog post.

Folsom Prison parkulu

After a bit of a break due to having to go back to London and resume my usual teaching, supervision and administrative duties, I am back to Dieri language work now and will be trying to post new materials here regularly.

Today, we look at the third verse of the Dieri translation of Johnny Cash’s song Folsom Prison Blues (for the first verse go here and for the second verse go here). In English, the third verse reads like this:

I bet there’s rich folks eating
In a fancy dining car
They’re probably drinking coffee
And smoking big cigars
But I know I had it coming
I know I can’t be free
But those people keep a-movin’
And that’s what tortures me

As usual, we have had to adapt the Dieri translation so that the words could fit the melody, so here is the third verse in Dieri:

Partyarnali thayirna
Trainanhi thana ngamayi
Thanali thirti thaparna
Ya thupu thaparna
Nganhi mathari malhantyi
Pulu durnkarna kurrayi
Thana partyarna waparnanhi
Nganhi kurnukurnu ngamayi

Translated into English this means:

They are all eating
As they sit on the train
They are drinking tea
And smoking
I am a bad man
I can’t get away
While they are all going
I am sitting alone

The words and their meanings are the following:

partyarnali means ‘all’ and is the transitive subject form (it consists of the root partyarna ‘all’ plus the ending li which marks transitive subject for roots of three syllables)

thayirna means ‘eating’ and consists of thayi ‘to eat’ plus rna which indicates action at the same time and by the same subject as another action (here linked action in the following line, ‘they sit on the train’)

trainanhi means ‘on the train’, and is the locative form of the word ‘train’ that is borrowed from English

thana means ‘they’ referring to three or more people. This is the intransitive subject form.

ngamayi means ‘sit’ and consists of the root ngama plus the present tense ending yi

thanali means ‘they’ referring to three or more people. This is the transitive subject form.

thirti means ‘tea’ and is an adaptation of the English word. Dieri does not allow words of one syllable (except for ya meantioned below — there have to be at least two vowels in each Dieri word) and does not allow words to start with t so the adapted form become thirti

thaparna means ‘to take into the body by mouth without chewing’ (in contrast to thayirna ‘to eat, to take into the body by mouth with chewing. Here it occurs with thirti ‘tea’ so it means ‘drink’. In the next line it occurs with thupu ‘smoke’ and it means ‘to suck into the mouth’

ya means ‘and’

thupu means ‘smoke’. It’s meaning was extended in Dieri when they met Europeans who had pipes and cigarettes and so now thupu thaparna means ‘to smoke (a cigarette or pipe)’

nganhi means ‘I’. This is the intransitive subject form.

mathari means ‘man’. Strictly speaking it can only be used for men who have been initiated (uninitiated men are called kanku ‘boy). Notice that karna translates as ‘man’ in English but it is a general term for any Aboriginal human being (male or female).

malhantyi means ‘bad’.

pulu means ‘cannot’. It is the opposite of kantyi ‘can’.

durnkarna means ‘to go out, to come out, to emerge’.

kurrayi means ‘to go away’ when used in combination with a verb of moving, like durnkarna. Notice that there is also another verb kurra-rna which is transitive and means ‘to put’.

waparnanhi means ‘going’ — it consists of the root wapa to go and the ending -rnanhi meaning ‘event happening at the same time with a different subject.

kurnukurnu means ‘alone’ and is a repeated version of the word kurnu meaning ‘one, alone’ (see also this post on numbers).

ngamayi means ‘is sitting’ and consists of the root ngama ‘to sit’ and the ending -yi indicating present tense, a situation happening now.

There is one more verse to this song and we will look at it in a future post.

Yawarra marra

On the 4th April the third ILS-funded language revitalisation workshop was held in Adelaide and attended by 35 members of the Dieri Aboriginal Corporation. In the morning Peter Austin and Greg Wilson ran parallel sessions, with Greg’s group working on materials for the Dieri language school programme and Peter’s group revising previous workshop materials and learning new words and expressions with a focus on everyday language use. In the afternoon Peter worked with the whole group on Dieri songs, and extending and practising everyday conversation, with an emphasis on functional language use.

During the day yawarra marra ‘new words’ (yawarra means ‘word, sentence, language’ and marra means ‘new’ — remember that modifying words follow the thing they modify in Dieri) of two types came up. Some were terms that Peter had not learnt before and so were not yet in the dictionary, and the others were terms that we discussed as being appropriate new expressions to add to the Dieri language.

An example of the first type of words that Peter had not heard before came up when we were discussing how to instruct or order people to do things, like ‘sit down!’, ‘be quiet!’, ‘go away!’ and so on. Some of the karna from Broken Hill remembered their Nanna calling out kurrakani! when she wanted them to leave her alone. With the help of the Elders we were able to work out that this is a command form based on the word base kurraka which means ‘to gallop, run quickly’ plus the ending -ni meaning ‘you all’, so it means ‘you all run away quickly!’. We also learnt that you could say nhanthu kurrakayi ‘The horse is galloping’.

The second type of new words are terms for things we use every day that did not exist previously, so have no traditional names. An example of this is mobile phone. We discussed what to call it in Dieri during the last session of the workshop. Languages generally follow two patterns when they want to make up new words. The first is borrowing a word from another language, and adapting it in pronunciation (English has done this with words from lots of languages, including Dieri — for example English ‘mulga’ comes from Dieri malka). So, we could, for example, say pana for ‘phone’ in Dieri (remember Dieri does not have f or o and all words must end in a vowel). The second pattern for creating new words is to use existing materials and combine them in new ways. Chinese tends to do this so their word for ‘telephone’, for example, means “electric speech”.

For ‘mobile phone’ it was suggested that we could use tharlpa ‘ear’ and combine it with daltyi ‘rattling noise’ (see the previous discussion of words for sounds). This gives us tharlpa daltyi for ‘mobile phone’. Next we discussed ‘video game’ — the Dieri word for ‘game’ is pirkini (based on the verb pirki-rna ‘to play). We combined this with paratyi ‘lightning’ (and hence ‘electric’) to give paratyi pirkini for ‘video game’. The last word we discussed was ‘computer’. Again, we decided to use paratyi ‘lightning’ and combine it with puwa ‘matter, soft insides’ (as in muku puwa ‘marrow’, where muku means ‘bone’, and tyuru puwa ‘brain’, where tyuru means ‘intelligence’). This gives us paratyi puwa for ‘computer’.


In the future, new words can be added to Dieri in this way to express new terms and concepts.