12 June 2010

Nyungar: Introduction

In 2010 I have been working on the Nyungar language area of south-west Western Australia. I used to live in Darlington not far from Perth, and in those days there used to be a train from Mundaring to Perth, passing through the siding of Boya. I would get off at East Guildford. Darlington is not that far from Kalamunda. I would go for holidays to Mooliabeenie. Indigenous names such as these meant nothing to me: they were just names.

It was intriguing to discover that Boya means 'stone'; and that Kalamunda consists of the words 'kalla' meaning primarily 'fire', but also used for 'camp' (typified by having a 'fire'); and 'munda', having several possible meanings such as 'bush', 'dry', 'bracken' and 'fern', and even 'tiger shark'. So while the explanation given on the internet for Kalamunda is 'home in the forest' ['camp', 'bush'], it might in fact mean 'bush fire'.

Mundaring is a puzzle. It could be related to 'munda' (bush) already considered in 'Kalamunda'. The explanations on the internet do not inspire confidence:
"Mundaring is thought to be named from an Aboriginal word meaning “a high place on a high place” or “the place of the grass tree leaves”."
'minda' has the meaning 'grass-tree leaf' (or frond): but this is not 'munda'; and the nearest 'high, steep, deep' word to 'Mundaring' that I can find is 'morda'.

Mooliabeenie might be mulya+bini. 'mulya' means 'nose', while there are possible meanings for 'bini' including 'pre-dawn', and 'to itch'. Could this have been 'nose itch'? There is one record for 'mool-ya-bin', the recorded meaning for this being 'sulky, offended'. Perhaps itchy nose was the way the concept of 'sulky' was expressed.

As children we used to use the word 'wongy' for having a chat with someone, and 'wongi' turns out to be the Nyungar verb 'to speak'; and we talked about 'gilgy's, pronounced Jill-Gee, for a small crayfish. And the same word can be found in the records for this very creature, which I would now spell 'dyilgi'.

My main initial source of information was:

Bindon, Peter and Ross Chadwick. 1992. "A Nyoongar wordlist from the south west of Western Australia / compiled and edited by Peter Bindon & Ross Chadwick." Pp. xi, 454. Perth: Anthropology Dept., Western Australian Museum.

and subsequently, among other sources:

Moore, George Fletcher. 1842. A Descriptive Vocabulary of the Language in Common Use amongst the Aborigines of Western Australia; with Copious Meanings, embodying much interesting information regarding the Habits, Manners, and Customs of the Natives, and the Natural History of the Country. London: Wm. S. Orr & Co., Paternoster Row.

Saturday 12 June 2010