28 August 2010

NYUNGAR Words: Puzzle: gubal: belly, sleep, afternoon or river?

Daisy Bates provided the following sentence, with general and literal translations:

dajä wâ gäbälä?

Any fish in the river (or water)?

(fish where water?)

The sentence was the starting point in an investigative trail.

1. daja

This is respelt as dadya, and from a search of the NYUNGAR database its meaning is confirmed:

"dad-ja" dadya = "animal fit to eat, any; the flesh of any animal fit to eat" meat: [4] Grey 1840 [:201:52] [NYUNGAR]

"Dadja" dadya = "Any animal fit to eat; or the flesh of any such animal; animal food, as contradistinguished from Maryn, vegetable food." meat: Moore 1842 [:24:7] [NYUNGAR]

"dad-ja" dadya = "flesh of all sorts" meat: [5] Symmons 1841 [:268:12] [Wajuk]

Grey in 1840 set out the basic meaning. This was taken up and amplified by Moore. And Symmons confirmed the sense of the word as ‘meat food’. Fish are considered food, and are not vegetables, so dadya can mean ‘fish’.

2. wa

wa is either a word in its own right, or a locative (place) suffix. Bates stated its meaning as ‘where’.

"Yuŋ’ar wâ" yunga wa = "men where" man where: Bates Grammar [:67:31] [Wajuk]

"wânä wa" wana wa = "woman’s stick where" yamstick where: Bates Grammar [:67:33] [Wajuk]

Bates alone of the dozen or so wordlist compilers identified this usage.

3. gabala

Bates stated that the word gabala, in her example, meant ‘river (or water)’. The database supplied words for ‘stream’ beginning with ‘g-’:

"carlock" galag = "creek" stream: [11] Hassell AA 1894 [?] [:246:13] [NYUNGAR]

"gurr-jyte" gurdyad = "stream, a" stream: [4] Grey 1840 [:397:43] [NYUNGAR]

but not really close to gabala.

There are, however, plenty of example of gab, gaba and gabi meaning ‘water':

"kyp" gab = "water" water: [3 (a)] Lyon [: 431:35] [Minang]

"kype" gab = "water" water: [4] Grey 1840 [: 431:43] [NYUNGAR]

"[gabbie, gabba, gabby]" gaba = "water" water: [24] Hassell, Edney [: 431:23.1] [NYUNGAR]

"gabbi" gabi = "water" water: [9] Moore 1884 [: 431:18] [NYUNGAR]

There was no gabala for water, although Moore provided gabilang:

"Gabbilang" gabilang = "Of or belonging to water. Spoken of fish and amphibious animals. From Gabbi, water; and ang, of, l being interposed for sound's sake." water: Moore 1842 [:38:1] [NYUNGAR]


If gabala should not mean ‘stream’ or ‘water’, what might it mean instead, and expecially in the context of Bates’s sentence? A search for g@b@l* (where ‘@’ means any single letter, and ‘*’ any group or letters) resulted in two main lines of thought, ‘belly’ and ‘sleep’:


"Cob-bull" gabul = "Belly" belly: King, P.P. (Nyungar) [:2:10.1] [Minang]

"corpul" gurbul = "belly" belly: [2] Nind 1831 [:214:11] [NYUNGAR]

"kabarla" gabala = "belly" belly: [3] Lyon 1833 [:214:20] [NYUNGAR]

"kob-ba-lo" gabala = "stomach" belly: [5] Symmons 1841 [:395:41] [Wajuk]

"kobbel" gabil = "belly" belly: [16] Hammond [:214:14] [NYUNGAR]


"copil" gabil = "sleep" sleep: [2] Nind 1831 [:381:32] [NYUNGAR]

"ko-bel-ya" gubilya = "sleep" sleep: [4 (e)] Grey V [:381:45] [Wardandi]

"ko-pil" gabil = "sleep" sleep: [4] Grey 1840 [:381:46] [NYUNGAR]

"kopil" gabil = "sleep, to" sleep: [9] Moore 1884 [:382:11] [NYUNGAR]

Could either ‘belly’ or ‘sleep’ be candidates for Bates’s sentence?

fish where belly

fish where sleep

If the sentence were read as: ‘Fish where? Belly’, then perhaps the Nyungar person was enquiring about ‘fish’ as a possibility in relation to his ‘belly’. No comparable plausible link comes to mind for ‘fish where’ and ‘sleep’. So perhaps the words for ‘belly’ and ‘sleep’ are somewhat alike by chance, although the second group of examples above does indicate a contrast in the second syllable of the Nyungar word, featuring ‘-il’ as opposed to predominantly ‘-al’ and ‘-ul’ in the first group.

If the ‘belly’ line of thought is pursued, this leads to the idea of ‘hunger’, or ‘hungry’—but first consider any other possibilities.


The database search also yielded another g@b@l possibility—‘afternoon’:

"gar-ba-la" gabala = "between 3 & 4 pm" afternoon: [4] Grey 1840 [:215:14] [NYUNGAR]

"Garbala" gabala = "The afternoon; the evening; towards sunset." afternoon: Moore 1842 [:39:5] [NYUNGAR]

Maybe people got ‘hungry’ in the ‘afternoon’; maybe the morphologically similar (alike in ‘shape) word is just another coincidence.

So what about ‘hungry’? Should there be a similarity, it would suggest Bates's sentence was about hunger (fill the 'belly') rather than about sleep.


"cobolbut" gabal bad = "hunger; to be hungry" hunger (belly lacking): [8 (E)] Salvado [:292:37] [Balardung]

"koobar" guba = "hungry" hungry: [10 (j)] Curr [:292:51] [Pinjarup]

"goober" gubir = "hungry" hungry: [10 (n)] Curr [:292:49] [Kaniyang]

There is not much support, although there is some. And not through the more reliable worldlist compilers. Recourse has been necessary to Salvado, and to Curr. Even so, the above specimens tend to confirm a link between ‘belly’ and ‘hungry’, such that guba might be a root meaning ‘hunger’, and that with the suffix ‘-[a]l’ added it changed its significance to ‘belly’.


The above reasoning is speculation. Nevertheless it leads to a possible more realistic translation of the initial sentence than the interpretation Bates provided:

dadya wa gabala

fish where — hungry

Where (are the) fish? (I am) hungry

No comments: