14 August 2010

NYUNGAR Words: The 'thunder' trail

The sky darkens. There is a heaviness in the air. It feels damp. The clouds are massing. Then the rumbling of thunder starts and it begins to rain, and lightning flashes. Then a deafening clash of thunder overhead. It is in the Australian south-west, and the people there had a word for it:

"koon-dur-nan-gur" gundur nanGur = "thunder or rend the clouds, to" thunder: [4 (b)] Grey [: 415:33] [Minang]

In fact they had two words, 'gundur' and 'nanGur', as recorded by Grey. Scott Nind, ten years earlier, made a fairly similar record:

"condernore" gundir nur = "thunder" thunder: [2] Nind 1831 [: 415:4] [NYUNGAR]

What exactly did the words mean? Consider:

"koondurt" gundur[a]d = "cloud" cloud: [3 (a)] Lyon [:237:36] [Minang]

"koon-durt" gundur[a]d = "cloud, a" cloud: [4 (b)] Grey [:237:44] [Minang]

"Kundart" gunda[a]d = "(K.G.S.) A cloud." cloud: Moore 1842 [:62:14] [Minang]

From these records it may be taken that 'gunda', perhaps with the suffix '-ad', meant 'cloud'. So what about 'nanGur'?

"nan-gur" nanGur = "bite, to; to tear; to eat" tear: [4 (b)] Grey [:217:10] [Minang]

"nungoor" nangur = "ant, small" ant: [3] Lyon 1833 [:203:5] [NYUNGAR]

Grey claimed 'nanGur' meant 'bite', 'tear' ..., while when Lyon encountered the term he recorded 'ant'. Lyon might have been right; on the other hand, one thing ants are noted for is 'biting', and given the use made of the word in relation to 'thunder', 'bite' seems a fair probability. There is a wide range of other words for 'ant', probably identifying different species of them.

The meaning of 'gundur nanGur' seems therefore to be the graphically descriptive 'cloud tear'.

Curr recorded that 'gundir' meant 'thunder', but 'cloud' seems more probable:

"{konder, mulgar}" gundir = "{thunder}" thunder: [10 (k)] Curr [: 415:7.1] [Kaniyang]

"kondor" gundur = "thunder" thunder: [10 (s)] Curr [: 415:8] [Minang]

Another Curr record, apparently totally unrelated, is puzzling:

"goonda" gunda = "milk" milk: [10 (n)] Curr [:322:38] [Kaniyang]

Edney Hassell, howver, provided support for it ('bibi' is 'breast'):

"beeber coonder [[sic]]" bibir gundir = "milk" milk: [24] Hassell, Edney [:322:36] [NYUNGAR]

One thing often common to 'clouds' and 'milk' is the colour 'white'. A search for 'white' provided many different word groupings, but the following collection seemed relevant here:

"tdon-dail" dunda[a]l = "fair; white; light-coloured" white: [4] Grey 1840 [:160:22] [NYUNGAR]

"Djundal" dyundal = "White." white: Moore 1842 [:31:20] [NYUNGAR]

"dyoondal" dyundal = "white, fair hair" white: [3] Lyon 1833 [: 438:47] [NYUNGAR]

The consonant sounds 'g' and 'j' seem often to be mixed, or interchanged, and this might have been occurring here. There is also the suffix '-al' attached.

The next two examples appear to be quite similar, both beginning with a simple 'd', and the first also omitting the 'n'—perhaps a recording or transcription error.

"tdo-dail" duda[a]l = "fair" white: [6] Brady 1845 [:265:23] [NYUNGAR]

"Tdun-dal" dunda[a]l = "(Northern dialect.) Fair; white; lightcoloured." white: Moore 1842 [:96:7] [NYUNGAR]

Another pair of words closely similar to one another may have shaded the meaning of 'whiteness' somehow:

"tdoon-dil-yer" dundilyir = "fair; white; light-coloured" white: [4 (b)] Grey [:160:25] [NYUNGAR]

"torndiller" durndilir = "whites" white: [2] Nind 1831 [: 440:10] [NYUNGAR]

The final pair have a consonantal sequence of d-n-g:

"dongar" dunga = "thunder" thunder: [10 (j)] Curr [: 415:6] [Pinjarup]

"dornda" durnda = "light coloured" white: [12 (v) (aa) (bb)] Bates [:311:14] [NYUNGAR]

Some scholars have commented on a feature of the Nyungar group of languages, namely consonantal inversion, or 'metathesis'. Given that the sequence in the opening example above (for 'gundur') is g-n-d, perhaps this is at play here, strengthening the linking of the first and final forms of 'white' cited.

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