29 August 2010

NYUNGAR Words: ‘Tooth’ for a world view

Reflecting on the wordlists from the Australian southwest, or no doubt from any area of the country, gives an occasional glimpse of the way the indigenous people perceived the world around them. This is sometimes termed ‘a world view’. For us English speakers. a ‘tooth’ is a ‘tooth’ more or less. We might say ‘toothless’ for someone without teeth; or figuratively for someone who is therefore harmless, because his bite without teeth is unthreatening. Someone might be ‘toothy’—having unusually prominent teeth. While ‘teething troubles’ might be applied to small children growing their teeth, or to new inventions that do not work as well as expected or hoped for in the beginning. There may be more ‘tooth’ associations in English, but they are not like those of the Indigenous Australians, as the following examples reveal. And there are others besides, somewhat more tenuous than those supplied here.

First, a ‘tooth’ pure and simple. This is basically ngalga or ngalag, with the ‘curious inversion’ process or metathesis operating (-lga or -lag).


"nalgo" nalga = "teeth" tooth: [3] Lyon 1833 [:405:40] [NYUNGAR]

"orl-ga" ngurlga = "tooth, a" tooth: [4 (e)] Grey V [: 419:31] [Wardandi]

"nalgo" nalga = "teeth" tooth: [8] Salvado 1851 [:405:46] [NYUNGAR]

"ghnalgo" ngalga = "teeth" tooth: [17] Markey 1942 [:57:31] [NYUNGAR]

"orlock" ngurla[a]g = "teeth" tooth: [1] King 1827 [:406:4] [Minang]

"nor-luk" nurla[a]g = "tooth, a" tooth: [4 (b)] Grey [: 419:33] [Minang]

"quorlock" ngurla[a]g = "teeth" tooth: [11] Hassell AA 1894 [?] [:406:11] [NYUNGAR]

"gnorluck" ngurla[a]g = "teeth" tooth: [22] Gray 1987 [:406:16] [NYUNGAR]

"knollak" ngula[a]g = "teeth" tooth: [10 (l)] Curr [:405:39] [Wardandi]

The first variation is the word for ‘tooth’ being applied to a facial feature near the tooth: the ‘cheek’:

"nga-luk" ngalu[u]g = "cheek, the" cheek: [4 (b)] Grey [:234:24] [Minang]

"Ngaluk" ngalu[u]g = "(K.G.S.) The cheek?" cheek: Moore 1842 [:89:11] [Minang]

In the evolution of animals surprising changes have occurred to the basic bodily components of head, torso, arms/legs, feet and so on. The backbone can have more or fewer components, and likewise the neck, as in a giraffe. Elephants have a long nose. A horse’s hoof is basically the nail on a single residual finger or toe, the other digits almost disappearing. We know where a nostril is supposed to be: except that on a whale it has become the blowhole on the top of its head. And for birds, the beak is a single remaining tooth of the upper and lower jaw.

While there are no examples showing that the Nyungar called a bird’s beak a ‘tooth’, there are many examples of birds as a hole being perceived by one of their predominant characteristics, their beak (or ‘tooth’).


"ngala" ngala = "sea gull, large" gull: [3] Lyon 1833 [:369:6] [NYUNGAR]

"Ngulor" ngulur = "Eagle, sea; Haliaeëtus leucogaster" sea-eagle: Moore 1842 [:130:34] [NYUNGAR]

"Ngalganning" ngalganing = "Ibis; Nycticorax" ibis: Moore 1842 [:140:24] [NYUNGAR]

"gnular" ngula = "cockatoo, white-tailed black" cockatoo: [18 (v)] Serventy [:239:52] [Goreng]

"gnoolah" ngula = "cockatoo, black" cockatoo: [22] Gray 1987 [:238:41] [NYUNGAR]

"Nulargo" nulaga = "Graucalus; blue pigeon." pigeon: Moore 1842 [:86:9] [NYUNGAR]

"nu-lar-go" nulaga = "cuckoo-shrike, black-faced" cuckoo-shrike: [18 (w)] Serventy [:248:19] [Wajuk]

"ngo-lak" ngala[a]g = "cockatoo, white tailed sp. of" cockatoo: [4] Grey 1840 [:239:46] [NYUNGAR]

"gnawlak" ngalag = "cockatoo, white-tailed" cockatoo: [13] Rae [:239:48] [NYUNGAR]

"ngoolark" ngula[a]g = "cockatoo, white-tailed black" cockatoo: [24] Hassell, Edney [:239:49] [NYUNGAR]

"Nolyang" nalya[a]ng = "Nol-yang; Gallinula" moorhen: Moore 1842 [:148:14] [NYUNGAR]

"ngalganning" ngalganing = "ibis, Nycticorax caledonicus (night heron)" night-heron: [9] Moore 1884 [:296:22] [NYUNGAR]

"knulumberry" ngalambiri = "pelican" pelican: [10 (b)] Curr [:347:34] [Amangu]

Other ‘toothy’ animals appear to have been so viewed also—at least native cats, and the ‘flathead’ fish.


"ngoolarngeat" ngula[a]ngid = "cat, spotted marsupial" cat: [24] Hassell, Edney [:233:16] [NYUNGAR]

"ngoolgarngeat" ngulga[a]ngid = "wild cat (native, marsupial spotted)" cat: [23] Buller-Murphy [: 442:13] [Dordenup [Wardandi]]

"no'lkah" nalga = "flathead" flathead: [15] Hammond [:268:6] [NYUNGAR]

"nol-ah" nala = "flathead" flathead: [16] Hammond [:268:5] [NYUNGAR]

What are ‘teeth’ primarily used for? Biting, chewing, eating. Perhaps not surprisingly, there are examples for words related to these functions, although Grey in the first example below took moral exception to this phenomenon.


"nal-go" nalga = "teeth, the; improperly used for 'to eat'" tooth: [4] Grey 1840 [:406:18] [NYUNGAR]

"nal-goo" nalgu = "eat, to" eat: [15] Hammond [:263:14] [NYUNGAR]

"Nalgo" nalga = "drink" drink: Symmons, Charles [:16:16] [NYUNGAR]

"{yowerinyy, narlong}" nala[a]ng = "{alcohol}" grog: [22] Gray 1987 [:200:15.2] [NYUNGAR]

"nalung" nala[a]ng = "grog" grog: [13] Rae 1913 [::] [NYUNGAR]

Finally, the ‘tooth’ concept led onto ‘belch’ (a result of work done by teeth perhaps), ‘sharp’ (as a knife, or, in the absence of knives, a ‘tooth’), and piercing, done by something ‘sharp’ such as a . . . ‘tooth’.


"nor-luk-kool" nurlu[a]gul = "belch, to; to come through the teeth" tooth: [4 (b)] Grey [:214:1] [Minang]

"Nalgo" nalga = "Edge, sharp, as of a knife" sharp: Moore 1842 [:131:7] [NYUNGAR]

"Ngalladara" ngaladara = "A hole pierced completely through." perforation: Moore 1842 [:89:6] [NYUNGAR]

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