This blog looks at some Australian indigenous languages. It draws on databases formed from word lists by largely nineteenth-century people. The databases respell the words consistently, and consistent meanings are given to the words. Thus any reference to 'river', 'creek' and so on is always rendered as 'stream'. This device enables comparisons to be made, and word-matches to be uncovered, by using the searching capabilities of databases.
12 September 2010
DHARAWAL Words: Tackling the “unijerunbi minku ?” puzzle
"Minyanniba"minyani ba ="what for?"why:Mathews GGA 1901 [:153:13.2] [Gga]
"Min"min ="Why, what for"why:Dawes (b) [b:13:19.1] [BB]
"Minyin"minyin ="Why, what for"why:Dawes (b) [b:13:19.2] [BB]
The next step is to determine what “unijerunbi” might be.
The suffix ‘-bi’ is a common second-person singular Dharawal subject ‘bound’ pronoun (2sgNOM), meaning ‘you’, but which in the databases is rendered ‘thou’ to distinguish it from you-two (2du) and ‘you-all’ (2pl). A bound pronoun is one taking the form of a suffix. There are also freestanding pronouns.
This leaves “unijerun”—which might possibly be trimmed to “unijeru”, in view of the deleted ‘-n-’ being assumed to have attached to ‘-bi’ to form ‘-nbi’ in a process in some languages affecting the consonants ‘b’ and ‘d’, known as prenasalisation. William Dawes had first noted a form of this as it was a phenomenon not present in the harbourside language of Sydney but did occur in the dialect around Parramatta and beyond. Here is his record made on 14 April 1791:
The above extract from Dawes’s Notebook (b) comes from the SOAS internet address cited. The Burubirangal were an ‘inland’ or ‘woods’ clan of the Sydney language group, while the ‘Coasters’ were the people around the harbour. What Dawes was mainly recording in his brief comparative list was not so much the insertion of ‘n’ but the dropping of ‘d’ by the ‘coasters’, in the in all but the fourth and fifth entries.
But to return to the translation conundrum. The next thought is to consider that, in this area of the Australian east coast at least, words do not generally (and possibly never), start with a vowel. So the “unijerunbi” record almost certainly omitted the preceding consonant. This would be because the European recorder either:
—did not detect it;
—or did not know of a suitable means of rendering it with the alphabet of English, and so simply omitted it.
The missing consonant in such not uncommon examples is one of ‘y-’, ‘w-’ or ‘ng-’.
On respelling the record following the conventions adopted throughout the Bayala databases bayaladatabases.blogspot.com mentioned in these blog entries, the possibilities for the word emerge as:
Various searches in the databases were then carried out based on these respelt forms with a view to coming upon something to match the given translation of ‘What do you want ?’ However, the results were disappointing.
But one line of enquiry did emerge. It so happens that much of the relevant parts of Ridley’s KAOL were also published in a journal article ‘Australian Languages and Traditions’ (AL&T). And in that article, for the record concerned, there are two differences:
What do you want ?unijerunbi minku ?
What do you want, mistress ?unijerunbi munku ?
1. “minku” has become “munku”
2. “ mistress” has been added to the translation.
Whether or not these variations are correct new features is almost impossible to assert with confidence, but through the SOUTH database they do open up interpretation possibilities that are consistent with the given AL&T translation. These are now outlined, together with the database supporting information.
First, assume now there are now THREE components to the translation, not two:
—what (i.e. some interrogative)
This gives rise to the idea that the first word might be ‘ngani’. (See the third respelling option above.) And ‘ngani’ or similar is a form commonly associated with ‘who’, or with interrogatives generally:
"nunnagawu"nganagawu ="who are you (two)?"who—you-two:Mathews GGA 1901 amend [:153:11.204] [Gga]
"[Ngun´-nin-gâ thin-bâ´-lee-min?]"nganinGa ="[who is eating?]"who:M&E: GGA 1900 [:271:3.2] [GGA]
"[Ngun´-nin-gâ ngoo´-rij-jee-bâ mung´-â-rin´-jee-bâ nin gan-bee ?]"nganinGa ="[whom-from gottest-thou that wood ?]"who:M&E: GGA 1900 [:271:7.2] [GGA]
And from the Sydney Language (BB):
"[Ngan widá-lyi teara wü´ra würá]"ngan ="[Who was that drinking tea with you?]"who:Dawes (b) [b:15:2.1] [BB]
"Mi ngâ´ni"mi ngani ="Why, what for"why what for:Dawes (b) [b:13:17] [BB]
"[Mingáni1 bottle2]"mi ngani ="[What is in the1 bottle2]"what:Dawes (b) [b:13:22.1] [BB]
Assume ‘ngani’ is the interrogative part of the sentence. Could ‘dyira’ be ‘want’? And could ‘minGu/munGu’ be ‘mistress’? Well, apparently, quite possibly—yes. ‘dyira’ can be (among other things) ‘speak’, and ‘minGu/munGu’ can be ‘mother’ (similar to mistress).
"[unijerunbi munku ?]"manGu ="[what do you want, mistress ? [[sic]]]"mother:AL&T (Ridley) Mrs Malone [DWL] [:263:26.3] [Twl]
"[unijerunbi minku ?]"minGu ="[What do you want ? [[sic]]]"mother:KAOL (Ridley) Mrs Malone [TWL] [:101:16.4] [Twl]
For the translation “ what do you want, mistress ?” to be regarded as correct, it is necessary to accept that ‘want’ could be rendered as ‘speak’, and ‘mistress’ as mother. A reformatting of the translation could therefore be ‘what speak-thou mother?’, and thus rendered the provided translation seems plausible.