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.
08 October 2011
SYDNEY: Warrang or Warrane — OR ngurang?
One of the earliest recorded names for Sydney, or Sydney Cove, was provided by Philip Gidley King:
"Warrane"waran ="The tribe of Wallumede inhabit the north shore opposite Warrane, or Sydney-Cove, and are called Walumetta. [Sydney Cove]" :King in Hunter 1968 [:275:11] [BB]
This was derived from King's 1790 manuscript:
"Warrane"waran =" The tribe of Wallumede inhabit the North shore opposite Warrane or Sydney Cove & called Walumetta."Sydney Cove—:King MS [:406:5] [BB]
[King, Philip Gidley. 1786-90. Journal of P.G. King, 1786-1790. Sydney (Mitchell Library).]
There are various other references to Sydney spelt ‘Warrane’, by H. Haywood Richardson, George Thornton, McCarthy, Tyrrell, and Attenborough, but all appear to be copies of this original King entry.
Dawes provided "Worrong-woóree"warang-wuri =": On this side (the water) :"side near:Dawes (b) [b:22:3] [BB]
The spelling ‘warang’ also occurred, first used by Dawes.
"Wåráng"warang ="I then told her that a whiteman had been wounded some days ago in coming from Kadi to Wåráng & asked her why the black men did it.—"Sydney Cove :Dawes (b) [b:33:4.3] [BB]
which, if Dawes were to be correct about the meaning of ‘side’, might suggest the settlement were perceived as being on the right-hand side of Sydney Cove, and hence the reference provided by the unknown informant.
Also in the Anon notebook is:
"War-ran-jam-ora"waran dyamara ="I am in Sydney Cove"Sydney Cove, I am in :Anon (c) [c:18:4] [BB]
The ‘jam’ (dyam) or possibly ‘dyamu’ part of this might have meant ‘here’, from:
"D'iamŏ"dya-mu ="Here I am; Here I come"here I:Southwell [:149.1:25.1] [BB]
In about 1832, a generation or so later, by which time the Sydney language was largely lost, Larmer recorded:
This contribution, apparently linked in some way, does not add any clarification.
It is probably the case that ‘warrang’ and ‘warrane’ are two ways people in about 1790 recorded the same word they heard. If one said the word to a group today, similar discrepancies in the spelling of it would probably occur.
“Warang’ might have genuinely been a genuine placename for the location on Sydney Cove where the settlement was established. Or it might have been a casual reference to the side of the cove on which the settlement was springing up; or the side from which a boat at the time was about to leave for some harbour journey.
Or it might have meant something else entirely, as will be considered shortly. But first a comment about the early recorders transcribing what they heard.
OMITTED INITIAL CONSONANTS
Early recorders apparently commonly experienced difficulty in making out the precise sound of a word they heard, that they were trying to write down. No indigenous words in the Sydney region began with a vowel, and yet there are written records from all over with words starting with a vowel. It was probable that in some regions of Australia a consonant once there might have begun to be dropped, but even so it seems reasonable to be suspicious of words lacking an initial consonant. Often in such cases a particular consonant can be tried to see if it might result in a word more like others recorded for the same meaning. The best consonants to try are ‘w’ and ‘y’, referred to by linguists as ‘semi-vowels’. There is also one other sound that appears to have been omitted because of its difficulty for English speakers: ‘ng’ at the start of a word. In English the 'ng' sound is very common at the end of a word or in the middle (as in ‘singing’, ‘banging’), but never at the start of a word. But is is very common there in Australian indigenous languages. Sometimes such Indigenous Australian words were spelt beginning ‘Kn-’ or ‘Gn-’ — or the problematic sound was just omitted altogether, leaving a word apparently beginning with a vowel.
The following pairs of examples show a consonant present in the first and omitted in the second.
From the first of the two examples immediately above it seems just possible that the ‘Warrane / Warrang’ in Sydney might have been a case where a ‘w’ was substituted for an initial ‘ng’ not properly heard, and that instead of ‘warang’ what had been said might actually have been ‘ngurang’
Could the real meaning of Warang for ‘Sydney’ actually be ‘camp’?
On the one hand this seems improbable as Dawes meticulously captured and recorded words beginning with ‘ng’ even introducing a special symbol akin to /ŋ/ to spell them. Accordingly he appears unlikely to have made an error in in recording "Worrong-woóree" as quoted above. It is interesting to note that he placed colons around his translation of this expression: “: On this side (the water) :”; this was a device he employed to indicate that he was unsure of the actual meaning. Consequently, any suggestion that ‘warang’ recorded as the name for Sydney might really have been ‘ngarang’ (camp) is doubtful. Nevertheless it remains an interesting possibility, particularly as the settlement at Sydney Cove might easily have been referred to by the indigenous population as a ‘camp’, and hence as ‘ngarang’, or ngura / ngara, rather than as ‘warang’.