07 May 2013

Rising, falling, and holding up

To ask ‘What was the Sydney Language word for “rise”’ would seem a simple question, but it is not.

The earliest records suggest the word for ‘rise’ was burbaga (or barbaga) in the vicinity of the Harbour at least, as indicated in Section 1 of the table of examples below (Table 2).

Yet Section 3 of that table offers instances of the same word meaning effectively the opposite, with ideas of ‘drop’, ‘fall’, ‘sink’ associated with it.

The position is not helped by the fact that it is now anyone’s guess as to how the recorded words were pronounced. The pronunciation could have made a difference. Was it:
ba- or bu- ?
bar- or bur- ?
bar- or bara- ?
bur- or bura- ?
ga- or gu- ?

Was bi- pronounced as in BI-cycle, or as in BI-nnacle?

Contronym ?
In section 3b of Table 2, Threlkeld says specifically that bur- indicated ‘drop’. Yet this contradicts the evidence in Section 1 where it means ‘rise’. Could it be that for users of the Sydney Language ‘rise’ and ‘fall’ were somehow two sides of the same coin? Could the word mean both ideas, the interpretation depending on the context? (There are somewhat similar examples in English, such as cleave: ‘to split’ or ‘to join together’; consult: about advice — to seek it, or in the case of a consultant, to provide it; weather: endure ‘to weather the storm’, or erode, as of rocks or other surfaces.) There are other more direct examples in Australian Indigenous languages such as the use of the same word for ‘tomorrow’ and ‘yesterday’.

Deliberate of accidental distinctions?
In Section 1, is the single example of bur-ba-nga different on purpose from the other examples (bar-ba-ga) — or was that just bad recording and should all the examples have been the same? It is entirely possible that the difference (-nga and -ga) was real and intended.
Somewhat similarly, in Sections 5 and 6 (and the last example in Section 3b), a lone -l- occurs in the words. Was this a mistake in recording, or was it deliberate and accurately captured in the records? In fact there is evidence in the records to suggest that both the suffix -nga, and also -l-, might have been markers to indicate transitivity — which is a feature of verbs, when something happens to something else rather than just happening. Transitivity may be illustrated by considering:
the dog barked (intransitive) (just happening: other examples are ‘swim’, ‘think’, ‘run’ and many more)
the dog bit the stick (transitive) (happens to something else: other examples are ‘hit’, ‘build’, ‘annoy’ and many more)

Possible reasons for variation in the examples
The examples in Section 2 of Table 2 are different from those of Section 1 perhaps because they were collected later, or were gathered in a different location having a different dialect or language (even though clearly it must have been a related language); or because the meaning was in fact to some extent different.

Nuances of meaning
Given the examples found it the table someone today could wring his or her hands and complain that the original speakers were careless in what they said, seeming to jumble up syllables with tiresome inconsistency. 
Or someone today might seek to condemn the people who made the records not only for their carelessness in how they wrote the words down so that we today have little idea as to how the words were pronounced (as mentioned above).
On the other hand the modern person of today might conclude that perhaps the words were recorded more or less correctly but that nuances of meaning are now lost. Such nuances would have been conveyed in those little syllables shown in Table 1 immediately below, known as derivational suffixes, which attached to the stem or root of the words. In English we use prepositions and phrases  to cover the meanings conveyed by derivational suffixes in Australian Indigenous languages. 

Threlkeld has suggested in Table 2, Section 3b) that a root was bur-/bar-. 
Examining the examples in Table 2 uncovers various derivational suffixes, for which possible meanings have been suggested:

Table 1: Derivational suffixes

possible significance
do / make



reflexive / reciprocal

-yi- [?]

location / place

These meaning have not been plucked out of thin air. It was Threlkeld who first pointed out that suffixes appeared to convey aspects of meaning in a systematic way. He outlined his concept on page 19 of his ‘Key’1.
1 Threlkeld, Lancelot Edward. 1850. A key to the structure of the Aboriginal language being an analysis of the particles used as affixes, to form the various modifications of the verbs: shewing the essential powers, abstract roots, and other peculiarities of the language spoken by the Aborigines in the vicinity of Hunter River, Lake Macquarie, etc., New South Wales: together with comparisons of Polynesian and other dialects. Sydney: Printed by Kemp and Fairfax.

The forms ending in -a appear to be more immediate, active, emphatic or operational, while those in -i suggest a more passive, quiet, relaxed state. But detailed consideration of derivational suffixes is a story for another day.

If someone today wished to settle on a word to suggest the idea of ‘rise’, ‘awake’, ‘get up’ I would recommend the word used by Dawes, burbaga. However, If for whatever reason the word buraga were to be preferred, I could offer no cogent objection.

Table 2: Examples from the records in the Bayala Databases

1. BARBAGA: rise


"[P to G. Gonang. poerbungāna]"
bur-ba-nga =
"[Gonang. Take hold of my hand and help me up:]"
raise  :
Dawes (b) [b:29:13.1] [BB]
bar-ba-ga =
"To get up"
rise  :
King in Hunter [:407.2:19] [BB]
bur-ba-ga =
"To rise"
rise  :
King in Hunter [:407.2:3] [BB]
bur-ba-ga =
"Awake. Or to awake"
rise  :
Dawes (b) [b:16:14] [BB]
bur-ba-ga =
"Get up"
rise  :
Lang: NSW Vocab [:7:191] [DG]

2. BU-RA-GA: rise

bu-ra-ga =
"get up! Arise!"
rise  :
Mathews 8006/3/5 -5 [108–Dharug] [:112:11] [DG]
"[Jillock bâ-ra-bee]"
ba-ra-bi =
"[moon rising]"
rise  :
Mathews 8006/3/5 -5 [108–Dharug] [:110:18.2] [DG]
"Bōrig-o-lier [bong-o-lier ?]"
ba-ri-ga-li-ya =
"Get up"
rise  :
Tkld KRE c.1835 [:131:22] [Kre]
bu-ri-ga =
"Get up"
rise  :
Mathews 8006/3/7- No 7 [7:4:32] [Dark]
ba-ra-ga =
rise  :
Mathews NYMBA 1904 [:231.1:25] [Nymba]

3a. BAR-BA-GA: lose / drop / fall

bar-ba-ga-yi =
"I have lost it"
drop did :
Dawes (b) [b:16:2] [BB]
bar-ba-ga-yi =
"I have lost it"
drop did :
Dawes (b) [b:33:2] [BB]
bar-ba-ga-yi =
drop did :
Anon (c) [c:6:4] [BB]
"[Berá pars`bügi´]"
bar-ba-ga-yi =
"[I have lost a fish hook]"
drop did :
Dawes (b) [b:17:12.2] [BB]
bur-ba-ngGa-li-gu =
"to compel to drop."
drop compel :
Tkld/Frsr AWA Aust Voc  [:61:32] [Awa]
bur-ba-ri-li-gu =
"to cause to drop by means of something."
drop using :
Tkld/Frsr AWA Aust Voc  [:61:33] [Awa]
3b. BUR-GA... : lose / drop / fall

bar =
"to drop down, to be born"
drop  :
Tkld/Frsr AWA 1892 [:49:7.2] [Awa]
"[Pór-kålléün tia wonnai emmoumba; ]"
bar-ga-li-yan-diya =
"[Dropped-has me child mine {or my}. / m., {My child is born, or, }unto me my child is born.]"
drop PAST [born]:
Tkld/Frsr AWA Illus Sent [:78:4.1] [Awa]
bur-ga-gi-li-gu =
"to be dropped, to be born."
drop be :
Tkld/Frsr AWA Aust Voc  [:61:35] [Awa]
bu-l-bur-ba-ngGa-li-gu =
"to cause to be lost property, to lose."
lose act something [compel]:
Tkld/Frsr AWA Aust Voc  [:57:59] [Awa]

4. BA-BU-BA: (sun)rise

ba-bu-ba =
"Sun Rise"
rise  :
Anon (c) [c:27:5.1] [BB]
"Coing by-bo-bar"
guwing ba-bu-ba =
"Sun Rise"
sun rise  :
Anon (c) [c:27:5.2] [BB]
ba-bu-la =
rise  :
King MS [:401:5.2] [BB]
"co-ing bi-bo-bā "
guwing ba-bu-ba =
"Sun rising"
sun rise– :
Collins 1 [:507.1:11] [Biyal Biyal]
"[co-ing bi-bo-bā ]"
ba-bu-ba =
"[Sun rising]"
rise  :
Collins 1 [:507.1:11.2] [BB]
"[Jillock bâ-ra-bee]"
ba-ra-bi =
"[moon rising]"
rise  :
Mathews 8006/3/5 -5 [108–Dharug] [:110:18.2] [DG]
bung-ba-ngGa-li-gu =
"to cause another to arise, to compel to arise."
rise act compel :
Tkld/Frsr AWA Aust Voc  [:57:55] [Awa]
bung-Ga-li-gu =
"to raise one's self up, to arise,"
rise be :
Tkld/Frsr AWA Aust Voc  [:57:56] [Awa]
"[win´-yoo-a boong´-bâ-min]"
bung-ba-ma-n =
"[Sun-rise; lit., sun rises]"
rise  he:
M&E: GGA 1900 [:271:19.2] [Gga]

5. BU-L-BA-GA: drop

bu-l-ba-ga-dyi-mi =
"Space occasioned by the loss of the eye or hind tooth"
drop did thou:
Anon (c) [c:22:20] [BB]
bu-l-ba-ga =
"“to denote the loss of any other tooth the word bool-bag-ga was applied.” [[tooth loss (not by initiation)]]"
drop  tooth missing:
Collins 1 [:485:25] [BB]

6. GU-L-BANGA: hold up

gu-l-banga-ba-wu =
"I will hold it up."
hold up will I:
Dawes (b) [b:8:14.1] [BB]

7. BU-RA-WA: up, drop

bu-ra-wi =
cloud  :
Collins 1 [:454:25] [BB]
"[Gwå´ra buráwå]"
bu-ra-wa =
"[The wind is fallen]"
drop  :
Dawes (b) [b:8:16.2] [BB]
bur-wu-ra =
"Fall down"
fall  drop, to:
Mathews KML/Dwl [:279.3:27] [Dwl]
"[Yūgungai yerrimaiadha bŭrwa-marraia nguttanbulali nhari yauangga.]"
bura-wa =
"[and as he sowed, some fell by the wayside] [dropped: Nbk 4: 17:14]"
drop  :
Mathews 8006/3/6- Nbk 4 [DWL] [:23:2.31] [Dwl]

SEE ALSO KEYWORD bara: rise / jump

Jeremy Steele
Tuesday 7 May 2013