19 February 2015


A friend wrote:
"If possible would you email the aboriginal word for butterfly."

Here is the reply:
Thank you for your enquiry about the Sydney Language word for ‘butterfly’.
As far as we know it is burudira.

As for the ‘Aboriginal’ word for ‘butterfly’, there were 250 ‘Aboriginal’ languages, so there could have been as many as 250 different ‘Aboriginal words’ for ‘butterfly’.

Here is one record, for the Aboriginal language of Sydney:

This is also the first record in the coloured table below.

burudira =
butterfly  :
Anon (c) [c:24:9] [BB]
burudira =
"A butterfly"
butterfly  :
Collins 1 [:512.2:13] [BB]

We only have these two records for ‘butterfly’.

Things in foreign languages are often not as simple as they seem at first sight.

Butterflies are lovely in various languages it seems:

French: papillon
English: butterfly
Italian: farfalla

if not so much in German
German: schmetterling

So in the Sydney Language, what was recorded as the lovely ‘butterfly’ might have had a connection with the unlovely ‘louse’:

burudu =
"A louse"
louse  :
Dawes (b) [b:3:18] [BB]
buruda =
"a Louse"
louse  :
Southwell [:147.3:5] [BB]

Thus burudira might have meant ‘louse-having’, or ‘like a louse’ (like an insect, perhaps).

One additional record is a mystery. It is by the excellent William Dawes:

"Booróody" burudayi = "Better" better  : Dawes (b) [b:22:9] [BB]

Dawes here is contrasting the words for ‘worse’ and ‘better.

On contemplating his entry you can see he wrote :

Wauloomy. Worse.

He did this with a well-inked pen, the ink almost dropping off the nib onto the paper.

Sometime later he has copied into his notebook the related contrasting concept:

Booróody Better.

Clearly the penmanship is different.

burudayi =
better  :
Dawes (b) [b:22:9] [BB]

So what? 
Well, there is no supporting evidence anywhere that burudayi (Dawes’s ‘Booróody’) meaning ‘better’.
But burudayi is really quite similar to burudira, and ‘better’ is quite similar to ‘butter(fly)’.
Could Dawes have made a mistake, misreading a rough entry:

Booróody butter... [better...] (butterfly?)

for ‘better’, hence his possibly erroneous handwritten entry above?

Jeremy Steele, Thursday 19 February 2015

No comments: