27 July 2015


For those of us who actually speak English we often fail to see what the difficulties in it are. English seems the simplest of languages: no complicated endings for verbs — as in French and others; no nonsense with genders. Spelling can be a bit tricky, until you get the hang of it.

But every now and then a problem comes up, such as with the word ‘lie’ in vocabularies. What problem? Well, does it mean ‘lie down’, or ‘tell a lie’?

In the Tasmania vocabularies ‘lie’ crops up quite often. Here is an example:

Fig. 1 ‘lies down’ or ‘tell lies’?

“in.er.kie.the.came.cow.wer.min.came” is quite a mouthful for the simple word ‘lie’. And yinagiDigamgawaminGam is almost certainly wrong respelling of it. In reality it is probably several words, but how to split them up correctly? —

yinagi Digamga waminGam perhaps? 

Probably not. And unless you can find meanings for the constituent portions you are just guessing.

Let us look at some other examples of ‘lie’, which might give some ideas.
Three tables are presented for the ‘lie’ examples.

Lie down

Fig. 2 ‘lie down’: this meaning is made plain by the given translation in the central grey column

Tell lies

Fig. 3 ‘tell lies’, or ‘fib’: this meaning is made plain by the given translation


Fig. 4 Meaning of ‘lie’ uncertain.

The examples in Fig. 4 reveal Your Amateur Researcher’s initial guess as to the meaning intended. ‘Fib’ in all cases except the first, gadina.

Items 2-3: lini group (Fig. 4)
In Fig. 4, item 3 linugi nuwili means ‘xxx bad’. The translation 'bad' comes from the ‘bad’ examples below”:

Fig. 5 nuwili: ‘bad’

What might the first word linugi mean if not ‘fib’?

Perhaps lini means ‘shame’? Here are some apposite examples:

Fig. 6 lini: ‘shame’

From this enquiry, linugi nuwili might actually mean ‘shame bad’, which in turn might reasonably be interpreted as ‘lie’, or ‘fib’.

Items 4-6: danga and manin group (Fig. 4)
A search of the database for matches to the words danga and manin produced results that suggested this group of words was to do with ‘lying down’ rather than ‘mendacity’.

Fig. 7 danga and manin

The first two, danga, meaning ‘fall’ and ‘stupid’ suggest being prostrate more than verbal cleverness. You might end up prostrate if you fell or were stupid.

Likewise the next eight items featuring minin or similar are about what might cause someone to be horizontal: death, fighting, injury or sleep.

Realise, dear sole reader, that these are not the only examples that could have been selected for these d-nga and m-n-n letter sequences. They are, however, the ones that tilt either in the direction of ‘telling lies’ or ‘lying down’.

Items 7-9: The last three mysteries (of  Fig. 4)

Fig. 8 Remaining mysteries

Of the last three items, the first is clearly a variant of “towlangany” (Fig. 3, item 3), there stated to mean “tell lies”; while the last remains puzzling after superficial investigation. Only wangini yields new information:

Fig. 9 Wangi: Could be either ‘fib’ or ‘prostrate’

Unfortunately, this new information is inconclusive. As can be seen from Fig. 9 above, wangi can mean either ‘speak’ (suggesting 'fib') or ‘sit’ (lie) — and even ‘kill’, the result of which would be to lie down.

gadina :  item 1, Fig. 4
And so to the the final item among the mysteries of Fig. 4 above.

Fig. 10 gadina: ‘to lie’

The following examples for gadina from the Bayala Tasmanian database throw light on some possibilities of meaning for this word:

Fig. 11 The gadina records

The purple source column reveals the providers of these records: jj, cr, lh and gar (respectively Jorgen Jorgenson, Charles Robinson, Alexander McGeary [published by John Lhotsky], and George Augustus Robinson, father of Charles Robinson).

Only in the case of the last record do we know who the informant was: Pair.he.le.hoin (which might be transcribed Bariliyun). However, there must have been an informant for each of the records, each in turn representing a moment or circumstance when the word was elicited. In our minds we can conjure up scenes of cows, crows and pigs, and sleeping. In looking at this collection of nine records, together with the original one (reproduced in Fig. 10), we might wonder at the range of meanings a single word might have. Yet on further reflection one might also wonder whether all might actually have a common meaning, the one stated in the first (Fig. 10), i.e. ‘lie’. 

Cows and pigs are notorious for lying down. When asked about the animal concerned, the informant might have not stated its name as fauna (especially given that neither cows nor pigs were native animals), but responded instead with the word for what it was doing: lying down.

In the case of ‘crow’, this could have been either a crow perched (lying?) on a twig; or perhaps a mis-transcription of ‘cow’ as ‘crow’.

The final three records are for ‘sleep’. What one does when asleep is ‘lie down’.

Fig. 12 A demonstration of ‘lie’ meaning ‘lie down’

In each case, then, the informant might have been referring to the action or state of the protagonist (lying down) rather than what sort of entity the protagonist was (cow, crow?, pig).

‘Lie’ can have two quite different meanings. In order to avoid perpetuating such confusion the Bayala databases occasionally coin new words, or define what a word means in the databases. So the following are used, for example:
lie = lie down, sleep, rest
fib = tell untruth, lie
bullcow = singular of 'cattle'

Jeremy Steele

Monday 27 July 2015

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