19 July 2015


Trying to make sense of the Tasmanian language records is difficult, and akin to reading the future from tea-leaf arrangements in a cup. Take this as an example:
war.ka.la we.tin.ne.ger
when the sun rise
The record indicates two words. So perhaps one is ‘sun’ and the other ‘rise’.

Fig. 1 wagala widiniga: ‘when the sun rise’

You can be sure there are lots of different records for both ‘sun’ and ‘rise’.

Here are some:

Fig. 2 Some records for ‘sun’

Fig. 3 Some records for ‘rise’

Obvious conclusion
Figs 2 (sun) and 3 (rise) present a broad range of possibilities for both ‘sun’ and ‘rise’.

It is tempting to opt for the apparently obvious choices for wagala widiniga, namely:
wa-gi-lina "sun, moon"
widi "get up"
to yield ‘sun rise’.
Even so, it could be prudent to attempt to be more thorough. 

Further research
What about considering wagala and widiniga, in their respelt forms?
Given that the original recorders’ classing of vowels was often uncertain, a search is necessary for both w-g-l- and w-d-...... words.

wagili etc.
Here are some results for w-g-l-:

Fig. 4 Records featuring w-g-l-

The least objectionable of this group for resolving our present puzzle is the last: wugali: ‘jump’. To jump is to rise.

wadina etc.
"war.ka.la we.tin.ne.ger"
wagala widiniga
when the sun rise

For the second word, w-d-n-g-, there was only the one result: the very one we began with, above.

Consequently the search was then broadened to ...w-d-n-..., that is, for the w-d-n- sequence occurring in the middle or at any part of a word or phrase. This time there were no fewer than 100 results. Too broad to be useful.

So a new search was attempted with w-d-n-... exclusively at the beginning of a word. The results dropped to a more manageable 57 (including repetitions where several similar original records appeared).
Some key findings from this reduced group were these:

Fig. 5 Records featuring w-d-n-...

Reduced selection or not, it was a daunting range of possible meanings for w-d-n-... words.

Conundrum of the Tasmanian records
In the above list the parentheses — [ — in the grey columns indicate that the wadina etc. word is part of a longer expression. 
Note that the EngJSM translation (yellow column) does not always match the original ‘English’ (grey column) translation. This is because the original translation might relate to a two- or three-word original record. So the yellow translation might be a temporary ‘best guess’ at the significance of the wadina etc. portion.
Where there is no entry in the yellow column, this means that so far it has not been possible to hazard a meaning for either (or any) portion of the original record. To insert a wild (and possibly wrong) guess impairs the functioning of the database. Hence the blanks.

The large size of the Fig. 5 table demonstrates the difficulty of making sense of the Tasmanian records. From such an array of potential meanings, fixing on an actual true meaning would seem often little better than guesswork.

The purple ‘source’ column in the tables includes the regional language, or area, where known. Thus ‘T-NE’ represents Tasmania: North-East, and OyB indicates Oyster Bay, the five language areas being marked on this map:

Fig. 6 Language ares in Tasmania

What does wagala widiniga really mean?
The challenge in arriving at a meaning for the original record
"war.ka.la we.tin.ne.ger"
wagala widiniga
when the sun rise

seems hopeless, given the range of second-word possibilities. 

widi... words
When, however, a search was made exclusively for widi words, the following were among those that  resulted:

Fig. 7 Records featuring widi...

Apart from two items in Fig. 7 (widi), all records were to do with ‘up’ in some form: sky, high, rise, moon, sun — even ‘head’. Perhaps all were right, but for the present exercise we might opt for widi to mean ‘sun’ (or equally ‘moon’).

Drawing it together
Back to the beginning then, and 
"war.ka.la we.tin.ne.ger"
wagala widiniga
when the sun rise

The object is to consider the results presented in the tables, to determine if there might be any reasonable matches for the ‘when the sun rise’ original translation.

In Fig. 4 (wagili etc.), the records meaning ‘hair’ seemed unlikely to have anything to do with ‘sun rise’ and could thus be safely discounted. Likewise, too, the meanings of ‘calf’ and ‘shellfish’ could be dismissed. This left the single most likely  possibility: ‘jump’.

In Fig. 5 (wadina etc.), the only records seeming likely candidates were ‘high’ and ‘heaven / sky’, when hyena, black, testicles and all the improbable rest were omitted.

Fig. 7 (widi...) seemed promising. widi was featured with extras: either suffixes, or perhaps additional words. Reflecting on this, it seemed profitable to re-examine the original record, widiniga:

Fig. 8  widiniga

An aside
By the way, the Wiradhuri word for ‘fire’ is wi.
And the Sydney language word for ‘fire’ is gwiyang, which includes the element -wi-.
The sun is a big fire in the sky.
This observation might, of course, be regarded as an entirely irrelevant coincidence — except for the fact that traces of mainland languages keep cropping up in the Tasmanian lists.

A final reflection
If widiniga were perchance two words, widi niga, what might niga mean?

Time for a final search.

Fig. 9 niga

There were more results for niga than shown in Fig. 9, but this last table is a reasonable summary nevertheless. 
It seemed safe to discount the first item ‘bird’ as having nothing to do with the sun, or rising.
It seemed equally safe to reject the last item in the table, ‘this’ for the same reason.  There are many records for the demonstrative ‘this’ in the Tasmanian database, mainly as nigu, nigi, niga and nginigu
This left three items in the middle of the table, ‘there’ and ‘hill’. These could be related: a ‘hill’ might be viewed as ‘over there’. 

So just for fun it was postulated that in this case niga was indeed ‘hill’. 

Tentative conclusion
So how does the original record look now?
"war.ka.la we.tin.ne.ger"
wagala widi niga
when the sun rise

wagala: jump
widi: sun
niga: hill

This yielded a final (and of course possibly erroneous) translation for:
"war.ka.la we.tin.ne.ger"
wagala widiniga
as ‘jump sun hill’.

Fig. 10 wagala widi niga: jump sun hill

The sun jumping over the hill conjures up a new, and charming, way of thinking about a sunrise.


Sunday 19 July 2015

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