30 August 2015

Tasmanian: rana: 'bone'

Working on the Tasmanian vocabuaries
Here is a typical fragment of Tasmanian vocabulary:

Fig. 1 Extract from the Joseph Milligan list held by the Mitchell Library <http://www.acmssearch.sl.nsw.gov.au/search/itemDetailPaged.cgi?itemID=430548>

It is by Joseph Milligan, in 1857.

It features long words. Here is part of what Your Amateur Researcher (YAR) has made of this particular fragment:
Fig. 2 Extract from the Tasmanian database, in the Bayala series of Australian language databases developed by YAR

In the above database extract the green numbers on the left are where the words occur in N.J.B. Plomely’s book, by page and line number:
Plomley, Norman James Brian. 1976. A word-list of the Tasmanian Aboriginal languages. Launceston: N.J.B. Plomley in association with the Government of Tasmania.

As reading the above fragment is to too difficult, here is a detail:
Fig. 3 ‘brother/, ‘brow’

And here is another, from near the end of the list:
Fig. 4 ‘chin’, ‘chine’

Just to explain what is going on, the grey columns feature the original records: the Tasmanian words in the bold-type column, and their translations in the other grey column.
The brown columns are respellings in a standard way of the original Tasmanian words.
If a particular word has been analysed into components, the full word is placed in the paler of the two brown columns.
The yellow column is YAR’s own estimation of what any entry actually means.

As for the blue and red middle columns, they are where the analysed sub-components are placed. Such placing is admittedly somewhat arbitrary, although not entirely. It should be added too that the dividing of words into constituent elements owes much to guesswork at this stage. As more knowledge is acquired, the guesswork becomes less wild.

As of the time of writing, this database has over 15000 entries.

A small discovery: rana
What a database does is to enable comparisons to be made among the records. It is the main advantage a present-day researcher has over the original recorders. They had access to the language speakers, but they did not have computers.

What interests YAR in this particular fragment of records is the suffix -rana, in the bright red central column, or as a separate word in the dark brown column. The words ‘brother’, brow’ and ‘chine (backbone) feature rana as a word or suffix, as shown in the two detailed extracts.

As is the case in so many Tasmanian words, something like rana crops up quite often. mina is another instance of a word or part-word with frequent occurrences. It would of course just be too simple to identify what such an item means in one instance, and assume it meant that for all. Too simple indeed. But it does appear that with ‘brow’ and ‘chine’ we have a common meaning: ‘bone’. What the rana in brother (and various other instances) signifies has yet to be determined.

rana: bone suffix
The following table presents evidence of where -rana might indicate ‘bone’. You will notice that the word ‘bone’ actually forms part of the original (grey) translations in some instances while in others it does not. For example, in the first entry, bada is one of the Tasmanian words for ‘head’, giving bada-rana ‘head bone’ rather than ‘skull’:

Fig. 5 Words featuring -rana ‘bone’

Fig. 6 bada: ‘head’

rana as a word
rana does not occur only as a suffix. The following table presents several instances of when rana features as an independent word. The table also offers an insight into the mindset of the original Tasmanians. For rana was not just bone as we know it, but something hard, bone-like. In fact only the first of the examples is specifically for ‘bone’. But a waddy (club), fingernail, and shell are all hard (bone-like) things.

Fig. 7 rana: bone

More than one Tasmanian language: chin
Should you be wondering about  gumi and waba both meaning ‘chin’ in Fig. 4, this is because the words come from difference languages within Tasmania:

WABA: south-east
Fig. 8 South-east: waba chin

GAMU: north-east
Fig. 8 North-east: gumi chin

YAR still has a very long way to go in making sense of the Tasmanian lists.

Jeremy Steele
Sunday 30 August 2015


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