30 June 2016

damara or mara

Body parts are the best documented category of words for many Aboriginal languages because they were the most immediate and most unambiguous items to enquire about, when investigating a new language without shared vocabulary between the investigator and the informant.

The earliest records of the Sydney language were made at Botany Bay by three members of Captain James Cook’s party in 1770, two of whom noted the word for ‘hand’:
Table 1 Cook’s party’s records of ‘hand’

However, some linguists doubt the authenticity of the lists attributed to William Monkhouse, Isaac Smith and Zacchary Hicks, but they seem realistic to your researcher.

William Dawes, the most reliable recorder of the Sydney Language, confirmed damara as the word for ‘hand’:
Table 2 Dawes’s damara record

More precisely, he noted damara as ‘To wipe the hands’, but at the stage when he did so  he was still a beginner in learning the language.

Collins, King, Blackburn
Other First Fleeters, notably David Collins  and Phillip Gidley King ...
Table 3 Other First Fleet ‘hand’ records

... recorded much the same damara form. It is tempting to suppose that these additional records were independently arrived at. However, it is likely that often in those early days, when the senior figures in the Settlement were so few in number, and when all knew one another and knew each other’s affairs, word lists were shared around and copies made. Thus, for example, nearly every one of David Blackburn’s 136 words has a precise match in the Dawes notebooks — including the ‘To wipe the hands’ entry in Table 2.

It was much the same with the King entry. King had been on Norfolk Island. He returned to Sydney at the expiration of his leadership there, on 3 April 1790, on the Supply. This was the moment when the Settlement learnt of the wrecking of its greatest asset, the Sirius. King was to leave the colony for England a fortnight later, on 17 April, again on the Supply. Its destination was Batavia, from where King was to make his own way to England. In his short time in Sydney King was able to include in his journal a word list of over 280 entries. Of this he wrote: “I shall now add a vocabulary of the language, which I procured from Mr. Collins and Governor Phillip, both of whom had been very assiduous in procuring words to compose it; ...*. And there is an added footnote in the 1793 edition: * This Vocabulary was much enlarged by Captain Hunter.
[Hunter, John. An Historical Journal of the Transactions at Port Jackson and Norfolk Island: Including the Journals of Governors Phillip and King, since the Publication of Phillip's Voyage: With an Abridged Account of the New Discoveries in the South Seas / by John Hunter.  To Which Is Prefixed a Life of the Author and Illustrated with a Map of the Country by Lieut. Dawes and Other Embellishments. London: Printed for John Stockdale, 1793.]

It is not important whether it was Dawes or Collins who made the first record of damara for ‘hand’. They might  even have both done it virtually simultaneously, given the similarity in the records, from the same interview with an Aboriginal person.

There is another record, made by freeman Daniel Paine on the voyage to Sydney, from February to September 1795, on the Reliance. This ship was carrying the new governor, John Hunter, and also Bennelong, returning from England. Paine developed a list of about 80 words, obviously from Bennelong, including:
Paine’s original record

Table 4 Paine’s damara record

Hale, Lang and Mathews
Three entries nearly half a century later are of interest. Whether the first two (Hale) were genuinely made from personal experience by the American linguist Horatio Hale when in Sydney in 1839, or whether he too copied them from earlier lists, it is impossible to say.
The third entry in Table 5 occurs in an 11-page vocabulary in the papers of the Rev. J.D. Lang. This list is undated but might be around 1840. It shows evidence of a professional linguistics background, being set out in columns for English, Chinese and Aboriginal, together with references to Polynesian and Malaysian languages. Perhaps it was also prepared by the linguist, Hale, given that he was in Sydney around this time.

Table 5 damara record from around 1840

Much later evidence from around 1900 was provided by the surveyor-linguist R.H. Mathews. This too supports the existence of the damara form:
Table 6 Mathews’s dama record of around 1900

Records for mara
There are, however, several Sydney Languages entries of mara for ‘hand’, the earliest of these having been provided, mistakenly, by Dawes:
Table 7 Dawes’s mara record

Here Dawes was seeking to ask his young informant, Patyegarang, how her finger was, which she had somehow hurt. He composed his enquiry using words he had heard, but clearly had not properly understood. He thought he was asking about her ‘finger’, and whether it was ‘better’. Her reply clarifies the matter, but still Dawes, at this early stage just learning the language, again got it wrong: 
Table 8 Response to Dawes’s mara record

Dawes thought he was asking ‘Is your finger better?’ In fact the question was: ‘Does your hand hurt’, which elicited the reply, ‘No, it’s my fingernail (that hurts)’. Dawes erroneously formed the impression that garangan meant ‘worse’. Be that as it may, Dawes recorded the word for ‘hand’ as mara and not damara.

mara: Mahroot, Fulton, Brown, Bowman
Others to record ‘hand’ as mara were: the Aboriginal Mahroot the Elder in 1798; the Rev. Henry Fulton in about 1801; the botanist Robert Brown in 1803; and a record here attributed to James Bowman, in around 1835. All attest to the existence of the mara form of the word.
Table 9 Various other mara records

The Fulton’s ‘murrat’ record for ‘hand’ [row 2 in Table 9]
The Fulton ‘Marrah’ record for ‘hand’. This entry, along will all other vocabulary items, were crossed out of the notebook in which they were written, which was then used as a register of births, deaths and marriages by Fulton in his role as minister of religion.
The Bowman’s ‘murrat’ record for ‘hand’ [row 4 in Table 9]

damara or mara?
The Sydney records lean more heavily towards damara rather than mara as the form for ‘hand’. However, when other languages around the country are considered, the argument lurches decisively the other way. Of ‘hand’, Dixon* writes: “One form is found right across the non-prefixing languages – mara”, and he specifies the areas in which it occurs as follows:
* Dixon, R.M.W. Australian Languages, Cambridge Language Surveys. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2002—p.106.
In fact this comprehensive list is basically the whole of the continent apart from the north-west corner where the ‘prefixing’ languages are located. Interestingly, Dixon’s list does not include ‘O: SYDNEY SUBGROUP’, in which the Sydney Language is placed.

Digression on demonstratives
da, or something like it, is occasionally seen possibly as a demonstrative, ‘that’. Similarly, di for ‘this’:

Table 10 Demonstrative forms: da and di

The records for such da/di forms are not plentiful, and are often open to interpretation. Nevertheless they may be sufficient to indicate the existence of a demonstrative function representing ‘that’/‘this’.

There is another form of the demonstrative as well, based on na, as attested by the following sample records:
Table 11 Demonstrative forms: na—in Dharawal, Darkinyung, Gundungurra and Sydney languages

Réné Primavera Lesson’s records
Lesson was a French medical officer, who served on the La Coquille, which visited Sydney in 1824. Several of the records he made, possibly after an interview with the Aboriginal Sydney identity Bungaree, might have included a demonstrative. These were not recognised as such at the time:

Table 12 Possible demonstratives in the Lesson examples

• In row 1, ‘Date’ could be either the English ‘that’, or the demonstrative da.
• In row 2, the difficulty Aboriginal speakers had with the consonant /s/ (which does not occur in most Aboriginal languages) is evident. Lesson might have been pointing to a scar, on Bungaree’s head.
In rows 3 and 4, row 4 is the correct transcription, as can be seen from the original record reproduced below.
Lesson’s original record

It is possible this was a transcription of du buli (rather than dubul, as shown in the table), conceivably intended to be ‘da BELLY’, or ‘that (is my) belly’, for which Lesson then recorded ‘ventre’ (belly) as the translation. An alternative possibility, there is a single record for bul (actually bul bul), which might allow the possibility of ‘belly’ as a meaning:
Table 13 bul bul = ‘kidney’, or possibly ‘heart’ (by the sound it its beating); and hence possibly ‘belly’.

But this is irrelevant: the point is that the record du bul might have included a demonstrative, ‘that’.
• Finally, row 5, might reflect the use of the demonstrative form na (nan).

Possible explanation
Demonstratives beginning da, di and na have been presented in Tables 10 and 11.

Could it be that damara is actually a sentence: 
da mara
that hand
That (is my) hand

It is not hard to envisage a situation where a European is asking for vocabulary from an Aboriginal informant, pointing to one part of the body after another. In due course the hand is singled out. ‘da mara’, says the informant: ‘That (is my) hand’. 
This does seem plausible, but is it right? The following questions arise:
—Can all the damara situations in Tables 1–6 have arisen from ‘this is my hand’ replies? —Even if there were copying, could all of the damara examples provided here be copies? From 1770 through to Mathews in about 1900?
—And what about other body parts? If Aboriginal informants said ‘this is my hand’ so often, then why not ‘this is my eye / leg / tongue’ etc. Other than for Lesson in Table 11, there seem to be no such instances.

Once again there is no real conclusion. The existence of both damara and mara in the Sydney records is just another of the many mysteries that cannot be resolved now owing to the lack of data. It would certainly be much neater if the word for ‘hand’ were really mara, consistent with so much of the rest of the country. But the numerous damara entries cannot be denied. In short ... inconclusive.

Thursday 30 June 2016


15 May 2016

Old Mans Valley

Just to the west of Hornsby, a northern suburb of Sydney, is Old Mans Valley. One might reasonably assume that the name was inspired by an old man once living there. It would have had its share of old men, as does anywhere else. In Old Mans Valley an occasional black wallaby is to be seen, and the name might actually relate to kangaroos.

In some Aboriginal languages there is a connection between words for ‘man’ and ‘kangaroo‘ — especially male kangaroos.

The by now fairly well-known word koori signifies Aboriginal people. It comes from the northward of Sydney.

TABLE 1 gari / guri: ‘man’ [Newcastle region, NSW]

From the same area come the following ‘kangaroo’ records:

TABLE 2 gari / guri: ‘kangaroo’ [Newcastle region, NSW]

Sydney word lists also provide corresponding examples for each of ‘man’ and ‘kangaroo’:

TABLE 3 gari / guri: ‘man’  and ‘kangaroo’ [Sydney region]

For the ‘old man’ idea, also from Sydney, are the following, the last three coming from the First Fleet days:

TABLE 4 gawal(gang): ‘older male’  and ‘older male kangaroo’ [Sydney region]

Perhaps the strongest links between words for ‘man’ and ‘kangaroo’ come from south-west Western Australia:

TABLE 5 yunga / yanga: ‘man’ [South-west WA]

TABLE 6 yunga / yanga: ‘kangaroo’ [South-west WA]

The following south-west WA example, in ‘Yongerloeelkerup’ exhibits a doubtful transcription:

TABLE 7 yunga / yanga: ‘kangaroo’ [South-west WA]

The second part of the word might really have been ‘boylgerup’ rather than ‘loeelkerup’ (as shown above), especially as words beginning with ‘l’ [ell] do not occur in most Aboriginal languages.

Finally, there is the WA place name Ongerup. As many Aboriginal languages also do not have words beginning with a vowel, the missing initial consonant might have been /w/, /y/ or /ng/. /y/ is assumed for this example.

TABLE 8 yunga / yanga: ‘kangaroo’ [South-west WA]

The ending -up [-ab], common in south-west WA place names, signifies ‘place of’.


Old Mans Valley in Hornsby might more properly have been named ‘Old-Man-Kangaroo Valley’.

Sunday 15 May 2016

04 March 2016

garadyi wirawi

If a university wished to set up a medical unit specifically for Sydney Aboriginal women, what might an appropriate name for it be? This is what Your Amateur Researcher (YAR) was asked for a few days ago.

Needless to say there is no word in the records for such a facility.

In looking for a fitting word, one might seek inspiration from concepts such as:

So let us see what emerges from the Bayala Databases for Sydney, and for Coastal and Inland NSW.

There are no Sydney language records for wellness although several Coastal and Inland languages cover this concept, as in Table 1.

Table 1 healthy / well / better / recover / convalescent

There are Sydney records for being unwell, with a few representative examples given in Table 2

TABLE 2 ill

There are numerous examples for ‘doctor’ in the Sydney language records though none for ‘nurse’. Some for this latter concept occur in inland languages.

TABLE 3 nurse

TABLE 4 doctor

There is no shortage of examples for ‘woman’, ‘girl’ and women belonging to a clan group in the Sydney records, examples being given in Table 5.

TABLE 5 female

In the Sydney Language, the indicator of a clan group is -gal, as shown in Table 6.
The indicator of someone who does something (e.g. as a baker bakes, or as a governor governs) is -gan.

TABLE 6 group indicator

The following names are proposed.
garadyi wirawi

The choice comes down to the ‘doctor’ concept. The medical facility is about recovery, not about pain, and there are no Sydney words in the records for wellness.
It is acknowledged that a ‘doctor’ in the Sydney language if 1790 and thereabouts would have been a male. However, even that society not renowned for equal opportunity might have moved with the times by now, so allowing the suggestion of garadyi-galyan, or woman doctor(s).

The other suggestion, and perhaps preferred, is garadyi wirawi (more euphonic than garadyi dyin), because it conveys the idea of doctoring by or for women and or girls.

Friday 4 March 2016

For Bayala Databases, see 


26 January 2016

Biyal Biyal Australian National Anthem

Copyright ⓒ Jeremy Macdonald Steele 2016
Tuesday 19 January 2016
This work is copyright. Apart from any use permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced by any process, nor may any other exclusive right be exercised, without the permission of Jeremy Macdonald Steele, 107 Rosemead Road, Hornsby NSW 2077: as of 2016. 

How did this translation come about?
An Aboriginal singer-songwriter acquaintance sent an email inviting Your Amateur Researcher (YAR) to look at what he had just done. He had produced a draft of a translation of the Australian National Anthem. It was soon apparent that this was more a collection of concepts rather than a grammatical narrative. It prompted a new attempt, one that a speaker such as Mr Bennelong might have understood. A line-by-line consideration of this alternative translation follows, including the sources used for the Sydney language words in it.

Line 1 baraya-ba-nyi Australia-gal
Australians all let us rejoice
baraya is ‘to sing’ as can be seen from Fig. 3.
The third row in the table shows it suffixed with a past tense marker, and a bound pronoun: ‘thee’ (normally -nya).
Fig. 3 baraya: sing

In the anthem the future tense marker -ba is used, together with the bound pronoun for ‘we-all’.

There was no known word for Australia so the English word is used. Suffixed to it is -gal, denoting a group of people, as in:
Fig. 4 The -gal: the ‘people’ suffix

Line 2 ngyila gurung gurigarang
For we are young and free
The nominative or subject pronouns ‘I’ and ‘thou’, and their accusative counterparts ‘me’ and ‘thee’ are well known in both free and bound forms:
Fig. 5 Table of some singular pronouns

The archaic ‘thou’ and ‘thee’ usage is adopted to avoid of the ambiguity in modern English between singular and plural ‘you’.
As most of the recorded conversational situations in the early days of the European upheaval were of the you-me type, where one person was talking to another, it seems that most of the other pronouns did not get to be recorded. In particular you plural in both its forms of ‘you-two’ and ‘you-all’ seem totally missing, or are possibly there but never identified as such. Some of the other pronouns in the Sydney Language are uncertain, with lingering doubt between the we/us and the they/them forms. This leads to the matter of ngyila.
Fig. 6 The principal ngyila records

Despite Your Amateur Researcher’s own earlier interpretations in the yellow column, it seems that ngyila might have been ‘we’ rather than ‘they’. But let you dear reader, be the arbiter in resolving this dilemma. In Fig. 6 the top and bottom entries are the most clearly stated. Today, YAR favours the first of these, and is taking ngyila to mean ‘we-all’, with the ngyilu form meaning ‘we-all alone’, or ‘just us three’.

Next, in Aboriginal languages, there is the question of duality or plurality, a sophistication lacking in English. All except the first of the translations in the yellow column in the table opt for the dual ‘they-two’. This is largely because of the third entry there, about a man and his wife—hence the idea of just two people rather than more.

The last two examples given, manila and yanila, are related and can be considered together. But whether or not we are dealing with two or more here, is the meaning we or they?
Each of the lines in Fig. 6 represents a situation where something was happening. After the first example, all four situations can be read differently from the English translations provided. So, example by example, instead of the ‘they’ forms we might view the circumstances in terms of ‘we’, thus:
—come on, let’s play, let’s all of us (i.e. we-all) play;
—he says, my wife and I, this is what we do, we-two;
—‘Manila!’, shouts Anganángan (actually ngana-ngana, but that is another matter), we’ve caught one! That is, we-two, or we-all, have caught a fish;
—‘Yanila’, ‘we’re going’, might well have been what was said that Dawes heard. Dawes on seeing the people departing might have confirmed the moment to himself as ‘They’re going’, and hence his translation for the word.

But back to the Anthem. Line 2 begins ngyila: it means ‘we-all’, if you accept this reasoning.
The next two words in the line are not ‘young’ and ‘free’, for which there are no Sydney Languages records (and especially not for the abstract concept ‘free’):
Fig. 7 gurung child,  guri-garang glad

‘Child’ can reasonably stand for ‘young’; and if you are free, you might well be ‘happy’, ‘glad’ or ‘not angry’. It is a pity there is nothing to back up Dawes on gurigarang meaning ‘glad’. There are words for ‘anger’ that are faintly similar: gulara, wuru and yura, but that is all. But who is to question Dawes at this stage: he was there; he heard it; he wrote it down.

Line 3: bimal yaragal; ganu burug
We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil
The sources for Line 3 are:
Fig. 8 earth yellow; full belly

The words in Fig. 8 have been chosen to represent the concepts ‘We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil’. As ‘wealth’ and ‘toil’ are abstract nouns for which no equivalents were recorded, perhaps it is reasonable to evoke a ‘full belly’ to convey the idea of being satisfied with one’s circumstances. If you should think it odd that quite dissimilar words should be used for ‘replete’, the answer might be that ganu perhaps implied ‘satisfied’ or even ‘vegetable food’; and that burug might be a mis-recording of barang meaning ‘belly’.

Line 4: ngura gari-garang-arayi
Our home is girt by sea

Home: A very useful word is ngura, for ‘place’, ‘country’, ‘camp’, and consequently ‘home’.

Having: The lampooned phrase ‘girt by sea’ can be considered as ‘having sea’, or ‘having sea around’. Concepts of ‘having’, and its contrasting ‘lacking’, are ubiquitous in Australian Aboriginal languages. However, although the First Fleeters and those afterwards must have heard it all the time, the word for ‘having’ was never identified for the Sydney Language. They heard the ‘lacking’ form often enough, -buni, and even realised it was sometimes rendered as -muni. However, in Wiradhuri, across the mountains and in other inland NSW languages, the word for ‘having’ is widely attested, as -arayi. YAR, without authority, is suggesting using this suffix for the ‘having’ function. The following table presents some support for this leap:
Fig. 9 -arayi / -iriyi: possibly indicating the proprietive suffix ‘having’

sea-having: Thus sea-having is proposed as ……-arayi. But what is the word for  ‘……’: sea? This is another Sydney Language dilemma. The word for ‘sea’ was not badu, which was used for ‘drinking water’. For ‘ocean’, some Aboriginal informants offered a word, biriwal, which might have meant ‘distant’, or even ‘huge’, both of which ideas may reasonably be associated with oceans. But in Sydney the word that repeatedly cropped up for ‘sea’ was garigarang:
Fig. 10 gara…: sea, deep / long / tall

The examples in Fig. 10 are persuasive that garigarang did mean ‘sea’. The fact that the word is uncannily similar to gurigarang ‘glad’ (or ‘not angry’) featured in Line 2  above we will have to accept as a coincidence.

The last two examples in Fig. 10 seem to indicate that the sea was perceived as being ‘deep’, and was linked to drowning:
Fig. 11 gura: drown, in deep water

Line 5 ngura badu dali mari-dulu
Our land abounds in nature’s gifts
In the Line 5 translation, ngura ‘camp’ (met in the previous line) is used for ‘our land’; and  badu ‘drinking water’ and duli/dali ‘food’ are offered as equivalent to ‘nature’s gifts’. Likewise mari-dulu ‘plenty’ is suggested as a reasonable translation of  ‘abounds’. These are featured in the following table of sources:
Fig. 12 Sources for words occurring in Line 5

Line 6 dyara marama guwing
Of beauty rich and rare
Words recorded by Dawes for a sunset are proposed for the Anthem line about ‘beauty rich and rare’:
Fig. 13

Line 7 barani yagu baribugu
In history’s page, let every stage
Needless to say, they are no records for  either ‘history’s page’ of ‘letting every stage’. So what is suggested are the following to indicate a time sequence:
Fig. 14 Words for yesterday, today and tomorrow

‘Now’ or ‘today’ were recorded as both yagu and yaguna, with yagu being perhaps the commoner. -na was probably a suffix of unresolved significance.

Line 8 yan-ma-nyi Australia-gal
Advance Australia Fair.
No words are to be found in the records for such a concept as ‘advance Australia fair’, so for the Anthem translation it is proposed to use instead something like: ‘Australians, let’s get going!’ The Australians part, Australia-gal for ‘people of Australia’, was dealt with under Line 1 above.

In Line 2 Fig. 6 above, yan was seen as the verb ‘to go’. When conjugated in the future tense we have:
Fig. 15 We will go

First Fleeter David Collins, in this Fig. 15 example, records the ‘we-all’ bound pronoun as -nya. However, the more reliable Dawes obtained it precisely as -nyi.

Line 9 budyari baraya-ba-nyi
In joyful strains then let us sing
Once again, there nothing in the records for ‘joyful strains’, so an alternative idea must be proposed for this line. YAR has offered ‘good/well we-all will sing’, or idiomatically ‘let’s all sing well’. The verb  ‘to sing’ was met in the explanation for Line 1, so the only new word here is ‘good’. There are about 40 recordings of this word, from which collection the following is offered:
Fig. 16 budyari: ‘good’

Line 10 yan-ma-nyi Australia-gal
Advance Australia Fair
This last line is a repeat of Line 8.

Now the challenge is to sing the words, to match the rhythm of the English.

Jeremy Steele
Tuesday 26 January 2016