30 June 2016
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).
Demonstratives beginning da, di and na have been presented in Tables 10 and 11.
Could it be that damara is actually a sentence:
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