That’s a Kaurna translation of a contemporary greeting now used in Pitjantjatjara and other Aboriginal languages, and it’s my introduction to learning the Kaurna language of the Adelaide Plains in South Australia.
It’s long been a concern of mine that although I can fudge my way around in Europe with a smattering of languages, I don’t even know how to say thank you in any of the indigenous languages of my own country. There is no better way to understand another’s culture than to learn a bit of their language, and that is why I am so delighted that Wakefield Press has sent me this book.
It is a beautiful, enticing, brightly-coloured book on glossy paper with lots of illustrations to complement the lessons, but it begins in a way that no other ‘teach yourself a language’ text does. In the preface there are 23 profiles of the people who contributed to this book, making the salient point that like nearly all Aboriginal languages the Kaurna language has been put at risk by a combination of factors arising from the colonisation of the continent by the British. In different ways and coming from different starting points, these profiles confirm what I already knew from talking to award-winning indigenous author Kim Scott, that the resurrection of these languages is difficult when so many indigenous Australians – whose birthright these languages are – were severed from their families, their culture and their language under Stolen Generation policies. That is why a book like this is so important.
Languages have all kinds of embedded cultural codes: Kaurna is a bit like Indonesian in that in some contexts what is said changes according to how many people are being spoken to, and how. For example, in Indonesian, unlike in English, the word ‘we’ can be inclusive of the people being addressed (kita), and exclusive of them (kami). In Kaurna the traditional ‘where are you going?’ greeting varies according to whether you are speaking to one person, two, or more than two. This distinction bothered me in choosing the contemporary greeting Naa marni? because I am not sure of the etiquette for addressing the readers of blogs! I assume that most people are reading this as individuals, but I expect that it will be read in toto by many, certainly more than two. In the end I went with more than two, but I am not confident that I am correct. It’s always, always better to learn a language from a native speaker who can help out with thorny issues like this …
My next stumble came with the word ‘thank you’. The text explains that Aboriginal languages didn’t have words for thanking people because in pre-colonial times people did things for others either because they were obliged to under kinship rules or because they wanted to. Indigenous Australians don’t expect to be thanked; what is more likely is an expression of affection such as Ngaityo yungandalya (My brother!) or Ngaityu yakanantalya (My sister!) Ngaityalya (My dear!) can be used for anyone regardless of age, gender or relationship to the speaker. This last form is an example of the way indigenous languages have adapted to contemporary needs. The suffix -alya on the end, is explained in a little grammar box on the side of the text: it expresses endearment. How nice to have a language grammar which expresses endearment! The only equivalent I can think of in English is adding -kin/s to the end of a word, as in lambkin, or using it to add to the name of my grandniece, as in Poppykins. I have a feeling that my use of this suffix -kin betrays either my age or my origins!
Look how much I’ve learned simply by exploring how to say ‘hello‘ and ‘thank you’! Even if I never ever get a chance to use this language, this book is invaluable. But I’m going to have a go with these chapters to guide me:
- Tirntu-irntu Warrarna / useful Introductory Utterances
- Nari Taakanthi / Names and Naming
- Warrarna Tirkanthi: Kaurna Warra Tirkanthi / Learning Languages: Learning Kaurna (this section includes pronunciation)
I’m intrigued by the two long sections about Talking about Space and Time, because I already know from teaching indigenous children that their concepts about this are entirely different to ours, and I’m also keen to explore the differences between Talking with Children, and Talking with Elders.
The book is designed for people who are teaching Kaurna and assumes no knowledge of the language or even the culture: apart from the easy-to-understand lessons which are based on a communicative approach there are posters at the back (which can also be ordered from the creators).
The blurb at the back of the book sums it up better than I ever could:
Awakening a sleeping beauty tongue is a remarkable achievement of ethical, aesthetic and utilitarian significance. This textbook is an exquisite contribution to Revivalistics, a new field emerging in the wake of greater concern about intangible heritage, intellectual sovereignty, human wellbeing and social justice.
Professor Ghil’ad Zuckerman, chair of Linguistics and Endangered Languages, University of Adelaide.
Marni padni! (Go well!)
Cross-posted at ANZ LitLovers
Authors: Rob Amery and Jane Simpson
Title: Kulurdu Marni Ngathaitya! A Kaurna Learner’s Guide
Publisher: Wakefield Press, 2013
Fishpond: Kulurdu Marni Ngathaitya!: A Kaurna Learner’s Guide
Or direct from Wakefield Press.