April 05, 2012


While staying at the Language Centre on my last trip to Ngukurr, I was visited daily by Bluey. Bluey is a young buffalo that has been brought up by a family in Ngukurr who live down the road from the Language Centre. Everyday, Bluey wanders the street, eating grass. It freaks me out. It is a very big animal to be in such close proximity to, but more than that, in and around Ngukurr, buffalo are animals to be feared and avoided at all costs (unless you're killing one). So it's a bit disconcerting to all of a sudden have a friendly one around.

I was working with AD at the Language Centre one afternoon when Bluey came for a visit. AD fed him a couple of gingernut biscuits and then I couldn't resist documenting the occasion on my phone:

Although it was completely unplanned, I like this little recording. It's a nice example of spontaneous conversational and entertaining Kriol. Here's a transcript:
Juy! Yu gu na la kemp, no daga. Najing
Glenda jeya luuuuuuk!!! Glenda!!
Main gagu iya!
Minbala gagu bin kaman iya la im gagu iya.
Baitim im!
Ai bin regen wanbala garrwiri iya, gardi, tubala, gardi
Bluwi! Yu luk Glenda garri witbik tharrai luuuu, la kemp.
Baba, im gin galima iya. Mi dali yu. Imin meigim mami ting dijan iya, gidap-
And here's a translation:
Scram! Go now, home, there's no food. Nothing.
Glenda is there, see!? Glenda!
My grandson is here! (the buffalo is AD and my 'grandson')
Our grandson came here to his grandfather here.
(To the dogs): Bite him!
I thought there was one dog here, geez, there are two, goodness.
(Back to Bluey): Bluey! Look Glenda has weetbix over there, see, at home.
(To me): Brother, he can climp up here. I'm telling you. He made mum whatchamacalit, he did, get up-
If you're after more info, I'll go through some of the content of this recording to show some of the interesting things going on. A lot of people don't realise how complex Kriol can be so I thought I'd try and illustrate: 

Sure, most people accept that Kriol is a language in its own right, but a lot of English speakers I meet think that it'd be pretty easy to learn and I think that English speakers who hang around Kriol speakers usually overestimate how much they understand. Kriol speakers also don't realise how complex and intricate their language is. In eight lines of text and a 51 second video there is plenty of complex stuff going on that I can discuss:

Firstly, did you notice that the buffalo is related to me and AD? In line 3 and 4, AD refers to it with the kinterm gagu, which I translated as both grandson and grandfather. Kriol has different kinterms for each of the four grandparents, so gagu specifically means "mother's mother" and "mother's mothers siblings". It's also a reciprocal kinterm, meaning that anyone you call gagu will also call you gagu. So, as well as meaning "grandfather", it also means "grandson", or more specifically: "a man's sister's daughter's child" or "a woman's daughter's child". Then there is a system of skin names which maps everyone into a massive network of family, so anyone with the same skin name as any of the people I've already listed will also be your gagu.

Aside from all that, it's interesting in itself that Bluey is a relative, even though he's just a buffalo.

Another thing. In the translation, I had to choose whether to translate gagu as grandson or grandfather. I assumed that Bluey would be AD and my grandson rather than grandfather because I know we call Glenda dota (daughter) so I assumed that Bluey is Glenda's "son" which means he's our grandson. This is where local knowledge of family networks comes in handy.

Looking at kinterms in general, notice that there are a lot, even in just that short text: gagu is used three times in lines 3 and 4, twice in reference to Bluey and the last one is a reference to me as Bluey's gagu. In the last line, AD starts talking to me by calling me baba which can mean brother or sister (but obviously brother, in this instance). And then he talks about mami (mother). Notice that he doesn't specify whether it's his mum or my mum? That's because AD and I call each other baba (brother) so any mami will be a mother to both of us.

In one short video, there are five uses of kinterms. This is typical of Kriol as well as traditional Aboriginal languages. Kinterms get used a lot to refer to people. Much more than in English. AD does use names as well. He calls out to Glenda, Bluey's owner, three times: twice in line 2 and once in line 7 and he calls Bluey by name in line 7 too.

Line 2 and 7 are also interesting because of the way AD draws out the word luk and raises his pitch so that he's almost singing it. This is a very typical feature of traditional languages and is in Kriol too. It helps to convey a sense of long distance or duration. Because he does it here, we know that Glenda is far away.

The words themselves are interesting. Most are based on English words but there are exceptions. AD uses the Marra word for dog, garrwiri (line 6). This isn't common but because we work on Marra together, we will throw in more Marra in our speech then would your average Kriol speaker. Other words that aren't based on English are baba and gagu which I've already discussed. They are derived from Alawa and Marra languages which have the words baba and gugu (not quite gagu, but clearly a borrowing). Another one is an expression of surprise, gardi (line 6), which is also from Marra (maybe Alawa as well?). And in the first line, AD starts off by saying juy!, a command you use to send someone on their way and I think this word is common to languages all over region. These words are all very common Kriol words and used by all Kriol speakers at Ngukurr.

The other words are based on English words but are interesting too. My favourite is witbik which is from "Weetbix" but -x at the end of words isn't a comfortable sound for Kriol speakers so it has just become witbik. Bluey is famous for being a fan of witbik. Many of the other English-based words will be familiar to readers who know some Kriol: daga is food (from tucker), tharrai means that way or over there (from "that way"), im is he or she or it (from "him") etc.

There's one thing AD does a few times which is a fairly recent feature of Kriol which is dropping consonants off the end of words, especially verbs. So instead of garrim (meaning 'with' from 'got him') it become garri'. Galimap (meaning climb, from 'climb up') becomes galima'. Luk in line 7 become lu'. Dalim (tell) in line 8 becomes dali'. It's an interesting development in Kriol because it's actually making English-based words become less English-like. I think many people expect Kriol to become more like English over time, but there are examples like this showing that Kriol is developing in ways that makes it even more distinct from English.

But that's enough essay for one day I think. I hope someone's read this and kept up and learned something! If anyone's keen, I can do a full glossary/vocab list of all the words in the little video and maybe put it in the comments.

Oh! And I called this post "manabarru" because that's the Marra word for buffalo. :-)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello! Casey here again!
Just wanted to let you know that yes, someone has read this and kept up and got a huge kick out of it! As a non-Indigenous person living in Brisbane currently, I don't have much of an opportunity to learn about any aboriginal languages or Kriol for that matter! This is extremely fascinating, so thanks!