Murrkurn murrkurn

I’m going to try something a bit different today. Linguists love puzzles, so I’m setting you all one. Here is a section of text in Walmajarri, a language you are probably unfamiliar with. I’ve included morpheme glosses so you can have a hope of understand it (mouseover for even more info), but please also ask any questions you have about the text or the language and I’ll try to answer.

I think that some of the best discussions occur when we are not debating positions we already hold but are exploring and discovering new things together. So from such a short text like this what can you tell about the language? Can you hazard a guess as to why the translators translated as they did?

Nyanartijangka  Ngarpu  marn-i,
after.that      father  speak-PAST
"Ngartakpan-ku=rlipa  piyirn  ngalimpa-jiliny=parni,
make-FUT=1plincS      man     we-like=EMPH
nyapartu-karra  pa-rlipa     ngun-iny.
what-MAN        AUX-1plincS  exist-CUST
Maja  ma-nyanangu  nguna-wu   kuyi-warnti-wu
boss  AUX-3plDAT   exist-FUT  game-PL-DAT
nguwa-karraji-warnti-wu=jaa  yalkiri-karraji-warnti-wu=jaa
earth-PERT-PL-DAT=and         sky-PERT-PL-DAT=and
ngapa-karraji-warnti-wu  mapirri."
water-PERT-PL-DAT         together.with


20 thoughts on “Murrkurn murrkurn

  1. kirsty says:

    I don’t understand the grammar stuff but a few things:

    No generic word for God (or, at least, no word the translators felt suitable to use in the Bible)

    There isn’t a word for ‘them’? That seems rather unlikely, but you never know. It seems the case from this snippet of text.

    They are a hunting people, who don’t have domestic animals and perhaps they don’t have separate words for fish, birds etc?

  2. Gary Simmons says:

    There’s also a lot of alliteration. Especially with the syllable -ar-. 14 times, by my count.

    I really like this: “let him/them exist as boss over all the game in the earth, sky, and water.” It took me a while to realize by “game” you meant “animals.” Of course, this brings up the question of whether the wild beasts were also subject to humanity, but that’s off-topic. [Does “things that move on the ground” refer to creepy-crawlies, or does it include all land-bound animals?]

  3. Dannii Willis says:

    Thanks for your comments!

    kirsty, I think you’re correct and there is no word for “God” or at least not in the common western perception. Prior to European colonisation most (all?) Australia societies were animistic. There are words for various spirits, including the river serpent, but these are probably poor choices for a Bible translation.

    There is a word for “them”, but it is only used for emphasis (similar to NT Greek. I don’t know if Hebrew does the same or not.) Instead the usual way is to use pronominal clitics to indicate the person and number of the subject and object. manyanangu (AUX-3plDAT) indicates that the dative, or indirect object, is third person plural.

    That makes me notice the second clause which does have a pronoun, which is then doubly emphasised with an emphasis clitic. Interesting!

    The are a hunting people (and sorry for the confusion Gary, I wasn’t entirely sure how to gloss a word which is listed in the dictionary as “game (alive or dead); meat; animal food (e.g. egg or fish)”. I decided to just use “game” as it’s not talking about food here.) They do have words for fish and birds etc, both for specific species and a generic term too. I’m not sure why they didn’t use those terms… maybe to make a parallel with the land animals. Maybe it would be as if our English Bibles said “the swimming things of the sea, flying things of the heavens and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

    Gary, not all of the “r”s are the same, as “rn”, “rt” and “rr” are all single sounds. But there’s definitely a lot of other repetition!

    I had thought that the “creeping things” referred to the non-domesticated animals such that when combined with the birds, fish and cattle it includes all animal life, but it’s a good question.

  4. Gary Simmons says:

    A river serpent spirit, huh? I wonder what these wonderful people, whom God loves and definitely cares for, think when they read Genesis 3. And I’d also be curious what the translators did with Leviathan, Rahab, etc.

    Dannii, “game” as in a game you play is what came to mind first. With game [referring to animals], the idea that comes to mind is hunting live animals. Game as in meat is an extension from that. I was just confused about what sort of game God was playing when he made humanity.

    Hebrew uses clitic object suffixes and also has separate object pronouns. Object suffixes seem to be more common than the independent pronouns (brevity is natural), but I don’t think the pronouns necessarily indicate emphasis (however defined). Better Hebraists, feel free to correct me.

    As for the question of whether “moving things” refers specifically to vermin or is intended to sum up all land-bound creatures (cattle, beasts, vermin), I’d like to note that my NIV tells me that the Syriac version reads “all the wild animals” instead of “over all the earth.” That leads me to believe someone felt motivated to specifically include the wild animals/beasts, since otherwise one might get the impression that they were not subject to humanity. Ah — verse 30 specifies wild beasts as a separate category from “moving things.” So, yes. Moving things are probably vermin, then.

  5. David Frank says:

    There are parts of this that I can make sense of and some parts I cannot. I am confident that to the speakers of the language, it does communicate well. I cannot get more information by mousing over the text; that doesn’t work for me.

    I have a question about ngalimpajilinyparni, which you glossed as ‘we-like=EMPH’. It seems that a functional label should have been used instead of ‘we’, as was done for other pronominal suffixes: 1plincS and 3plDAT. However, since this ‘we’ isn’t a suffix, it doesn’t seem to fall in the same category. I’m not sure what it is for sure, but it seems to be an object of a preposition here. If that is true, the second clause does not have the optional subject pronoun, but rather a prepositional phrase and the pronoun ‘we’ (or rather then it should be ‘us’), in which case it probably wouldn’t have been optional. In trying the exegete this translation, I am presuming jiliny ‘like’ is a preposition, and ngalimpajilinyparni means ‘like us’ and is an emphasized form of ngalimpajiliny.

    If I have understood the first two clauses correctly, they would be saying something like “Then [the] Father said, “We (inclusive) will make man like us….”

    Now that raises the question of whether this word for ‘man’ is specifically male or the sort of ‘man’ that means something more like ‘humanity’ or ‘mankind’. I don’t have enough data to answer that question.

    That is about as far as I am going to go for now, except that I looked at what was glossed as MAN in the subsequent clauses and realized that since that was a completely different Walmajarri word and the gloss is given in capital letters, that is probably something unrelated to the English word ‘man’, though I don’t know what MAN stands for in that case.

  6. Dannii Willis says:

    I’m sorry the mouseovers don’t work for you! That is unfortunate. Here’s a list of what you would have seen:
    ku, wu = FUT = Future
    rlipa = 1plincS = 1st person inclusive subject
    parni = EMPH = Emphasis
    karra = MAN = Manner
    pa, ma = AUX = Auxiliary
    iny = CUST = Customary tense
    nyanangu = 3plDAT = 3rd person plural dative
    warnti = PL = plural
    wu = DAT = Dative
    karraji = PERT = Pertaining to

    (I also just realised that I made a mistake! –karra and –karraji are different forms, the latter meaning pertaining to. This is going badly. Sorry!)

    ngalimpa is a regular pronoun which is why I’ve glossed it differently. I think the best way to think of jiliny is as a derivational suffix, the same as we’d say “childlike” or “snakelike” in English. I think your backtranslation is good!

    Now to your next very good question (one which those who care about gender debates certainly would care a lot about!) It’s actually fairly similar to the English “man”: Aboriginal person (as opposed to white); man (as opposed to woman); countryman (as opposed to stranger). There isn’t an even more generic word for human (that would include both Aboriginal and white) but that is probably due to the relative recency of colonisation.

  7. David Frank says:

    Encouraged, I will continue. I am seeing the mouseover information now. That is pretty neat. If you didn’t do anything to change how that works, I just must not have been holding the mouse arrow over the right places before.

    Since you have explained that capitalized MAN denotes manner, I am guessing that nyapartu-karra in the third line, glossed as ‘what-MAN’, essentially means ‘how’. Here is my attempt to give an English translation of the text:

    Then [the] Father said,
    “We (inclusive) will make man like us (inclusive),
    how we (inclusive) exist.
    They will exist as boss of [the] animals
    of the earth and of the sky
    together with [those] of the water.”

    I am a little unsure about where I said ‘They’ above, because I can’t explain why it would be in the dative pronominal form rather than a subject pronoun. It could be, rather, that there is no subject pronoun, and ‘they’ refers to the animals rather than to the humans who were created in God’s image. But if indeed ‘they’ does refer back to ‘man’, then this word for ‘man’ in line two is not singular, because the pronoun referring back to it is plural.

    I have to admit that I was helped in doing this by looking at various English translations of this verse, once I figured out where it was.

    Probably not everybody reading this knows what a first person plural inclusive pronoun is. These English-speaking readers could ignore that here for now, but the translators would have to be quite aware in order to translate properly, or else they would certainly mistranslate sometimes. It is sometimes the case that a translation into another language requires greater specificity than is in the source text. This is true when translating into a language that has an inclusive-exclusive distinction in the pronominal system.

  8. Dannii Willis says:

    The 3plDAT clitic does refer to the animals as in this case the subject is 3rd person singular, which doesn’t get marked on the auxiliary. So it is instead “He will be the boss over …”

    A question for everyone: any ideas why the second clause doesn’t have an auxiliary? (Or for that matter, the first?)

  9. Rick Ritchie says:

    The word “speak” in English is different from the word “say”, even if there is some overlap. This make me wonder if indirect discourse is a little foreign to this language. I wonder whether what is important to them is that someone spoke and not what that person said. Or perhaps they do have a word like “say” but it had connotations that were undesirable here.

  10. Man says:

    Very interesting… I have been translating the Bible as I read it, and would love if people would take a look and give me some feedback. Check out my site and let me know what you think. Also would be glad to trade links.

  11. Dannii Willis says:

    Rick, I don’t think that Walmajarri distinguishes like English does between speak and say – there’s just the one basic verb. There is another verb for tell however. What is said is definitely important.

  12. Formiko says:

    Dannii, where did you learn Walmajarri, spoken by only 1,000 people or so? Are you going to translate the book of John, or does it already exist?

  13. Rick Ritchie says:

    Thanks, Danii. I’m not surprised to find out that my guess was based on not seeing all the options listed. That happens to me when translating Greek, too.

  14. Dannii Willis says:

    Formiko, I haven’t “learnt” it… though I am becoming increasingly familiar with it. I’ve been studying it for two years now at uni, and am finishing writing a thesis on its syntax.

  15. David Frank says:

    I’m sorry I am just now able to get back to this. You asked, “A question for everyone: any ideas why the second clause doesn’t have an auxiliary?”

    My problem is that I don’t know what this auxiliary denotes or signifies. The term “auxiliary” is too vague for me. So I don’t know what the AUX is really doing in the third and fourth clauses, much less could I tell you why it isn’t in the first and second.

    I think I can make sense of just about everything else in this verse except for the AUX.

  16. Dannii Willis says:

    The auxiliary basically doesn’t do anything! It is effectively something to hang all the pronoun clitics off. Its absence in the second sentence with the pronoun clitics going on the verb instead is significant: it means the sentence is a command.

    Now why that happens is a good question, one I don’t fully know, but I’ll have to come up with something soon because my thesis is due in a week!

  17. David Frank says:

    Thank you for the information, Dannii. Now I think I can make a reasonable translation into English:

    The the Father said,
    “Let’s make man like us,
    how we are.
    He will be boss of the animals
    of the earth and of the sky
    together with those of the water.”

    This is intended to be an idiomatic translation into English. I could have made a more literal translation that would have sounded foreign. I could have made the language sound like that of Yoda, of Star Wars: “Boss he will be….” I could have given several footnotes: 1) The italicized words don’t have an explicit counterpart in the original but are provided in the translation so it will read like good English; 2) The word “us” is in bold because it is marked in the original with an emphasis suffix; 3) “Let’s make man” is a sort of command form, being a command to oneself; 4) As you explained, Dannii, there is no word for “God” in this language, and the word “Father” is used as the word for God.

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