when a parent has been trying to tell their children to do something, then they just give up and say "oh go on then"
Murrinhpatha – approx 3,000 speakers – Australia (Wadeye, Northern Territory)
Murrinhpatha is spoken by Australian Aboriginal people from several clans, living in Wadeye and other towns in the Northern Territory. Murrinhpatha is still learnt as first-language by children growing up in the area.
Source: Originally heard in a story recorded by Chester Street in the 1970s. John Mansfield followed up on the meaning in 2021.
Credit: Any inaccuracy in the translation is due to John Mansfield.
A discourse marker to show that the speaker believes something is imaginary, illusory, or hard to believe.
Kriol – 30,00 speakers – Central Northern Australia (Barunga region)
Example of use for (1) an imaginary scenario and (2) an illusionary belief:
(1) Im, gemen mardi reken lil beibi darran dei
Trans.: “[About someone treating a teddy bear as if it was a real baby.]
She is like, pretending to think that this is a little baby.”
(2) imin jis hapi ba luk im mami gemin bat najing
Trans.: “[About a little girl who believes (wrongly) that she is going to find her mother.]
She was so happy to see her mum she thought, but it didn’t happen.”
Gemen is a discourse particle, and as such it is invariable. It is relatively flexible as to where it can be placed in the sentence.
Source: Data from speakers in Beswick, Barunga, Weemol. See also Schultze-Berndt, Eva, Maïa Ponsonnet and Denise Angelo. In prep. The semantics of modal markers in Northern Australian Kriol.
Credit: Maïa Ponsonnet and Denise Angelo
brood over something: feel resentful, remorseful; be sad, be upset. Also, for some speakers, be confused, not know.
Dalabon – 5 speakers – Australia (Arnhem Land)
njirrk(mu) describes negative emotional states that involve worrying and even feeling depressed, but also negative feelings targetting others such as holding resentment. It is also associated with social isolation, lack of communication, hatred and conflict. More.
njirrk(mu) is an intransitive verb.
(1) Mak bala-njirrkmi, mak bala-burruni.
"[After their relative died,] they didn’t hold resentment (feel vengeful) [towards the person responsible for their relative's death], they didn’t fight."
(2) Kardu bunu burrah-marnu-buninj, be-burrng, o kanh eksiden-kun balah-eksidenhminj… Balah-dja-njirrmu yelek.
"Perhaps them two bashed their son, or about an accident, they had an accident. They are still brooding over it, yet."
Source: Ponsonnet, Maïa. 2011. Les figures du doute en langue dalabon (Australie du Nord). Journal de la Société des Océanistes, 132(1):151-164. http://jso.revues.org/6358?lang=fr and Ponsonnet, Maïa. 2014. The language of emotions: The case of Dalabon (Australia). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. Collection Cognitive Linguistic Studies in Cultural Contexts, p. 435
Credit: Maggie Tukumba
one who excels at playing the didgeridoo
Mawng – approx 260 speakers – Australia (Goulburn Island, Northern Territory)
Mawng is the common language spoken on Warruwi, an island also known as South Goulburn Island in the North West of Australia’s Arnhem Land. Around 400 people live on Warruwi. Mawng is the main language but people also speak Kun-barlang, Kunwinjku as well as Yolgnu-matha languages and some Torres Strait Creole and English. More about Mawng.
Source: Ruth Singer, Nita Garidjalalug, Mawng Dictionary
Credit: Linda Barwick
barren woman (woman unable to bear children); woman permitted to play a male role in a 'singsing' ritual masked dance
Baining, Qaqet – 6,400 speakers – Papua New Guinea (East New Britain)
This word consists of angwat (man) with -ki (feminine suffix). Normally, it would be angwat-ka with the masculine suffix. More about Baining.
Source: Gail Pool, “Lost Among the Baining” (U of Missouri Press, 2015), p. 137
Credit: Jonathan Pool
the cracking noise made when crushing a louse under one’s fingernail
Kunwok – approx 2,000 speakers – Australia (West Arnhem, Northern Territory)
When finding a mother louse ngalbadjan, it is satisfying to crack it between one's thumbnails or by using mabarla, a special flat stick used to part hair and crush lice.
The verb can also incorporate the noun bid (hand), to form the word kabiddeyhme, 'pull the trigger of a gun.'
Kunwok is one of the small number of Australian languages still being acquired by children, and is used as the daily language of communication in the community of Gunbalanya (Oenpelli), Northern Territory. More about Kunwok.
Source: Alexandra Marley (fieldwork)
she's making (the girl's) hair beautiful
Murrinhpatha – approx 2,500 speakers – Australia (Daly River region, Northern Territory)
This word can be broken down into mam-, meaning third person singular, non-future, action performed with hands; pe-, an incorporated noun meaning head or hair, and murruwurl, the verb stem meaning to make nice or beautiful. The stem is reduplicated to show that the action is repeated, as in fussing with the hair.
Murrinhpatha is one of the small number of Australian languages still being acquired by children, and is used as the daily language of communication in the community of Wadeye (Port Keats), Northern Territory.
Source: Rachel Nordlinger (fieldwork)
place on a tree where two branches rub together; the sound of two branches rubbing together
Dalabon – 5 speakers – Australia (Arnhem Land)
You can curse someone by putting a piece of their dirty/sweaty clothing in spot where the two branches meet. The accursed will get sick and can only recover if the item is removed from the dalabborrord.
Source: Evans, Merlan & Tukumba (eds, 2004) Dalabon Dictionary
Credit: Alexandra Marley
(s)he is eating berries off the bush
Carrier/Dakelh – 600 speakers – central British Columbia, Canada
Berries, especially blueberries, form a significant part of the traditional diet, and collecting and drying berries is a major summer activity. Carrier people even set forest fires in order to create berry habitat. Of course it is hard to avoid eating while you work, or picking a few berries for a snack while travelling. However, "eating berries off the bush" is not the true meaning of this verb. You can use it to describe someone eating berries as he or she picks them, but you can also use it to describe someone eating berries one by one from a bowl. On the other hand, someone eating berries by the spoonful cannot be described using this word.
What this verb actually describes is eating individual members of a "mess" of berries. Most of the time we do not concern ourselves with individual berries, just as we do not concern ourselves with individual grains of sand, salt, sugar, or rice. There are so many that we think of the collection as an uncountable mass, not as a set of individuals. If we eat members of such a "mess" one by one, so that we individuate them, we are doing what is described by this verb.
In this word, the n is a "classifier" for round things. We can use the same basic verb, without the n, to describe a bear eating ants, where, unfortunately from the bear's point of view, it is possible only to get hold of one or a few ants at a time. More about Carrier.
Source: personal field notes
Credit: Bill Poser
Kunwok – 2,000 speakers – Australia (Arnhem Land)
The word karriyolyolmen can be analysed karri- (we) yolyolme (tell story) -n (imperative). The root yolyolme, "tell a story", or "relate news", is distinct from wokdi, "speak" or "talk".
Nga-yolyolme bu namarrkon djang
I- "story" about lightning dreaming
I tell a story about lighting dreaming
Kunwok is a complex of six language varieties spoken in West Arnhem in the 'Top End' of Australia. For more information about Kunwok visit kunwok.org.
Credit: Steven Bird, Bulanj Dean Yibarbuk