Bursting through Dawes

‘Aspects of the Sydney Language are a perennial fascination’, as I observed in a 2008 post, and the best record we have of the language is in the two notebooks of Lt William Dawes. Dawes himself has become a fascination and a new book pursues him to imaginary lengths. I have so far only read parts of Ross Gibson’s 26 views of the starburst world, and heard Maria Zijlstra interview him ten days ago on ABC RN’s Lingua Franca. For now I’d like to alert potential readers to what I think is a fundamental problem with Gibson’s approach: as I see it, Gibson misses the point of Dawes’ notebooks, that Dawes’ writing in the two extant notebooks records his developing understanding of the grammar and lexis of the language. It is a misreading to take Dawes’ notes as focussing on ethnography and world-view.

Gibson’s comments on the epigraph he (understandably) chose for his opening page (v) well illustrate how he has confused himself.
epigraph Gibson 2012:v

  1. Dawes here is not ‘musing’, rather he has recorded an apposite way to express a thought. It strikes me a particularly good illustration for a benefactive, as it is involves an action and object in the future.
  2. The sentence is not to illustrate ŋía, but rather ŋyıniwȧgolȧŋ: check the context in the image (of page 15 of Notebook B) on page 63 of Gibson’s book, or the annotated colour page image on the marvellous site from SOAS. Gibson may have misread the line break after Ŋía
  3. ngía is not the ‘utterance’ recorded, rather ngía is a word contained in the utterance Ngía büngabaoú buk ngyiniwågolå̊ ́ng. This might seem to be a pedantic point, but it is just one instance of Gibson’s straining to avoid the word ‘word’, such as in the excerpt in the Lingua Franca description:

    dara might also have been the noise for “tooth”. Memel is the sound for the place we call Goat Island

  4. ngía does not mean ‘for you’, it means ‘I’; ‘for you’ is ngyiniwågolå ́ng

Note that this same sentence had been used as an epigraph by Steele (2005:ii) for his MA, freely available online, and Steele (2005:172) provides an analysis of the sentence:
ngaya banga-ba-wu buk ngyini-wa-gulang
1sg make-FUT-1sg book 2sgO?-DAT?-appertaining to

Added 31 August 2012: My further post about Gibson’s book.


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