In recent months three large Australian bilingual dictionaries have been published, after decades of preparation. Some of their attributes are compared in the table below.
First, consider what the three works have in common. All were begun more than half a century ago, by trained linguists in collaboration with many named native speakers of the particular language. There are many cross-references between entries, and there is extensive use of example sentences to illustrate senses.
Owners have commonly bestowed a name on their property, whether it be a residence in town, a homestead, a boat. Since at least the late 19th century in Australia, a popular source for these names has been some of the vocabulary of Australian languages and other languages of the region. The demand has been met in the last century by various popular booklets of ‘Aboriginal names’ (referenced in previous posts on Orana and on Akuna). Before those booklets began to be published, newspapers and magazines published suggestions, sometimes drawn from the Collectors of Words notably the books of Brough Smyth (1878) and Curr (1886/7).
Many of us who remember the 1960s in Australia know the chorus ‘Orana! Orana! Orana to Christmas Day’ (listen via iTunes, track 13) in one of the popular Australianised seasonal songs of the period. The lyricist, ABC staff writer John Wheeler (fl. 1940–70, with composer William Garnet ‘Billy’ James 1892–1977), likely found the word Orana in one of the notorious naming booklets: Orana ‘welcome’ has been listed in many of them as an Aboriginal word of NSW, beginning with Thorpe (1921:5) (and see table below). Update: ‘Carol of the birds’ was in the first set of Five Australian Christmas carols, released for Christmas 1948 (Catholic Weekly 23 Dec 1948, page 2, Magazine Section), which implies Wheeler’s source was one of the Thorpe or Tyrrell booklets published before WWII.
In the 1970s Orana got another boost in New South Wales, from official naming:
Coining a new name from a word taken from an Australian language often has complex implications, even if the naming agency is oblivious to them. When the name is for a place, a suburb or a street or a park, the official approval involves the relevant local government body. Two writers went into some of the issues a few years ago:
Tony Birch (2010 ) sees the application of indigenous names to ‘houses, streets, suburbs and whole cities’ as ‘an exercise in cultural appropriation’. He draws a distinction between the restoration of indigenous placenames (such as Gariwerd ~ Grampians in western Victoria), and the fresh application to the built environment of a word imported from some Australian language.
Sam Furphy (2002) earlier discussed the role of what he dubbed ‘naming books’: popular twentieth century booklets of lists of ‘Aboriginal words’ such as Endacott (1923), Thorpe (1927), Kenyon (1930), Cooper (1952), which, for all the expressed good intentions of their compilers, have contributed to a homogenised perception of Australian languages: ‘The earliest popular naming books … make virtually no reference to the variety of languages spoken by the indigenous people of Australia, such that an uninformed reader could be forgiven for believing that there was only one Aboriginal language.’ (Furphy 2002:62) ‘Naming books simplify and romanticise Aboriginal words and remove them from their cultural and linguistic context.’ (Furphy 2002:68)
I’ve recently come upon an example which illustrates a combination of both concerns: one where official placenaming has drawn on the notorious naming booklets.
‘Australia’s Most Widespread’ bird, according to Birdata’s featured bird last week, is the Brown Falcon, Falco berigora. A few months ago, a ‘complete guide to the origin of Australian bird names’ (that is, English and Linnæan names), was published, and in it Fraser and Gray (2013:80) summarised the published information on this species name:
berigora [is] stated in many places to be the name for the bird in an indigenous language, though nobody appears willing to nominate a particular language. The original namers, Vigors and Horsfield (1827), simply said: ‘The native name of this bird, which we have adopted as its specific name, is Berigora’. Gould (1848) mentioned ‘Aborigines of New South Wales’ against the word, and Morris (1898), in his Dictionary of Austral English, claimed it is made up of beri, claw, and gora, long. The word does not appear in a glossary of the languages spoken by indigenous people of the Sydney region as the time of early white settlement (Troy 1994), though many other bird names do, and the bird was certainly to be found there. Are the claws longer than those of other falcons? Perhaps not, and indeed, the toes, according to Debus (2012:131), are shorter.
Actually Falco berigora Vigors and Horsfield 1827:184-5 is one of only three birds whose scientific (Linnæan) name draws on a word of an Australian language.1 The word berigora has managed to survive in this ornithological niche, and is now guaranteed as much as longevity as science can offer. But can we give due credit to the language which provided it?
New animations with spoken audio in Anmatyerr (‘Anmatyere’), Kriol, Luritja, Warlpiri, and Yolŋu Matha were published on You Tube a couple of weeks ago. There are eight nicely done animations of a minute or two explaining aspects of the water supply in each of the five languages, all available through the NT Power and Water … Read more
Central Australian Linguistic Circle (CALC) 2013 Monday 9 September 2013, 8:30 am – 4:00 pm Venue: Desert People’s Centre Function Room (next to the Irrarnte Café), Desert Knowledge Precinct, South Stuart Highway, Alice Springs Map: http://desertpeoplescentre.org.au/contact-us/ Program: 8:30 am meet at Desert People’s Centre Function Room, set up, introductions 9:00-9:30 Cathy Bow, Charles … Read more
Think about the notes you made when you were getting into learning an undocumented language … Imagine they get archived and in a century or two someone looks through them and tries to work out what was going on when you made the notes. With only shreds of metadata and general knowledge of the historical period to go on, the future reader makes inferences from the content. Could a cluster of words in one of your vocabulary lists point to a hunch you were checking? Or a sequence of illustrative sentences could be the skeletal narrative of a memorable experience shared with your teachers.
‘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 … Read more