You are here:
Kaurna Language Resources in Print
Reviews "Kulurdu Marni Ngathaitya! A Kaurna Learner’s Guide"
Kulurdu Marni Ngathaitya! (It Sounds Good to Me!) –
A Kaurna Learner’s Guide, written for Kaurna Warra Pintyanthi
by Rob Amery and Jane Simpson (illustrated by Anne Best)
pp. xxxviii + 219 ISBN 0781743 052341, Aus$39.95,
University of Adelaide/Wakefield Press 2013
Lisa Hill is the Director of Curriculum, and the teacher-librarian at Mossgiel Park PS, Endeavour Hills, an outer suburb of south-eastern Melbourne.
It is a beautiful, enticing, brightly-coloured book on glossy paper with lots of illustrations to complement the lessons, but it begins in a way that no other ‘teach yourself a language’ text does. In the preface there are 23 profiles of the people who contributed to this book, making the salient point that like nearly all Aboriginal languages the Kaurna language has been put at risk by a combination of factors arising from the colonisation of the continent by the British. In different ways and coming from different starting points, these profiles confirm what I already knew from talking to award-winning indigenous author Kim Scott, that the resurrection of these languages is difficult when so many indigenous Australians – whose birthright these languages are – were severed from their families, their culture and their language under Stolen Generation policies. That is why a book like this is so important. ...
My next stumble came with the word ‘thank you’. The text explains that Aboriginal languages didn’t have words for thanking people because in pre-colonial times people did things for others either because they were obliged to under kinship rules or because they wanted to. Indigenous Australians don’t expect to be thanked; what is more likely is an expression of affection such as Ngaityo yungandalya (My brother!) or Ngaityu yakanantalya (My sister!) Ngaityalya (My dear!) can be used for anyone regardless of age, gender or relationship to the speaker. This last form is an example of the way indigenous languages have adapted to contemporary needs. The suffix -alya on the end, is explained in a little grammar box on the side of the text: it expresses endearment. How nice to have a language grammar which expresses endearment!
Nicholas Ostler is currently the chairman of the Foundation for Endangered Languages, and lives in Bath, England <www.nicholasostler.com>.
The Kaurna language has been spoken in the Adelaide area of South Australia from time immemorial. But it was reduced from being the fluent medium of population of some 700 people in 1836 (when British colonists first arrived) effective silence in the 1860s, with the death of the last native speaker, Ivaritji, coming in 1929.
In that brief period, a single generation, between colonization and the infamous banning by Governor Grey, the language had been quite effectively documented by German Lutheran missionaries, C.G. Teichelmann and C.W. Schürmann, including a sketch grammar, a corpus of sentences (not restricted to transltions of Gospel material) and a vocabulary of well over 3,000 words.
Using their work, and more fragmentary records by many others, linguists, led above all by Rob Amery and including his Doktor"mutter" Jane Simpson), as well as an increasing band of enthusiastic local people, have since 1990 been endeavouring to decipher and re-constitute -- in their word, to 'reawaken' -- Kaurna as a functioning language.
This work represents the most complete published product of that endeavour, a rounded grammar of the language, presented in such a way that it is accessible, and indeed enticing, to people who are not linguists, but simply want to gain a competence in the language. Of course, it is presumed that most of these people will be of Kaurna parentage, or at least resident in the Adelaide area.
The work is unique among grammars that I have read in beginning with 23 Profiles -- i.e. photos, mini-biographies and bidding statements -- of significant actors in the effort to re-awaken Kaurna, beginning with Elder Kauwanu Warritya Yerloburka O’Brien, who gave the first speech in the revived language in 1989, and Ngarrpadla Alitya Wallara Rigney, the principal of the Kaurna Plains High School, which hosted the first Kaurna school language program.
The book is filled with a sense of actual people's lives and what they can make out of linguistic materials, fitting the 19th century vocabulary into a milieu which is very clearly 21st century urban -- for such is modern Adelaide. There is even a sense of slang being born, as the word paitya -- never explicitly translated, but cropping up here and there -- seems to be expanding from a word for a snake, into a calque of Oz English 'deadly'; and now a good one-word description of an awesome bike ride. This is conveyed as much through the illustrations as the text.
The strategy of the language teaching task that the book adopts is to divide the book in two: the first sixteen chapters are more like a phrase book, though one with copious explanations, giving simple responses and dialogues for use in a variety of situations, while the following section, chapters 17 to 25, give more scholarly detail, both about the language and the evidence for it, and also systematic accounts of morphology and more complex syntax.
The result is a book that should satisfy users of whatever level linguistic preparedness. It also lets the user in on some of the (very necessary) tactics of word invention in a reawakening language. Although the book is not short, then, in giving explanations, where there are evident rules to be formulated, it also delights the user by showing rather than always instructing.
The final chapter is given over to full-colour illustrations of complicated scenes, which are extensively labelled, so giving the learner a direct -- rather than a translated -- feel for the reference of terms. It also labels two identical family snapshots with different arrays of terms, revealing the different network that that kinship imposes on the same group when seen by grandmother as against grandson. Although the scenes are familiar, whether drawn or photographed, the struggle to express their details in recently-learnt Kaurna validates the claim -- made by so many of the profiles -- that the value of learning a language lies in organizing the world in a different way.
If the book has a fault, it is a physical one. The book is produced in A4 format on coated stock, making it rather heavy and unmanageable, especially in small hands, even if lavish illustrations are beautiful to behold. No pocket will hold it. There is also no universal vocabulary, either into or out of Kaurna, a fact which will make it harder to use for a different reason. Perhaps it will have an extended life online, however, where both these faults will cease to have meaning.
Overall, this is an excellent work which will teach Kaurna learners much. Yet, even more, it can act as an example of how to reawaken "dormant' languages. Amery and Simpson can be congratulated on setting such a good example, which must reflect many years of planning, practice and execution. All you enthusiasts for languages once thought dead or moribund, go and do ye likewise!
(Source: Foundation of Endangered Languages OGMIOS Newsletter 52, 31 December 2013, pp 16-17, <www.ogmios.org>)