Learning Pitjantjatjara #3

Staying in Adelaide is always a hectic time for me. I haven’t lived in this city for almost six years, but still spend a lot of time running around trying to maintain old friendships. It makes it an exhausting end to the school holidays when coupled with learning new languages.

Sometimes I wonder if any of it will sink in?

One thing that has always fascinated me about different languages is how we adopt words to suit our language needs. English is one of the masters of this taking words from wherever we find them and anglicising them. Karaoke, hors d’ouevre, pasta – to name a few… not to mention the thousands of words adopted over the centuries through invasion and interaction with different European nationalities.

Castellano Spanish always impressed me with its absolute refusal to adopt English words. Ordenador for computer; portatìl for laptop.

Pronouncing words from a foreign language is always difficult. Take this Japanese game show, for example, where contestants must not laugh at incorrect pronunciations.

But in terms of being a skilled word borrower, Pitjantjatjara might just take the cake.

First contact between Anangu and non-Indigenous peoples occurred within the last 200 years and at a rapidly increasing rate only in the last 80 odd years. With that contact came an array of objects and concepts that had never existed before within Anangu culture, all of which required new words for expression.

One example of this we learnt last week. In a dialogue we have to learn, we ask “Kan iruwa-ku mukuringanyi?” which translates to “do you want tea?” A tutor told us that while writing this dialogue the word iruwa came up and she had no idea where it came from. (It’s now fallen out of use – replaced by the word ‘ti’). Anangu didn’t have a word for tea – not having any prior to contact, but iruwa is clearly not taken from English.

It turns out they did borrow it, though, from the Arrernte people who live around Alice Springs. Did tea beat European exploration in reaching Western Desert nations? Quite possibly.

Obviously, a large amount of borrowed words in Pitjantjatjara come from English. These tend to be quite confusing for non-native speakers who don’t expect to hear their language sounded back at them.

See if you can work out what these words might be (a clue in brackets):

  • tangkiyi (an animal)
  • patjikala (a vehicle)
  • tarawatja (an item of clothing)
  • pulitjamunu (an occupation)
  • tiritja (an item of clothing)
  • pitikuta (an item of clothing)
  • wayatjara (a cooking implement)
  • raipula (a hunting implement)
  • mutuka (a vehicle)
  • paatja (a vehicle)
  • tjiya (an object)
  • taipula (an object)
  • kapamanta (a very, very large organisation or employee of said organisation)

Here’s some translations that may or may not help you.

Kurukalatja is the Pit word for glasses coming from the word kuru (eye) and kalatja sounding like glasses. Kapati is the word for recess (short break) in schools coming from cup of tea. Tuyuta is the word for 4WD coming from Toyota. Any make of 4WD can be called a tuyuta.

Leave a comment with your guesses and I’ll put the correct translations up tomorrow.




Filed under Education

4 responses to “Learning Pitjantjatjara #3

  1. David Carter

    I agree about the stresses of catching up. We do it less and less, or through fewer people.

    Here’s my best guesses. It’s hard for a solo English speaker with all those diverse words thrown in.

    The ? means no idea in order. Dog. ? Trousers, Policeman. Tie, ? ? Gun, ??? much is PJJ to me …. finally indolent bureaucrat 🙂

    Where did you get your language skills from ? 🙂

  2. From an American. Some of the terms might be Australian that I am not familiar with, but here are the ones I have a guess for.
    patjikala = bicycle
    mutuka = motor car
    kapamanta = company man?

    First time to your blog. What does “the big smoke” refer to. In Indonesia, that is a nickname given to Jakarta.

    • L

      Hey, thanks for reading. The Big Smoke comes from an expression Australians use(d) for the city, probably particularly when we were a more agricultural country with a larger rural population. Hence, because I live miles away from any major city, I’m far from the big smoke.

      But I’m pretty far from Jakarta too. It works for Indo, too!

  3. Rosemary Carter

    pitikuta (an item of clothing) – petticoat?
    wayatjara (a cooking implement) – weighing machine (scales)?
    Mutuku (a vehicle) – motor car?
    Taipula (an object) – tape measure or a tyre?
    Pulitjimulu (an occupation) – policeman or preacher??
    I have absolutely no idea!

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