Ten Canoes

It’s not fair, all my friends in Australia have been to see Ten Canoes and I’ve had to make do with an Awaye documentary on the making of the film. I have both professional and personal reasons for wanting to see the film, the professional being that it’s billed as the first ever film shot entirely in an Aboriginal language (Ganalbingu, a Yolŋu variety).

Now, one thing I discovered from the film (quite accidentally as it turned out) was that this isn’t true. The Awaye documentary played clips from the film and I heard at least three different languages other than English. There was Djinang (the cover term for the clan varieties of which Ganalbingu is one), Dhuwal (aka Djambarrpuyŋu, another Yolŋu language and lingua franca in the Milingimbi/Ramingining area) and another Yolŋu language which I didn’t recognise which I reckon might have been Gumatj. So, three for the price of one! One of the actors also made a comment that the actors were speaking their own languages, not just Ganalbingu. So the movie is also a wonderful illustration, potentially, of conversations where the participants all speak different languages!


5 responses to “Ten Canoes

  1. This sounds really cool. Are you fluent enough in any of those languages to be able to follow the dialog? The great curse of linguists (or of me, at least) is knowing something about a lot of languages, but not really speaking most of them.

  2. My passive knowledge of Djambarrpuyngu is ok and my Yan-nhangu is pretty good (as in I’ve had phone conversations in Yan-nhangu, but I’ve seldom had to use Djambarrpuyngu). I think it’ll be much easier to follow when I’m watching the film. I got about half of what David Gulpilil said in Walkabout and that was Ganalbingu. Much of the vocab is cognate with Yan-nhangu but there’ve been enough sound changes that it takes a bit of getting used to at full speed.

  3. I had no idea that there were several languages spoken in Ten Canoes. There was one point when the characters mention that someone is speaking a different language, but it’s the only time that I was aware of a change. Not that I would’ve noticed otherwise, since I know nothing about these languages, and unless their sound inventories or syllable structures (or some other relatively salient feature) were vastly different, I probably wouldn’t be able to notice.

    Anyways, I have to say that Ten Canoes was one of the best movies I’ve seen in a really long time. I’d happily go pay to see it again. It’s too bad you don’t get to see it right away, but I guess you’ll be able to order it on dvd when it comes out? I can only imagine how interesting it would be if you can understand the languages.

    Who knows, maybe some small independent theatre could be convinced to order the movie in. I would think a lot of people there would also find the movie quite good.

  4. I emailed the production company and got an answer back straightaway. They said there is a US distributor but the details haven’t been worked out yet. Rabbit Proof Fence had a limited release here (Boston, New York, San Francisco and a few other places) and I guess there’s always the film festivals if it doesn’t get a wider showing.

    Final consonants are a good feature for telling Yolngu Matha varieties apart (there’s also a couple of lexical shibboleths but they probably wouldn’t help). Djambarrpuyŋu and other Dhuwal varieties have a lot of words that end in -y and -w (and -iw, which I find very salient) – there was intervocalic lenition and subsequent final vowel dropping in words longer than 2 syllables (the conditions are different from lect to lect). A consequence of the lenition is that some of these languages don’t have a voicing contrast except after laterals.

    Djinang has no lamino-dentals (no nh, dh, th, etc), only palatals, and final vowels have become -i in many environments (there are a few places where it’s blocked, but not many). So, gapi ‘water’ versus ‘gapu’, for example.

    So, there’s not a huge set of really salient differences, but there are some. Stress is all word initial, by the way, so word segmentation is relatively easy.

  5. Pingback: Endangered Languages and Cultures » Blog Archive » Why not make films in Indigenous languages?

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