The learner’s guide: blow by blow

I’m continuing to write about this learner’s guide as an extension of the fieldwork blog – the field trip that resulted in much of the data for the learner’s guide was described in quite a bit of detail here, so it’s only fitting that the finishing off of one of the main end products should also be included. Particularly because it illustrates a number of points relevant to Bulanjdjan’s most recent post.

First, just as fieldwork data elicitation is the least of one’s worries when in the field (it always takes a back seat to finding food, taking people to the shop, clinic visits, etc), so too final report/learner’s guide preparation inevitably gets interrupted by a heap of other things. Over the last few days, that has included: a long exchange of emails with our registrar about why they have, for the third semester running, set all our enrollment limits at 0 for our grad classes; a long email discussion with IT about why the on-line course management software we use has deleted a heap of grades from my ling 200 gradebook (and getting them back – don’t worry, ling 200 students, nothing’s been lost!); answering the phone to give the number of our administrator to some random guy who decided I was a likely secretary, etc etc.

So, on to the actual learner’s guide. Today’s task was finishing the verbs, general proof-reading, index entries, and exercise finishing (and putting the answers at the back of the book). Very quickly I realised I needed to check some verb endings. I mentioned the various -n endings in the last post. It’s actually even better than that. There are three relevant paradigms here (given with suffixes, and N for a nasal that represents either n or nh, and here ng = engma because I don’t have the keyman keyboard installed on this computer yet):

  1. -yun,  -yu, -yaNa, -yala
  2. -yirri, -yi, yiNa, -(i)yala
  3. -yuma, -yungu, -yuNa, -yuwa

The third form is the past tense (except, of course, for events which happened yesterday, which are marked by the present). 1. is a very common paradigm, 2. is used for inchoative (yindiyirri = becomes big, etc) and 3. is causative (yindiyuma, make something big). In my early field notes, I have:

  1. -yun,  -yu, -yanha (and occasionally -yana), -yala
  2. -yirri, -yi, -yinha, -(i)yala
  3. -yuma, -yungu, -yunha (and occasionally -yuna), -yuwa

This is wrong. Some time about halfway through I figured out that 1. is in fact -yana, and 3. is -yunha. Listening to recordings this afternoon confirmed this (although it also confirmed some variation within speakers.) So, what about 2? Easiest way is to go and check the recordings, right?

Well… it would be if I could find the tape (very early in my time at Milingimbi) where I elicited a bunch of these in a bunch of different tenses. It’s not in my tape database, and I didn’t write the date or tape at the top of the page for this set of notes, although I usually do. Moreover, this was about the time of the trip that my yapa came back from the island so we were jumping around a lot doing things that didn’t involve English when she was here.

Moral of the story: don’t be sloppy with your metadata. You’ll never know when you need to find something in a hurry.

So… the punchline. Is it -yina or -yinha? Short answer is, I don’t know for sure, still. I think it’s -yina, despite my consistent early transcriptions of it as -yinha. Etymologically it should be -yinya, so that’s no help at all (although it’s interesting in itself). I’ll continue to search transcribed texts for examples of verbs in that tense in that class, but they’re pretty rare apart from this one construction with inchoatives.


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