“Aborigines of Victoria”

I’m at UT Austin at the moment, I gave a talk in their linguistics colloquium series yesterday on Australian historical linguistics. I’m a terrible book snoop and since I’m in their departmenal library at the moment I thought I’d like a look at their Australian holdings. Most of the books are in the main library but in addition to the Dyirbal Language of North Queensland and Merlan’s Mangarrayi grammar, there are two ‘finds’.

The first is Language of the Aborigines of the Colony of Victoria, and other Australian Districts, by Daniel Bunce, C.M.H.S., author of ‘Hortus Tasmaniensis’, … ‘Manual of Practical Gardening’, etc. (1859) It’s the Melbourne language, judging by the information about the people Bunce talked to. What I especially like about this particular copy, though, is that someone at some point has gone through and marked a bunch of Basque and Andaman ‘cognates’. So, for example, ‘Chill, cold’ Cabbin is annotated with Andam. gurka. Another thing I love about this book is the ‘familiar specimens in dialogue’ at the end. It has the useful Aussie exchange “Where are you going?” “To the beach.” and perhaps the less resonantly occa: “Yes, I’ll go and fetch the water, but do not you gammon me or deceive me on my return.” N’ uther mooyoop? “No gammon?”

The other book is Cooper’s ‘Australian Aboriginal words: 2000 examples and their meanings. “The words chosen are pleasantsounding and simple to pronounce.” Most are South Australian languages (e.g. Antikirinya, Arabana, or Diyari). I hadn’t seen this particular example of a collection like this before, and I thought of Peter’s post on Koala names and looked them up.

The only one I could find is Alkina:  alkirna is here as ‘twilight’ and alkira as ‘bright, sunny’ Also alknira ‘evening’ (obviously the same as alkirna; someone’s undergone metathesis).


10 responses to ““Aborigines of Victoria”

  1. Yes Daniel Bunce sounds like a character. I think there is also a Wiradjuri vocabulary in that volume (and maybe other languages beside the Melbourne language).

  2. the Condamine language (something rather Maric), a few words of Bandjalang, Wiradjuri, the Omeo language, Wakka-Wakka I think (something from near Brisbane) and one or two others.

  3. Claire – well spotted! The only problem is alkina is given the gloss ‘moon’ for the koalas and on all the baby name websites, so if Cooper is the source (and we don’t know what was his source yet) there is a change in the gloss somewhere along the line.

  4. The gloss is listed as ‘moonlight’ on your post, not ‘moon’ (and at least one baby site gives its origins as Burmese!). Searching for ‘alkirna’ gives a bunch of tour sites, and “Alkirna means ‘evening’ in the tribal language of the Alyawarra people who lived north east of Alice Springs”. (alkirna.com.au) (and there’s Epimecinus alkirna, a type of spider … and nice name for a sprog…) I can imagine some English semantic indeterminacy along the lines of ‘evening ~ twilight (more namelike (e.g. noone would call their kid ‘wind’ but ‘Zephyr’ is a kid’s name)) ~ moonlight ~ moon. E.g. someone sees ‘evening’ in a wordlist and reports ‘twilight’ because it fits their idea of linguistic exoticisation better (or they’d rather call their boat/horse/sprog/car/dog ‘twilight’ than ‘evening’) and others do the same when they report the gloss. I strongly suspect we find similar semantic indeterminacy in reports of etymologies of place names, e.g. ‘Mildura’ means ‘Where the rivers meet’* and someone poetically reports it as ‘where we meet at the rushing water’ and someone else says is means ‘meeting place’ and presto.
    Cooper says his sources are mostly already published, but he added a few other words that Tindale gave him.

    *It’s actually Echuca that is reported as meaning this in Cooper, but I left in Mildura as an example of how this easily happens, and if the source isn’t reported we just get lost in general semantic muck.

  5. All good stuff! Can Jenny Green or someone confirm the Alyawarr? Then maybe we can settle that one, which only leaves the NSW source unsolved.

  6. Alkina: alkirna is here as ‘twilight’ and alkira as ‘bright, sunny’
    OK, Eeastern & Central Arrernte /alkere/ ‘sky’, /alkere-alkere/ ‘like a clear sky 1. blue, green 2. clear, transparent’ (Henderson & Dobson 1994)

    Also alknira ‘evening’ (obviously the same as alkirna;…
    Not so fast!: /alkngenthe/ ‘flame; light’, apparently related to /alknge/ ‘eye’ and refer to ‘light’, ‘brightness’ such as /alkngirlpe-alkngirlpe/ ‘sparkling, twinkling’ (op. cit.)

  7. David, do we know what the augments are in E&CA? i.e., if these are the same words what’s the -the on alkngenthe and why does alkirna end in -ne, not -re?

  8. I now see

    Alkina (Q): moon
    Cooloongoolook (N): towards the high places

    in AW Reed’s Aboriginal place names 1967 (Q=Queensland, N=NSW), so the Arrernte is apparently a red herring.

  9. Hi Claire,
    That word “gammon” is interesting. My workmates on the outreach bus in Hedland speak a variety of Pilbara Aboriginal English (they are Nyamal, Palyku, Noongar and Kariyarra but don’t speak their ancestral languages). They use the word gammon or gamin [‘gæmən] to mean pretending, faking or deceiving. Eg, “I told the policeman I had my license but I was gammon”; “I thought them kids was fighting but they was just gammon”;
    I originally thought it might be a contraction of ‘gaming’ even though the first syllable is clearly /æ/.
    There are two meanings for ‘gammon’ as a verb in OED. The first is “to beat at backgammon by a ‘gammon'” which is glossed as “a degree of victory which scores equal to two ‘hits’ or ‘games’
    The other is:
    2. intr. To cheat at play in some particular way. Obs.
    1700 Step to Bath (ed. 2) 14 “There was Palming, Lodging, Loaded Dice, Levant, and Gammoning.”
    Gammon as a noun includes:
    1. to give gammon; to keep in gammon: to engage (a person’s) attention while a confederate is robbing him. [Attested 1720, 1821]
    2. Talk, chatter. Usually gammon and patter. [Attested 1781-1796]
    3. Ridiculous nonsense suited to deceive simple persons only; ‘humbug’, ‘rubbish’. [1805-1870].
    In the sentence, “Yes, I’ll go and fetch the water, but do not you gammon me or deceive me on my return”, Bunce seems to be using ‘gammon’ as a transitive version of the verb form in sense 2, which is unattested in OED. I wonder if that sentence reflects his own idiolect or whether he is mimicking a mid-nineteenth century Victorian Aboriginal English. I also wonder if ‘gammon’ used in Pilbara Aboriginal English might be another example of a fossilised archaism such as ‘bullock’, ‘motorcar’, ‘humbug’, ‘pannikin’ that are preserved in Aboriginal Englishes.

  10. The terms “gammon” and “Aboriginal English” together bring up 335 hits on Google. Obviously more widespread than I thought but new to me! Wikipedia describes it as “Victorian English word for pretend. Still used by some Australian Aborigines to mean joking generally”. Diane Eades glosses it as “pretending, kidding, joking”.

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