How do you fill gaps in the language?

Interestingly, filling gaps is not a new thing for Australian languages. They have a long tradition of doing it.

In many Australian cultures there is a prohibition on saying the name of those who have recently died, sometimes continuing for years in the case of highly respected people. This prohibition usually also extends to words that sound like the name of the deceased. So, if someone called Vince died, there might be a prohibition against saying his name and any words sounding like it, such as fence, bench, pencil and pinch. This still happens today in many remote parts of the country. When it does, people still need to be able to talk about fences, benches, pencils and pinching, but need to do it in a way that won’t cause distress to family, or risk causing the person’s spirit to linger, mistakenly thinking they are still being spoken to by the living.

One way is to use another word from the same language that has a similar meaning but sounds different; a synonym, like saying boundary, seat, biro and nip instead of fence, bench, pencil and pinch. Another way is to use a special word that is reserved for the purpose; a word that means something like ‘no name’. The other way is simply to borrow from your neighbours. This practice is a very strong tradition for Australian languages, and accounts for a lot of the changes that have traditionally taken place over time.


As well as ways to find new words, reviving languages may need to find ways to make up for missing endings or for missing sentence structures. In each of these tasks the advice of a linguist can be very helpful.



How do you create new words?

There are many processes that different languages around the world use to create words and expressions for new ideas. Australian languages have traditionally used some of these, others have not been observed to date. While many gaps can probably be filled using traditional processes from your own or a closely related language, it might also be possible or necessary to fill some based on processes used by English and other languages. It’s up to the community to decide.

The Gumbaynggirr language from the north coast of NSW provides a good example. Traditionally Gumbaynggirr people counted up to six by using the numbers one and two and applying compounding and repetition:



1

garlugun

2

bularri

3

bularri-garlugun

4

bularri-bularri 

5

bularri-bularri-garlugun

6

bularri-bularri-bularri


However, to produce a simpler way of dealing with numbers in the modern world, Gumbaynggirr revitalisers have decided to change some of the old numbers and create new ones using a number of different strategies:


3

guga

back-formation from gugaamgan (emu – three toes)

4

daan

back-formation from daan.gi (claws – four toes)

5

marla

back-formation from maarla (hand – five fingers)

6

jugu

extending meaning from jugu (group)

7

duwa

back-formation from duuwa (boomerang – seven shape)

8

janya

back-formation from janyaany (octopus – eight arms)

9

wagaa

back-formation from wagaarr (axe – nine shape)

10

ngaal

back-formation from ngaala (across – like Roman X for ten)

100

giya

back-formation from giiya (centipede – 100 feet)

1000

windalbang

adding suffixes and extending meaning from winda (star) -lbang (large number – as many as stars)

1,000,000

minyalbang

adding suffixes and extending meaning from minya (thing) -lbang (large number)


In Kaurna, the language of Adelaide, people have recently used compounding to develop some linguistic terms to allow them to talk about the language itself as they reclaim it:

yitpiwarra

seed word

meaning

wiltawarra

hard word

term

wapiwarra

perform word

verb


More detailed explanations and many other examples of new words developed for Gumbaynggirr,
Kaurna, Gamilaraay/ Yuwaalaraay/ Yuwaaliyay, and Warumungu, are available in:


Morelli, S. (2008). New Words, in Gumbaynggirr dictionary and learner's grammar: Gumbaynggirr bijaarr jandaygam, ngaawa gugaarrigam (pp.137-150). Nambucca Heads, Australia: Muurrbay Aboriginal Language & Culture Co-operative. Available from http://www.muurrbay.org.au/muurrbay-resources/

Amery, R. (1993). Encoding new concepts in old languages: A case study of Kaurna, the language of the Adelaide Plains. Australian Aboriginal Studies, 1, 37-47. Available from http://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=153761834837542;res=IELIND

Giacon, G. (J.) (2001). Creating new words in Gamilaraay and Yuwaalaraay. School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics, University of New England: BA Honours thesis.

Simpson, J. (1985). How Warumungu people express new concepts. Language in Central Australia, 4, 12-25. Available from http://hdl.handle.net/2123/5794 .




These are the main processes for creating new words that are most likely to have potential for use by Australian languages undergoing reclamation:

   Adding suffixes   |   Conversion   |   Compounding   |   Borrowing   |   Loan translation   |   Extending meanings   |   Repetition    |   Copying sound   |   Abbreviation   |   Back-formation   |   Blending   |   Coinage

While any of these processes can be used in a planned way by revivers to create new words, as languages return to health it is likely that natural processes will take over. Living languages cannot be controlled!

Special thanks are due to Christina Eira of the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages, Rob Amery of the University of South Australia, and Steve Morelli of Many Rivers Aboriginal Language Centre for the provision of many of the examples in these section, as well as to Mari Rhydwen of the Office of the Board of Studies NSW , and Susan Poetsch of the University of Sydney who were both helpful critics throughout.



Adding Suffixes (derivation)

All Australian languages use suffixes (endings) to change both the meaning and function of words, and there is a strong and active tradition of creating new words in this way. Some Top End languages may also use prefixes at the beginning of words. Other languages may even insert affixes in the middle of words, like English jokingly does with abso-bloody-lutely and fan-flaming-tastic.

In Pitjanjtatjara and other Western Desert dialects the word for aware or wise, ninti, can have suffixes added to mean someone who habitually causes other people to become wise, nintilpayi, or someone who habitually becomes aware, nintirringkupayi. These words are now used for the modern ideas of teacher and student, and also function as the verbs to express teaching and learning in school. Many Australian languages also have suffixes that mean having, without, like, towards, from, at, for, and so on that allow for the creation of a great many new words.

New words created by this method may be based on describing what something does like mixer, buzzer and grabber (for policeman), an aspect of its appearance, or what it’s associated with, and so on.


Awabakal

wangkalkay

foolish

from wangkal (fool)

wanaykay

childish

from wanay (child)

ngarrakay

wise

from ngarra (know)


Nyangumarta

tjanytjapinti

thermometer

from tjanytja (heat)

katjanapinti

chair

from katjana (sit)

ngarnkapinti

razor

from ngarnka (beard)


Kaurna

kanthi-ana

trousers

from kanthi (thigh)

mukarti-ana

hat

from mukarta (head)

tiki-ana

waistcoat

from tiki (ribs)

turti-ana

jacket

from turti (arm)

nuki-ana

handkerchief

from nuki (snot)


Many Australian languages have suffixes that offer the following possibilities for creating new words:

Because adding suffixes is such a rich tradition for Australian languages it can be one of the best places to start looking for ways to create new words. If a grammatical description exists for your language it should detail some of these suffixes. If not, the features of a neighbouring language are likely to be fairly similar to the ones your language would have once used and could be borrowed. The advice of a linguist would be very helpful in this task.



Conversion

This is a common way for English to form new words and can be seen in recently created verbs like task and text (I tasked him with texting Sue the meeting time.) that have been converted from the nouns task and text, as well as verbs like green (The council is planning to green the town square.) converted from the adjective green.


This process is also found in many Australian languages, although they must often also add suffixes associated with the new word class that makes the process more explicit. For example, Pitjantjatjara can convert the adjective ninti (aware) to a verb (know), but must also add a suffix to produce a spoken form like nintini (knows/knowing), or nintinu (knew).

 


 Compounding

Joining two words together to make a new word or a fixed expression is found in many languages. Australian languages have a long history of using this process.


English speakers are very familiar with compounded words like intake, upkeep, dragonfly, waterfall, carpark and timekeeper, although they can sometimes be unsure whether to write them as one word, hyphenate them or write them as separate words.


Often such compounds are descriptive of the behaviour, function or appearance of the thing they refer to, like the early Gumbaynggirr compound for telephone, muya-bang-giing (breath is flying) or the new Yuwaalaraay word gayrragumbirri (electric brain) for computer.


Woiwurrung

galkgawang

bone head

skull

yarramirring

hair eye

eyebrow

yarrangurnduk

hair chin

beard

budhundjinang

sore foot

chillblain


Pitjantjatjara

pina pati

ear closed

deaf

kuru pati

eye closed

blind

tjaa pati

mouth closed

dumb

nyinakati

sit carry

sit down!

ngarakati

stand carry

stand up!

kunytjulpunganyi

phlegm hitting

coughing

nyuulpunganyi

snot hitting

blowing nose

ulkapatjunanyi

vomit putting

throwing up

 
Compounding is a method that could easily be used to create many new words in a reviving language.



Borrowing

All languages borrow from other languages. Australian languages have always borrowed from their neighbours and are well known for the high level of sharing they display as a family. English is also a great borrower from other languages which is one reason it stays so strong. Some estimates suggest that around 70% of the words currently being used by English speakers are borrowed.


From very early on Australian languages began to borrow from foreign languages. Even before English was spoken in Australia, several languages from the Top End had borrowed around 500 words from Indonesia like rrupiya (rupee, from India) for money and balanda (Hollander) for Europeans.


As soon as people began encountering whitefellas here they quickly began borrowing words for the new animals they brought with them and the goods and technology they possessed, adapting the sounds of English into their own language:


Bandjalang

bujigehn

(pussy) cat

bulahwa

flour

dindihj

(tin) dish

gabugahn

(cob of) corn

ganjibal

police (constable)

garenggi

cranky


Pitjantjatjara

puluki

bullock

tjuka

sugar

rayipula

rifle

makiti

gun (musket)

waya

wire

mutukayi

(motor) car

tjampita

cup (jam pot)

panikin

pan (pannikin)

pulangkita

blanket


However, some revivers are concerned by the high level of borrowing from English that has already taken place. They argue that other strategies like
adding suffixes and extending meanings of traditional words are better options to prevent the influence of English getting any stronger. It’s up to the community to decide.

 


Loan translation (calquing)

Loan translation is similar to borrowing words, except that it involves extended expressions that are translated word-by-word. English frequently uses loan translations including, from Chinese; lose face, brainwashing, long time-no see and paper tiger, and from German; stormtrooper, rainforest, beergarden, superman and concertmaster.


There are not many examples of this process being applied historically in Australian languages. However, some modern revivers are making use of it, such as for the names of the days of the week developed for Gumbaynggirr:


Sunday

Sun’s day

Ngayan.ga

sun one

Monday

Moon’s day

Giidanyga

moon one

Tuesday

Tiw’s (Germanic goddess) day

Birrugan.ga

Birrugan (first man) one

Wednesday

Wodan’s (Germanic god) day

Bimiirrga

middle one

Thursday

Thor’s (Germanic god) day

Burruumgayga

thunder one

Friday

Frige’s (Germanic goddess) day

Gawnggan.ga

Gawnggan (first woman) one

Saturday

Saturn’s (Roman god) day

Birraarlga

birraarl (planet) one


Although Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were closely in touch with the cycles of the sun and moon, as far as we know, they didn’t count the days of the week or recognise weeks as a unit of time, so the concept of having named days in a seven-day week is itself culturally foreign.


Some revivers outside Australia, such as the Maori, express concern that loan translations like these, where the concepts of a foreign culture are translated into a local language on top of the idea of counting days, are a greater cause for concern that simply borrowing words. They argue that just borrowing the word Thursday and changing the sound (say, to Tjaatjayi), without also attempting to translate the idea of naming it after the Germanic god of thunder, carries less foreign culture with it. They suggest that other strategies like adding suffixes and extending meanings of traditional words are better options to prevent the influence of English getting any stronger, like the Gumbaynggirr have done by calling Wednesday the middle one. Other people do not see this as a problem.


This is a discussion that hasn’t really occurred widely in Australian revival so far. It’s up to the community to decide.

 


Extending meanings

Semantic extension is the very common process of stretching the meaning of existing words to take in new ideas. Many Australian languages have traditionally used the same word to describe an item and either its parts or its source. So, hand and fingers are often the same word, as are breast and milk; foot, footprint and tracks; fire and firewood; sun, day and time. Similarly hearing, understanding and thinking are expressed by the same word in many Australian languages.


Kayardild

munirra

breast, milk

mirnda

waist, tree trunk, spear shaft

kurndaji

dorsal fin, sand hill


Eastern Kulin

wilam

bark, hut

mirring

eye, hole in the ground

galk

stick, bone


Bangerang

bōrinya

arm, wing, branch of a river

waichēra

back shell of tortoise, bark plate, horny plate on emu's breast


Many languages have also made use of the same process in more recent times, extending the meaning of traditional words to cover new concepts:


Kaurna

pardi

maggot

extended to rice

kaaru

blood

extended to grape juice

maki

ice

extended to glass

pirri

claw

extended to hook


Eastern Kulin

wilam

hut, camp

extended to tent, house, shed

bilim-bilim

bitter, seawater

extended to alcohol


Mutti Mutti

ngundu

ceremonial song

extended to hymn

binggadha

paint up

extended to writing


Pitjantjatjara

waru

fire, firewood

extended to matches, lighter

tili

flame

extended to lights


Extending meanings is a traditional process for Australian languages that could easily be used now to take account of new ideas.



Repetition

Repetition is much more common in Australian languages than it is in English. It usually creates a new word that is either more or less intense than the original, or entails some suggestion of repetitive action or multiples, such as in the traditional Gumbaynggirr number six bularri-bularri-bularri (two-two-two). Where a change of word class takes place, such as from verb to noun, adding suffixes may also be necessary.


Kaurna

murdumurdu

flour, bread

from murdu (dust, ashes)

tadlithadli

frypan

from tadli (spit)

pirrkipirrki

peas

from pirrki (bits, pieces)

tikathikati

chair

from tika- (sit)

pakipakiti

knife

from paki- (cut)

karnkarnkati

lifting device

from karnka- (raise)


Gamilaraay

gidjiirrgidjiirr

yellow

from gidjiirr (gidgee tree)

birraybirray

boys

from birray (boy)

gaabigaabi

nauseous

from gaabi (vomit)

buyabuya

boney

from buya (bone)

balabalaa

butterfly

from balaa (white)

ngarrangarrali

watch over

from ngarrali (see)


Gumbaynggirr

ngurra-ngurra

feed, supply

from ngurraa (give)

wulgam-wulgam

crooked, winding

from wuulga (bent, leaning)

wurra-wurra

fishing net, haul out

from wurraa (pull off, take out)


Some animal names borrowed from English also make use of repetition, possibly as a result of how they were first heard, how
English speakers call out to them, or in an attempt by English speakers to make them sound simpler.


Warumungu

jipi-jipi

sheep

juku-juku

chicken (chook)

kapi-kapi

calf

kiti-kiti

kid

nani-nani

nannygoat

piki-piki

pig

pili-pili

billygoat

purrak-purrak

frog


Repetition is also commonly seen in the names of birds that are derived from copying sound.

 


Copying sound (onomatopoeia)

Australian languages are well known for their use of sound mimicry in forming words, especially bird names:


Yankunytjatjara

aralapalpal

crested pigeon

kakalyalya

Major Mitchell cockatoo

kiilykiilykarri

budgerigar

kuurrkuurr

bobook owl

mininymininy

thornbill

nyiinyii

zebra finch

panpanpalala

bellbird

piilpiil

miner

pinpinpal

honeyeater

tiiltiil

magpie lark

tjintirrtjintirr

willy wagtail

wilyurukuruku

cockatiel


Other languages have also made use of this process to create words for new items:


Yolngu Matha

ŋurrŋ’ŋurrŋ

pig

bumbum

car

dayn’dayn

motorbike


Note that in all these cases repetition is also being used.



Abbreviation

Abbreviation is a common feature of rapid speech in strong Australian languages as it is in English and other languages. Some contractions are so frequent that they become normalised. So English speakers are now far more likely to say and write the contracted forms, can’t and don’t and wouldn’t, rather than saying cannot, do not and would not. Most Pitjantjatjara speakers drop one syllable and say tji’tjuta, rather than the full tjitji tjuta (child many) for kids, but prefer not to write it like that. Similarly when people say the name of the language itself they often drop one tja syllable so that it is pronounced Pitjantjara, and many people have written it down that way. Contraction can sometimes also be seen in words formed by repetition in Australian languages.


Abbreviation by clipping words is also common in English, such as in creating ad from advertisement, uni from university,
bra from brassiere and fax from facsimile. Some spoken varieties of English also combine clipping with adding a suffix such as commie or commo for communist, mozzie for mosquito, and cammo for camouflage. This is also a very common process for producing shortened ‘pet’ versions of people’s names; Bess or Betty from Elizabeth, Bill or Billy from William, etc.


As a language with a long history of writing, English has also made use of initials to produce acronyms; words like laser from Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, scuba from Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus, and wasp from White Anglo-Saxon Protestant.

Some of these processes for forming new English words have not been observed in Australian languages so far, but they could be used. It’s up to the community to decide.

 


Back-formation

Back-formation is a special process of abbreviation, which creates a new word that has a different meaning or is a different part of speech to the original, often by removing part of a word that is mistaken to be a suffix. The English verb babysit has been back-formed from the original noun babysitter, burgle from burglar, emote from emotion, and typewrite from typewriter. Burger is a back-formation from hamburger (a bread roll from Hamburg in Germany) now used in compounds like chickenburger, cheeseburger and fishburger. Similarly the apparent suffix –holic, back-formed from alcohol-ic, has been used to create new words like chocaholic, workaholic and shopaholic.


Back-formation can also be seen in Kaurna:


kapi

tobacco

from kapinthi (vomit)

maana

cross-cut saw

from maanthi (draw, pull)

warnka

sexual disease

from warnkawarnka (fungus species)

ngutu

knowledge

from ngutu-atpanthi (teach)


Yuwaalaraay revivers have also used back-formation to create new words in recent times:


gayrra

electricity

from dhan.gayrra (lightning)

man.ga

table

from man.ga-man.ga (flat)


just as the old people did when they first saw a whitefella – back-forming wanda from
wandabaa (ghost).


And many of the Gumbaynggirr new numbers make use of the process:


3

guga

from gugaamgan (emu)

4

daan

from daan.gi (claws)

5

marla

from maarla (hand)

7

duwa

from duuwa (boomerang)

8

janya

from janyaany (octopus)

9

wagaa

from wagaarr (axe)

10

ngaal

from ngaala (across)

 


Blending (portmanteau)

Blending is the process of combining sound and meaning from two or more distinct words to create a new abbreviated word, and has become very common in English and other European languages:


brunch

breakfast lunch

motel

motor hotel

breathalyser

breath analyser

advertorial

advertisement editorial

infomercial

information commercial

intercom

internal communication

internet

international network

netiquette

internet etiquette


Although there is little evidence of blending in Australian languages, it can be seen in items such as Pitjantjatjara nganantarrka (our side) blended from nganana (we) and tarrka (bone).

 


Coinage

The creation of completely new word from no other source is not widely documented in Australian languages. However, the Gumbaynggirr recognise their word for horse, gaarr as one they created themselves. Although it has also been suggested that this may be copying the sound of a horse.


Given the way that stories and songs have traditionally been received in dreams in Indigenous Australian cultures, there might also be potential to consider dreaming new words as a strategy with some cultural appeal.

 


How do you replace missing parts of words?

As well as missing records of whole words, many reviving languages may be missing knowledge of suffixes or endings. It may be that there is a record of how to change endings to say an activity happened earlier (past tense) or is happening now (present tense), but no indication of how to say it will be happening later (future tense), or that it goes on for some time (continuous aspect). Or, when suffixes for certain classes of words are arranged in a table, it might become apparent that some are missing.


Without the knowledge of what features should be present in an Australian language it is difficult to know what might be missing. A linguist can assist with both identifying where the gaps are and with strategies to replace them. The obvious option is to borrow from another local language. Australian languages show remarkable similarity between neighbouring languages in their grammar. So there is usually a high likelihood that a neighbouring language had the same endings or very similar ones. This has been done for the revitalisation of Gamilaraay where several essential endings have been borrowed from its close neighbour Yuwaalaraay, making any necessary sound changes to fit the different patterns of Gamilaraay.


Where there is no evidence from a neighbouring language it would be possible to borrow from a foreign language, making any necessary sound changes to fit. Alternatively a decision could be taken to extend the meaning of a known ending in the language to cover the different use. Or it could be decided to just go without and see what strategies speakers come up with by themselves. It’s up to the community to decide.

 


How do you replace missing sentence structures?

For most reviving Australian languages the best records are usually of single words or short expressions. There is sometimes very little language recorded that includes extended sentences or strings of sentences connected into longer texts, other than in non-traditional texts like Bible translations. It may be that there is no record of how to ask a question or how to talk about a series of actions and so on.


In cases like this the best option is probably to look at neighbouring languages to see what structures they used and either borrow from them or create something modelled on it. A linguist can assist in this task.


Where there is no record available from other local languages it may be necessary to consider borrowing from foreign languages including English. It’s up to the community to decide.

 


Can Australian languages borrow from foreign languages?

Yes, most Australian languages have already borrowed from foreign languages, especially English, and strong languages are still doing it. Even before English was spoken in Australia, languages from the Top End had borrowed around 500 words from Indonesia like rrupiya (rupee, from India) for money and balanda (Hollander) for Europeans.


As soon as people began encountering whitefellas here they quickly began borrowing words for the new animals they brought with them and the goods and technology they possessed. Borrowing is very strong tradition for Australian languages as the earliest records of the Sydney language show:


wadyiman

white man

buk

book

badal

bottle

gandal

candle

gan

gun

angadya

handkerchief

djagat 

jacket

winda

window

bidjigat

biscuit

badadu

potato

djuga

sugar

djalba

sulphur


While Australian languages can, and still are, borrowing from English there is no reason why they cannot also borrow from other languages. However, there are some important issues to consider.


When words are borrowed from a foreign language it’s like borrowing a little bit of that people’s culture at the same time. The ways of looking at and talking about the world peculiar to that culture are carried in the words. Gumbaynggirr, for example, has borrowed the names of days of the week from English, translating Sunday as the day of the sun, Monday as the day of the moon, Thursday (after Thor the Germanic god of lightning) as the day of thunder and so on. However, even though people were clearly aware of the cycles of the sun and moon, the ideas of having a seven day week and calling days after objects in the sky or European gods are traditionally foreign to Indigenous Australian cultures and even much older than English itself. Many Asian languages don’t do this; they simply number the days and months.


If all the borrowing is from the same language a lot of the culture associated with that language will also be borrowed. A lot of European, especially British, culture has already been borrowed into Australian languages through borrowing from English. This means it might be better to mix things up and borrow from a variety of languages to ensure no particular outside influence dominates your language.


However, most people currently learning Australian languages are already speakers of English and usually only speak English. So they already know English words, endings and sentence structures for most things they want to say and have learned to see and think about the world as English speakers. This makes English the easiest language for them to borrow from. Even if revivers choose to borrow from other languages, the very strong presence of English in the community may mean that as people start to re-learn their language they will tend to follow English forms without even realising it. So not only is borrowing from other languages possible, it might be unavoidable, as might the strong influence of English.


Patyegarang



This is a working document, first published April 29, 2013 and last updated November 28, 2013. All examples used are the intellectual or cultural property of the owners of the languages concerned, or the authors from whom they were sourced. If you have any suggestions for ways in which this document could be improved or made more accessible to users, please do not hesitate to contact the author, John Hobson