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spacer Garay Guwaala • Talk the Language

Lesson 1: Greetings, statements, questions

Each lesson begins with a vocabulary section. It may take you a while to learn how to interpret the letters in Gamilaraay words if you are only used to reading English. Practise by reading the vocabulary words below as you listen to the accompanying GarayGuwaala1.1 audio file (1MB mp3).

ngamila! look! yawu yes
winangala! listen! gamil no / not [3]
garay guwaala! [1] speak! gaba good
yaama hello bigibila echidna
yaama question word [2] dhinawan emu
yaluu goodbye biiba paper
maliyaa friend baadhal bottle
dhagaan brother bina ear
baawaa sister mil eye
minya? what? mara hand
nhalay this dhina foot
nhama that    

[1] guwaala by itself means 'tell' or 'say'; garay is 'word'

[2] Quite often, single words in one language do not translate into single words in another. Yaama is one such word, with at least two translations in English. The word nhama is most commonly 'that', as in the wordlist above, but is also translated as 'it, he, she, him, her' and in other ways. For more information see the GYY dictionary entries for each word.

[3] The word gamil translates the English word 'no', but only in some circumstances. At other times it translates the English 'not'. Thus:
gamil = 'no' in answer to a question, e.g. 'Are you well?' 'No.'
gamil = 'not' to negate a statement, e.g. 'I did not go.'
It is not used to translate 'no' in 'no + noun' phrases, e.g. 'no money', 'no water'.

In traditional Aboriginal societies the sorts of greetings and farewells used today were not common; however, as people moved into different social settings greetings and farewells have been developed. Below are some simple ones.

When meeting people
Yaama maliyaa. Hello friend / mate.
Yaama baawaa. Hello sister.
Yaama dhagaan. Hello brother.
When leaving
Yaluu maliyaa. Goodbye friend / mate.
Yaluu baawaa. Goodbye sister.
Yaluu dhagaan. Goodbye brother.

You can listen to theses greetings on GarayGuwaala1.2 (0.5MB mp3). Try to practise these words with people who can reply, or even with babies or your pets. Another good exercise is to listen to the Yuwaalaraay and Gamilaraay stories in the Guwaabal section of this website; each story can be heard whole or broken down into individual sentences, with GY and English transcriptions.

Statements: 'this / that' ('these / those')
Look at the examples below and listen to audio file GarayGuwaala1.3 (0.8MB mp3).

nhalay this
nhama that
Dhinawan nhalay. This is an emu. These are emus.
Mil nhalay. This is an eye. These are eyes.
Biiba nhama. That is paper. Those are papers.
Ngamila! Bigibila nhama. Look! That is an porcupine (echidna). Those are porcupines (echidnas).
Winangala! Dhinawan nhama. Listen! That is an emu. Those are emus.

Note that the nhalay / nhama comes second. Also, there is usually no distinction in Gamilaraay between singular and plural words, which is why nhalay can mean 'this' or 'these', nhama can mean 'that' or 'those' and dhinawan can mean 'emu' or 'emus'.

Use nhalay 'this' for things that are close to you and nhama 'that' for anything else. As you point to your own eye you would say Mil nhalay 'This is an eye', but if you point to someone else's eye you would say Mil nhama 'That is an eye' (also 'Those are eyes').

The traditional rules for the use of nhama are actually much more complex. Some of the more complex rules are understood, some will be worked out as study of the Gamilaraay historical material continues, but some may never be known because of the limited amount of historical material we have and because of the long-term decline in the use of Gamilaraay.

To practise your Gamilaraay you might like to combine English words with the Gamilaraay structures that you know (car nhama, house nhama etc.). As you learn more Gamilaraay words you can start using less English.

Questions and answers
There are two basic types of questions: the 'content' or 'information' question, which (in this lesson) all begin with minya? 'what?'; and the 'yes' / 'no' question. As with English, many Aboriginal languages ask 'yes' / 'no' questions through the tone of voice. For instance, in English you can say 'You had lunch' as a statement or as a question.

Here are two minya questions. Remember the structure of the answers: the nhalay or nhama comes second. Listen to the sound file GarayGuwaala1.4 (0.3MB mp3)

Minya nhalay? What's this? What are these? (Asking about things next to or on you.)
Minya nhama? What's that? What are those? (Asking about things not on or next to you.)
Mil nhalay. This is an eye. These are eyes.
Biiba nhama. That is paper. Those are papers.

Don't forget: when you say minya remember to position your tongue with the tip on the bottom teeth with the tongue pushed forward. Also, the tongue position for the nh sound is for the tongue tip to be beetween the teeth, with the top of the tongue against the teeth.

Below is one longer conversation. There are others on the sound and transcript files. Listen to the sound file GarayGuwaala1.5 (0.6MB mp3) and read the text.

Yaama dhagaan. G'day brother.
Yaama baawaa. Hello sister. G'day sis.
Minya nhama, Bobby? What is that, Bobby?
Biibabiiba nhalay, Matilda. This is a book.
Yawu. Yaluu Bobby. Yep. See ya Bobby.
Yaluu Matilda. Bye Matilda.

It is great if you can use Gamilaraay in new situations. However, be aware that the patterns of Gamilaraay are often very different from the patterns of English, and since what most learners know is English they often put English patterns into their Gamilaraay. This can happen with pronunciation: it is easy to say n when you should say nh; and it is very easy to shorten the second part of yaluu and say yalu, with the stress on the ya.

Sentences can also mistakenly follow English pattern, so it is not uncommon to hear learners say Nhama mil for 'That is an eye' when they mean Mil nhama. In future lessons you will see many examples where the English pattern is different, and it is important to keep reminding yourself of the Gamilaraay patterns.

A note on language revival
Many Aboriginal languages began declining in use soon after their land was invaded. People are now attempting to revive some of those languages, Gamilaraay included. With a living language like Japanese learners get information about the language from fluent Japanese speakers, sometimes via the books and materials they produce. And if the learners talk poor Japanese it does not have any great impact. However, with Gamilaraay the situation is very different. Gamilaraay is being rebuilt. Speakers only know a little of the language. It is easy for speakers to incorporate a lot of English into their Gamilaraay. As Gamilaraay is rebuilt it can be more true to traditional Gamilaraay if:
• there is ongoing research into traditional Gamilaraay, so that we understand it better
• people learn from this research
• people work together to improve their Gamilaraay


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