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CHAPTER XXI.


PHILOLOGY.


According to various philologists the structural basis of most primitive tongues is to be found in sounds and sights in nature, and in natural feelings. Thus the sounds noticed most frequently as arising from the wind blowing through some medium is likely to be adopted as its (the wind's) nomenclature; the same rule holds good with regard to the naming of animals, they being usually designated by their respective calls.

Heat and cold are named according to the ejaculations induced by each.

Tree, grass, water, fire and earth, are called after some plainly seen natural peculiarity.

In this manner or method it is quite possible for a language to originate, and to become, after many centuries of practice, quite copious enough for all common purposes, in life's everyday intercourse.

This first accepted principle, however, is altogether lacking in the dialects of these aborigines; natural objects, feelings, and appearances have never seemingly been called in to aid in their construction[1]; had they been, the numerous aboriginal dialects would have been much less meagre, and more similar than inquirers have found them. The lack of similarity is somewhat wonderful, considering how closely the territory of many of these tribes approximates; that it is so, however is an incontrovertable fact to which anyone can speak who has had the opportunity of familiar intercourse with the various tribes. Every tribe speaks a perfectly distinct tongue[2] which is altogether unintelligible to aborigines out of its own pale; and when we tell the reader that about every fifty miles square of the mountainous or well-watered portion of Australia possesses a separate tribe having a dialect of its own, he can well imagine the diversity of tongues, with which the philologist who undertakes the task of reducing the language of the Australian aborigines to rule has to deal; in fact, he will see at once that such a project is not in the remotest feature feasible.

Were the terms meaning the same things in the various tribes traceable to common roots, then, of course, the difficulty would be surmounted easily enough; but as this is not the case in any instance, the enquirer is at a loss to know from whence the words proceed, which go to the formation of the numerous dialects, or in what manner they were originally constructed.

To show how very dissimilar the dialects are, we give below a few examples taken from two of the Murray River tribes, which join, the territory of neither having a longer frontage to that river than forty miles.

For the information of the reader we hear state that in all cases the negative of the dialect spoken is the name of the tribe which speaks it; or, in other words, the name of the tribe is the negative of the dialect, repeated twice.

English. Watty Watty Tribe. Litchoo Litchoo Tribe.
No Watty Litchoo
Yes Eya Ngo
Sun Euroka Nowie
Moon Mittiam Bocobothal
Belly Wotehowoo Bingie
Cold Yebra Mirrinumoo
Dog Wirrangan Cul

These examples, though few, are (we imagine) ample enough to show how very unlike these dialects are; and the same dissimilarity holds good throughout the dialects of the whole race. Thus, therefore, one glance will suffice to show that it would be both fallacious and absurd in the extreme to endeavour to compile a work on these diverse tougues, with the view of its having general application. An endemic production of the kind would be practicable enough, as can be seen by the vocabulary at the end; but then the value thereof would be absolutely nil outside the limits of the tribe from whose language it might be compiled.

It would scarcely be according to the notions of anyone outside a lunatic asylum either, to have a vocabulary of each dialect in this country collated. It would be infinitely better to have the aboriginal principle carried out in all its entirety (i.e., their persistent endeavour to forget) as regards their own tongues, and have the English language taught instead.

The Nyallow Wattows (postmen), it is true, are linguists sufficient to be able to converse with the various tribes all round their own, even to the distance of a hundred miles, or more. Had these travelled men still been extant, their extended tribal knowledge would have been of incalculable service to the enquirer in all matters pertaining to the multifarious dialects of the aborigines; as, however, the occupations of theso men vanished as settlement and civilisation advanced, the task to the philologist now-a-days is both wearisome and unsatisfactory.

The paucity of words which go to the formation of any one of these dialects precludes the remotest possibility of anything like a readable translation of even the commonest conversation, as the same word is frequently applied in many different ways; and it is only by the inflections, prolongations, etc., thereof that what it means to imply can be understood; therefore, unless to the initiated, a sentence translated into English verbatim, would be all but unintelligible.

Of course there are many common, simple phrases, such as those given at the end of the vocabulary, which anyone however obtuse, might readily understand; but to obtain anything approaching to a general knowledge of the dialects, so as to be enabled to apply it with any hopes of Success, a life's experience, together with continual intercourse, supplemented by unflagging observation, is absolutely necessary.

It would be utterly impossible to teach these dialects by rule without first forming a code of signs (which, of course, would be foreign to them), whereby to denote the various Accentuations, inflections, prolongations, and applications.

These dialects are quite innocent of everything in the shape of grammar, grammatical relations being denoted by prolongations, accentuations, or position; each, or either of which, changes the meaning of different words entirely. Thus pronouns are the same, whether relating to places or things, masculine or feminine gender. Thus Wanthy, for instance, signifies he, she, it, him, that, them; other pronouns are used in a similar mariner.

Adjectives are applied much the same as in English; for example, Talko (good) is always used alone, the noun being understood; the other adjectives are used in a like manner,

Their verbs are particularly imperfect; for example:— Callo yetty wirwy, I went. Callo mitha yetty wirwy, I went a long time ago. Yetty wirwy, I go, or am going. Darty yetty wirwy, I will go. Berha yetty wirwy, I will go tomorrow. Urgin berha yetty wirwy, I will go the day after to-morrow.

The adverb stage is still a long distance off.

In illustration of the extreme meagreness of these tongues, we give the few following examples:—

Kayanie, water. Tolkine kayanie, thirsty, Mirnen kayanie, tears. Cooroomboo kayanie, milk. Birra, dead. Birra wotchowoo, hungry. Bocoin wootchowoo, stuffed with food.

Their dialects do not possess any synonym for size, the adjective Corongondoo standing for large in the matter of bulk, and for a great many in numbers; whilst Panmaroo takes the place of small in size, or few in number.

The only conjunction they possess is Nga (and), and according to the position thereof, so is its prolongation, or the contrary, the prolongations being formed by dwelling on the final a. As for prepositions or articles, their tongues are altogether devoid of these necessary parts of speech.

Their numerals merely consist of two, viz.:—Polite, two; and kyup, one. kyup murnangin signifies five, or one hand; and polite murnangin means ten, or two hands.

For a number such as thirty, or even a hundred, they say co co, and for any larger number than that, such as a flock of sheep, or an immense flight of ducks, they ejaculate corongandoo.

Thus it can easily be seen that the dialects of these people are about as meagre in quality and quantity as they well can be; if they were but ever so little more so, it would be most difficult, if not altogether impossible, for the aborigines to convey their thoughts or make their requirements known to each other.

From the Middle Darling River, in New South Wales, right through, to far beyond Cooper's Greek, and stretching thence to Lake Hope in South Australia, the natives all speak the same tongue, or nearly the same. At all events, over that portion of Central Australia the natives can readily understand each other without the intervention of Ngallow Wattows. We attribute this circumstance to the fact of that region being a very arid and dry one, having but few permanent waters in seasons of drought; so that all the native tribes of that inhospitable country are compelled during such seasons to assemble round these waters, there to dwell together, oftentimes for many months at a time; and doubtless, on occasions of excessive drought, for a year, or perhaps even longer than that. At such periods a general amity must perforce prevail amongst the tribes so assembled, otherwise total extermination would quickly ensue.

The fact of the tribes inhabiting so extensive an area of country, all speaking one tongue, induces us to imagine that the aboriginal inhabitants of Australia originally spread over the country from the neighbourhood of the Gulf of Carpentaria, breaking up into small sections such as families, so that food might be found for all, such breaking up taking place after getting well south to the country of rivers and creeks; then each section or family diverging to the right or left, as the fancy inclined them, thus forming the nuclei of the various tribes as found by the colonists.

The dissimilarity of the various dialects to what we deem the parent one—that is, the one spoken by the inhabitants of Central Australia—is fully accounted for by the persistent endeavour to forget, which we have before shown, to be one of the leading characteristics of the aborigines.

Should our theory of the course followed by the earliest of this race be correct, it would not be altogether beyond the pale of possibility to trace these people back even to pre-historic man, whose remains have frequently been found in Europe side by side, with the "kitchen-midden," stone axe, and spear barb, all of which latter pertain in exact similitude at this day to the aborigines of Australia.

Personal nomenclature is, in almost every instance, due to individual characteristics, or peculiarities perceivable in physique or manner, as the few following examples will clearly enough show.

Yandy murnangin—left-handed.[3]
Mirmile mirnen—squint-eyed.
Kyup tnirmen—one-eyed.
Mirmile tchantchew[4]—crooked nose.
Cowendurn—the creeper.
Walpa chinangin—burnt foot.
Boceroin—the breaker.
Waikeroo weorinen—ugly mouth.

There are numerous other names which doubtless arose from equally perceptible features, but being rather objectionable, we do not care to quote them.

Names of places arise generally from local features, or from some occurrence vivid enough to be worthy of note. Below are a few examples by way of illustration:—

Chittoo beal—termination of the gum timber.
Workin doloo—the black stump.
Nanowie—the sun.
Bocoin tcheric—broken reed.
Mirmile maroong—crooked pine.
Tye bulile—box forest infested by gerboas or kangaroo mice.
Tyrilie—The sky; this name is one given to an immense salt lake in the northern portion of Victoria.

In the aboriginal alphabet there are neither F nor X, P being substituted for the former and K for the latter.

  1. There are three exceptions to this rule, which are as follows:—The plover is named after its note perrit perrit; the goose after hers Ngack Ngack; and the mountain duck after her call, Nguckernel.
  2. We use distinct advisedly, although there are some few instances which we could name where neighbouring tribes mix and intermingle, when, as a matter of course under these circumstances portions of the respective dialects spoken are incorporated into each; but as instances of this character are very rare indeed it is scarcely worth while making exceptions of them.
  3. According to physiologists, right and left handedness is due entirely to training from the very earliest childhood, until the habit (whichever it may be) becomes confirmed. This may be correct as regards civilsed man, but it is not so in primitive man, taking these aborigines in illustration. Amongst them a left-handed or ambidexter man is as rare as in civilised life, the right being the premier one, as with ourselves, and these people grow up as nature made them, untrammelled either by laws or rules.
  4. It is here apparent, that the olfactory nerve derives its name from the sound made by sneezing.