Ken Hale Warlpiri Recordings

In 1994 Ken Hale (my father) made a recording of the Warlpiri language to send to his two sons Caleb and Ezra Hale (me). At the time Caleb and I were living away from our home town of Boston, MA in Atlanta, GA and Minneapolis, MN respectively. Dad spoke Warlpiri almost exclusively to us since we were infants so we understood Warlpiri (as he spoke it) in the same way that we understood our native English. He intended this tape as a reminder for us of various words and grammar particular to Warlpiri. In his classic form the entire tape is spoken in Warlpiri alone. Occasionally he will say an English word like "Sam Adams" his favorite beer, but other than that the entire tape is spoken in Warlpiri.

The original cassette tape is a full hour of Ken speaking about his favorite subjects in Warlpiri. I have broken the original tape into the segments he intended and have presented them in the chronological order of the original cassette tape. Below I provide a summary for each segment as well as a brief translation.

Warlpiri was only one of the many languages that my father spoke but he often said it was one of his favorite.For more information on my father Ken Hale you can read his wiki page here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_L._Hale

I should note that I am not Warlpiri or a native Warlpiri speaker, nor was my father. I only understand and speak Warlpiri as it was spoken to me by a single person, my father, over the 31 years that I knew him. My father learned Warlpiri during his time in central Australia in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The Warlpiri language may have changed in the intervening half century since he learned it. I apologize in advance for any inaccuracies that might exist in these recordings or my translations.

1. Intro

In this recording Ken introduces the tape and explains what he is going to do with it. He refers to us (Caleb and Ezra) in our "Warlpiri skin names" Japangardi. The skin names were given to us by him according to the name that he was given during his time there (Japanangka). You can see more information on the kinship and skin names here: http://www.clc.org.au/articles/info/aboriginal-kinship

A rough translation is:
Two Japangardi, here speaking is Japanangka. I'm speaking to you, Ezra and Caleb, Caleb and Ezra. I'm going to speak to you in Warlpiri so that you can hear Warlpiri. I'm going to speak two words that are opposites and compare them, like big and small, tall and short, good and bad and I'm going to tell you how we use them.

2. Wiri - Wita

In this segment he explains big and small and uses the words in context.

A rough translation is:
If you see a cat chasing a mouse, you would see that the cat is big and the mouse is small. The cat is big and the mouse is small. The cat is big in relation to the mouse. But if you see a dog and the dog is chasing the cat then you would say that the dog is big and the cat is small, the dog is big in relation to the cat. That way.

3. Kirrirdi - Rdangkarlpa

In this segment he explains tall and short

A rough translation is:
Tall and short, the we say tall and short. If you see a big group of trees, many are big and many are small. If you see the ones that are big you'd say they are tall, many are tall and many are short. Me I'm shorter than you, you are taller than me. You are tall and I am short. If I stand next to your mother, if she was standing here you would see that I am tall and she is short. I'm taller than she is. You would see it that way. Tall and short, that way.

4. Ngurrju - Maju

In this segment he explains good and bad

A rough translation is:
Good and bad. If you were eating meat and you liked the meat you would say, this is good, this meat is good. I'm eating it, it is good. Another one, bad meat, if you left it you'd say it was bad. This meat is bad, I don't like it. And beer, many are good, Sam Adams is good, many are bad. Some are good, some are bad. Many are good, many are bad. This beer is good, I like it, some others are bad. Many are good and many are bad. Some bread is good and some is bad. Some I like and some I don't like. That is how you would speak.

5. Maru - Yarltiri

In this section he explains the colors black and white

A rough translation is:
Now this group, black, white, red and green, I'm going to explain how they are used in Warlpiri. Black, a crow is black, a crow says "caw, caw" like the animal that hops and sits high in the tree and says "caw, caw" that is a crow and it is black. And snow that falls here snow that they say in English, snow that you see is falling here is white. And crows that say "caw caw," you would see that they are black. And snow is white.

6. Yalyuyalyu - Wajirrkajirki

In this section he explains the colors red and green

A rough translation is:
And green, you know grass that a bull eats, that is green and something else, like blood that flows in our bodies that is blood, that is red. If you cut yourself with a knife you'd see blood, that is red. And if you saw a tree some are red. If you cut yourself you'd see blood and that is red. That way. Green, grass that a cow eats that is green. It is not red or black it is green. If you wanted to know you could say what is this crow this is black. Snow is white. Grass that you see that is green you would say that is green. And you know trees that have leaves that is green as well. The leaves that trees have are green. This way. And a lot of food is red. And apples are red. Many apples are red. And some other apples are green, many are red and many are green. Granny Smiths are Green, and Macintosh apples are red. Red and green, this way. And a cat if you saw a cat, many are black, many are white, and horses many are black and many are white. This way.

7. N-Jarra - N-patu

In this section he explains the difference between the Warlpiri suffixes used when there are one (N), two (N-jarra) or three (N-patu) of something vs. many (N) again same as if there was only one.

A rough translation is:
So, I'm going to tell you the difference between 2 and 3 how we say a couple of men or a couple of dogs or a couple of cats or three cats. If you saw a bunch of cats you would (or 3 he stumbles here a little bit because he meant to say 3) if you saw them then you would say there are a group of 3 cats (minija-patu). If you saw that there were 2 you would say there are a couple cats (minija-jarra). And if you saw two dogs you would say there were a couple of dogs (maliki-jarra). If there were two dogs chasing each other then you would say there are a couple dogs chasing each other. If there were 3 dogs chasing each other then you would say there are a group of three dogs chasing each other (he explains here how the other words in the sentence change as well to accommodate the change in number). If there was 2 if you saw 2 chasing each other then you would say there are a couple dogs chasing each other. But if you saw a bunch of dogs (more than 3) you would say there are a bunch of dogs chasing each other. And one just chasing the dog is chasing... (And more like this over and over).

He ends with an explanation that that one dog is just "maliki", two dogs is "maliki-jarra", three dogs is "maliki-patu" and more than three dogs is "maliki" again the same as a single dog.

8. Nyuntu - Ngaju

In this section he explains the difference between use of the pronouns "me", "you", "you all", "we inclusive" and "we exclusive". Obviously some of these terms are used in English and some are not. For instance we don't have a way of saying "we" meaning me and another person but not you. Dad thought this was a really cool thing about Warlpiri, how exact it was and spoke about this.

The inscription on the tape says: nyuntu/ngaju - nyumpala, ngali/ngalipa - nyurrula, ngajarra/nganimpa

A rough translation is:
Me and You, so we say, me is me (ngaju), and you if I say you Caleb, you where are you going (nyuntu)? If there were two of you I would say you all (nyumpala). And if I was talking to you three then I would say you all, (nyurrula). You all are talking to me. And I'm talking to you all (three). If Ezra and I were going into town to buy some food. I would say we are going to town (ngali), you and I. If we (a group) were going to town or to the movies, you two and I, I would say ngalipa. If we were going your mother and I but not you, you were staying here and your mother and I were going to the movies, just the two of us I would say. ngajarra. You are not going but we are going your mother and I. If your mother and my brother were going to the movies without you, you are staying here then I would say nganimpa. they are going but you are staying here. Do you hear me? (And more like this...) (For the you pronoun) Nyuntu is one, nyumpala is two, nyurrula is three or many. (For the me pronoun) Ngaju is one, ngajarra is two us without you, and nganimpa is many without you. (And more explanation of this). This is good, Warlpiri is good, exact. English is bad, doesn't have this feature. But Warlpiri is exact, you can say we without you which you can't say this in English. Good, Warlpiri is good like this it is exact.

9. Nyampu - Yalumpu

In this section he explains the difference between "this" and "that" which varies both in respect to how the object being referred to is held in relation to the speaker, the distance from the speaker, and also the suffix varies depending on the number of things being referred to.

A rough translation is:
The way we say, nyampu, yalumpu, and yali, yinya, mirni, mirnipa. If I had a book in my hand I would say this is my book (nyampu) (here he switches briefly in to Japanese "This is my book"). This is my book. If I gave you the book I would say, that book is yours. (yalumpu) If I had it I would say (nyampu) if you had it I would say that book using (yalumpu). If someone else had the book then I would use (yali) doesn't have to be far away but if someone else had the book it would be yali. If it was far away I would use (yinya) far away is yinya. (He re-explains this concept)

If I couldn't see the book then I would use (mirni) I no longer have the book it no longer resides with me and I can't see it I would use (mirni) I cant remember where it is, I can't see it, where is it? "mirni" literally where does it sit?

If I had two books I would use something like "these" nyampu-jarra, If it was three I would say nyampu-patu, if it was more than than a bunch I would say panu, many. If you had the book I would say yalumpu, that book is yours. If you had two books I would say those yalumpu-jarra. If I wanted you to give me the book I would say yalumpu-ji yunga. If it was two books then I would say yalumpu-jarra-ji yunga. Give me those two books. And three I would say yalumpu-patu-ji yunga.

If I had a book or if I had a boomerang and he explains boomerang what a boomerang is it is used to (shoot, kill) people make and throw and use to kill kangaroo and other animals. If I had a boomerang and if I made it I would say, this boomerang is mine, I made it, I have it. it is mine. (tape gets cut off here)

Ken Hale with Mick Charles (Ngarrijbalangi), Lardil speaker from Mornington Island, 1959 (from the collection of Doug Belcher)


Ken Hale at the blackboard