I learned of another aspect of Australian indigenous culture today, something that I’m sure many of you Australianist linguists (and indeed anyone that works in communities) have no doubt known about for many years, but it’s something I’ve fortunately never experienced before. I’m referring to a Sorry Day.

I don’t mean the sort of Sorry Day that is observed each year on the anniversary of the handing down of the Bringing Them Home report into the stolen generation, I mean the sort of Sorry Day that happens when a relative dies and a community goes into mourning. Although, and I never thought of this, the latter is probably the source of the name of the former.

All my speakers were keen to do a lot of work yesterday, after a Tuesday in which everyone was tired. But then we heard that a relative of most, and by extension, of all, of the community, who lived in Darwin, had passed away early in the morning. I guessed from one of my speaker’s demeanour that that meant no work for the day. Well, that and the fact that he said ‘Nomo work for us today, im sorry day’.

So I took it easy and tried to catch up on the news and do a little work on the side, repsecting the imperative to not work on a day of mourning.

Today though, I went to see my best speaker, and found him very glum. “Wornka-wornka gi-yu?” (You sad?) I asked, thinking he was still sad about the relative who died yesterday. He informed me that a close relative, a brother in fact, died this morning. Very sad indeed to have had two Sorry days in a row.

I don’t mind of course, despite how much time it might cost me. The death of a relative is just too important to be trumped by my needs.


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I smell a new euphemism wafting out of Canberra.

A report came out this morning in which it was argued that a 25% renewable energy target for 2020 would in fact financially harm consumers less than business as usual, and would create jobs, contrary to popular belief.

The Minister for the Environment (apparently) Malcolm Turnbull was predictably playing down the report’s conclusions and at one point addressed the difference in current price between green energy and coal. Except, when he was due to say ‘coal’, he paused, um‘d and ah‘d a couple of times, then came out with this gem.

He refered to it as “conventional grid electricity”.

Mark Liberman has a post on the use of the word ‘nigger’ to describe shades of colours, most frequently brown. Obviously the term has ceased to be used on account of its clear offensiveness, but pervades in Chinese use of English.

It reminded me of the case of the mandarin ‘um’. Since learning (from Laurie – whose blog, it appears, is for all intents and purposes dead) that the mandarin word for ‘um’ is /nəgə/, I’ve been hearing it everywhere, especially in Chinatown and on the bus from uni in the evening.

It isn’t uncommon, when you’re attending to it at least, to hear someone begin their sentence with what sounds like “Nigger, nigger, nigger…”

[Is there a term in the linguistic nomenclature for this sort of thing, one that perhaps ends in -ive? If not, can I propose hesitative?]

Having just had a brief chat with my maliyi, who is looking at conversational analysis, I’ve realised that hesitative is not a good label for this sort of thing. While hesitation is often a part of the function of these sorts of words, um, ah and so on, they are more saliently turn-holders in a conversation, so that you don’t get interrupted while trying to think of the right words to employ. So, it is okay to speak of their function as hesitative (where it is in fact hesitative), this kind of thing shouldn’t always be referred to a hesitative.