Uncanny and perhaps irrelevant language ‘joints’





I have spent the last few months writing the most difficult chapters that form the conceptual basis for my thesis. The best part of both these chapters, although it is not my forte, are language-based. Thus, I’ve been sifting through the English language for words, terms, expressions etc. that lend themselves to accurate translations of Yolŋu-matha words. There have been a few exciting ‘light-bulb’ moments in the process. One of these is the uncanny similarity between the following:

In Yolŋu-matha the term mali’ means ‘shadow, reflection, image, replacement’, as well as ‘person’s spirit, ghost’, and by extension ‘portrait, picture, photograph, film, movie.’ In Latin, the term imágó (according to the dictionaries I checked), means ‘image, likeness, representation,’ as well as ‘ancestral image, ghost, semblance, shadow’ and, or ‘conception, thought, reminder.’ Ok. So this likeness of terms isn’t that significant.

But when you consider that the Yolŋu-matha word mali’ is most often used to talk about a site or place on Country that anchors a person’s sense of self or ‘identity’ then you will see why I’m all excited. Yolŋu people describe this site or place as their ‘foot(print), anchor, root of the tree’, which anchors self-understandings, ‘telling of, about’ where they ‘originate (from)’, ‘belong (to)’, where their ‘bones return to when die.’ This is the site of place where their mali’ is. The central focus of such a site or place is referred to as the mel-ŋur-gapu. Literally translated this means ‘water in/at/of (the) eye’ and by extension ‘(fresh) water spring’ or (fresh) water(-hole).’ Yolŋu-matha terms for ‘eye’ – mel and maŋutji’ are also used in a second sense to refer to a ‘lover.’

I kept this in mind when reading more about ‘family’ associative term in English when I came across the English term pupil, which is derived from the Latin word pupil meaning ‘center of the eye’, which, in turn, originates from the diminutive term for ‘girl’, so called because of or derived from ‘the tiny image one sees of their-self reflected in the eye of another.’ That is, ‘the small image of oneself in another’s pupil’, which was in usage from ~1590s.


Isn’t that just beautifully wonderful?


That is all.





Filed under Anthropology, Thesis/Yolngu related writing

2 responses to “Uncanny and perhaps irrelevant language ‘joints’

  1. Pingback: No cheek is an island: Body parts in Yolŋu-matha | Fieldnotes & Footnotes

  2. Pingback: A brief descriptive note on types or ‘kinds of relations’ in Yolŋu matha | Fieldnotes & Footnotes

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