Giving Directions in Bardi

I was recently quoted in a National Geographic article talking about research on absolute frames of reference. I mentioned some data from Bardi but the only description is brief, and it’s in my 2012 [unfortunately incredibly expensive] reference grammar. Here’s a summary of how to talk about directions in Bardi.

Bardi people use several different ways to talk about directions and relative location. This in itself is not unusual. Here are the systems I have data for:

  • left and right
  • compass points
  • deixis, relative proximity
  • tidal-based directions
  • directions using place names

Left and Right

Bardi does have words for ‘left’ and ‘right’: they are aarlgoodoo and joorroonggoo respectively. They aren’t much used, however. In story-telling (my main source of direction terms), the only common use is when talking about the direction of boomerang throwing, where it refers to the direction of curvature of the boomerang’s path. Joorroonggoo also means ‘straight’, and that is its more common meaning.

Joorroongg-ondarr morr arrjamb ngandankal.
The road was straight, so I walked on it. (ie, it was a straight path [to where I was headed], so I went down it.)

Compass Points

Bardi has a system of directions roughly equivalent to English compass points and based on the direction of prevailing winds. Ardi is ‘north’ (or, more properly, a bit east of north), baarnarr is ‘east’ alang is ‘south’, and goolarr is west.

Barnoorarra nyalab jarri Ardiyooloon injoonoo, jamb biila injoonoo goolarr.
He’s been to Ardiyooloon on the eastern side, and he went again to the west.

These compass points are mostly used for general directions, not for directions to specific places (for that, a sequence of place names is used, as I’ll describe below). They aren’t used for smaller frames of reference (so, you wouldn’t say something like ‘the dog is on the north side of the house’, like some languages without relative frames of reference have). The following example is typical.

Aalga ardi wirr iyarrmin.
The sun rises in the northeast.


For examples like describing the relative placement of a dog and a house, Bardi speakers typically use deictic markers like ‘here’, ‘there’, or ‘this side’ and ‘the other side’.

Ginyinggon roowil innyana barda nyoonoo, nyanbooroonony daab innyana biinyba.
Then he started walking to the other side of the marsh. (literally, then he walked there, on the other side he climbed up [through] the marsh).

Tidal marking

Bardi has two adverbs, joordarrarr ‘with the tide’ and arrinar ‘against the tide’.

Joodarrarr angarrgalalij Bawoordoongan.
We went with the tide to Bawoordoo (near Swan Point).

They are also used in giving directions. Given that Bardi country is in an area with very swift currents and a 10 metre inter-tidal range at king tides, it is not surprising that Bardi people know a great deal about water navigation, tidal movements, and how to sail in tricky waters. A lot of Bardi food traditionally also depended on the tides (such as good times for reefing, fishing and hunting).

Directions by Place Names

Finally, a very common way of giving directions involves providing a chain of place names between the speaker’s current location and the goal. Bardi country is incredibly rich in named places; the dictionary has well over 500 names recorded, including 100 names on Sunday Island (Iwany) alone; Iwany is just over a mile across and nearly 2 miles from north to south, so it’s not exactly huge. This way of giving directions is, of course, not easy to follow if you don’t know the places. In traditional Bardi society, however, everyone would have known them, and so talking about directions in that way is a way of reinforcing the names and their sequence.

Filed under: Bardi, language documentation
Source: Anggarrgoon

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