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Nov 27, 2010

Untie mi, Barry

She got a text message from a Kriol-speaking relative but she didn't know who. The number wasn't stored in her phone. So she replied with a 'who's this?' type message and then the reply came, "Untie mi, Barry"

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Greg Dickson writes…

A munanga (non-Aboriginal) friend was telling me a funny story the other day.  She got a text message from a Kriol-speaking relative but she didn’t know who it was from. The number wasn’t stored in her phone. So she replied with a ‘who’s this?’ type message and then the reply came…

“Untie mi, Barry”

This SMS caused quite a bit of confusion. Untie him? Why, what’s happened? Has he been locked up? Is someone holding him captive? Knowing that Kriol speakers are susceptible to not expressing themselves perfectly clearly over text messages, she didn’t completely panic. But still… ‘Untie me, Barry’?

After going back to the message about 5 times, finally it clicked. My friend was reading the stress wrong and the sender was using non-English spelling to show that he was ‘writing’ in Kriol (Kriol being the main language spoken by about 20,000 people in Northern Australia).

Finally, my friend got the stress and inflection right and decoded the message:

Aunty, Me: Barry!

(In standard Kriol spelling, it would read: Anti, mi: Barry.)

I had a good chuckle when my friend told me this story.  But from a linguistic perspective, I love that Kriol speakers (as well as other Indigenous language speakers) are getting into new literacy practices like you get with text messaging, email and facebook. These writing forms have a lot more in common with spoken language than traditional writing forms like letter-writing and prose do. So naturally, Kriol speakers want to capture Kriol in their text messages. But unless you’ve learned the standard writing system (only some have), then you just have to approximate and do the best you can. In terms of language development, this is exciting because it may mean that new standardised spellings may evolve, naturally.

But in the meantime, Barry’s Aunty is happy that Barry isn’t tied up at all. And next time he texts her, she’ll know who it is…

Munanga —

Munanga

AKA: Greg Dickson. Postdoc guy at University of Queensland with Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language. Somewhere there, also a community linguist (Katherine region, NT) specialising in Aboriginal languages.

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One thought on “Untie mi, Barry

  1. Bob Gosford

    A long, long time ago – before mobiles and texting – we used to communicate via VHF/VJY radio.

    Listening – and communicating via -the open ‘chatter-channel’ was always fun and a great way to spread rumours, pick up gossip, listen in to intimate (?) conversations between men on a road-crew in some back country and to just catch up with people – it was especially good to catch up with people on remote outstations with no other means of contact with the outside world other than the radio.

    Often the radio would just be on in the background – with people half-listening in in case some relative popped up or something interesting came down the line. But often enough the conversation would be along the lines of (with appropriate Kriol/mixed-language register):
    A: Hello!! Anybody there!
    B: Yes, hello, me here.
    A: Who you?
    B: Me. Who you?
    A: I’m me, who you?
    B: Me – I told you…
    A: Where you at?
    B: Here – where you?
    A: Here – where you?
    (repeat)
    Sometimes these conversations could drag on for some time…

    But VJY/VHF radios (Codans – a neat little package in a tin box – and from memory one of the ‘chips’ was used in the Top End, the other in the Centre)) were very handy things to have around when poking around the backroads of the NT. My then partner and I had travelled in an old busted-arse Land Rover from Lajamanu to Yuendumu – 600 km of rough dirt roads all the way – and had broken down 30 km or so outside of Yuendumu at the start of our return trip (I think).

    I was not enough of a bush-mechanic to fix it so and there was no traffic on the road so we decided to use the Codan to see if we could raise the Police on the emergency channel. Problem was that we had the wrong ‘chip’ for the area and couldn’t raise anyone in Alice or Yuendumu.

    So we stripped the Landie of some spare wiring (of which there was a lot!) in order to extend the range of the aerial. That worked and several hours later – after our message had been passed via Darwin to Alice Springs to the cops at Yuendumu we were dragged back into town (at 80+ km’h) behind the cop car…but that is another story again…

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