Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Irish effect on Australian English

Is the word 'didgeridoo' Irish and not Australian Indigenous?

"What could be more Australian than the droning sound of this native instrument? Yet there’s a linguistic mystery about it. Firstly, the name isn’t recorded in Australian English until 1919, astonishingly late. And it isn’t Aboriginal—native names include yidali, illpera and bombo, but nothing that sounds even vaguely like didgeridoo. Lexicographers have traditionally got round this by saying it is imitative, but didgeridoo bears scant relation to the noise the instrument makes. Now Dymphna Lonergan, currently working on a PhD thesis concerning the Irish influence on Australian English, may have solved the problem. Her theory appeared in Australian newspapers six months ago, and is reported in more detail in the current issue of Ozwords, published by the Australian National Dictionary Centre. She points to a possible Irish source in two words dúdaire and dubh. Gaelic spelling is in a class by itself: Ms Lonergan suggests the words are actually said rather like 'doodjerreh' and 'doo' (though some native speakers dispute this). The first means 'trumpeter'; the second means 'black'. Put them together (adjective following noun in Gaelic) and you get a phrase that means 'black trumpeter' and which sounds remarkably like the instrument’s name."
World Wide Words

Didgeridoo, sheila, brumby ... were these typically Australian words actually adopted from Irish?

See also Lingua Franca where you can hear Dymphna Lonergan talk about the Irish effect on Australian English.

Listen at
Sounds Irish 1
Sounds Irish 2

Note: The audio might only be there for a couple of weeks.

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Blogger nora said...

Fascinating stuff. :)

11:24 PM  
Blogger nora said...

I accidentally caught the end of an archaeological programme about bronze age trumpets - just after you posted this. On BBC Northern Ireland (TV). These trumpets have been unearthed in various places in Ireland. The first was found (I think!) around 1795 (unfortunately I wasn't taking notes and can't find the programme online). I thought he said in Co. Antrim. They had restored them and experimented until they found out how they were played. The first huge one was like an upside-down didgeridoo, bending up and out, and this (highly decorated) was a 'war horn'. A tribe would have dozens of them, apparently, and blow them at the enemy before battle, creating a fearsome sound.

Then the guy picked up a smaller one, which was curved out and down towards the ground. He said the beaten bronze from which they were made was paper-thin. They weren't sure how to play this one, until they thought of a didgeridoo and used the same technique, and voila - they produced musical notes. They ended the programme with a small group of people playing some of these bronze age instruments together, and I sat there with my jaw on the floor. The coincidence was staggering - it was just after you posted about the possibility of 'didgeridoo' coming from the Irish language.

I've scoured the website of BBC Northern Ireland, but can't find the programme. So I hope I haven't misquoted any details. But it looks like the archaeologists involved are from Queen's University, Belfast. There is a press release on their site referring to the programme "Earthworks" - which is, I assume, the one I caught the tail end of. If I'd known he was going to use the word didgeridoo I'd have recorded it!

2:21 AM  
Blogger Pip said...

Thanks a lot for this interesting contribution, Nora.

9:01 AM  

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