Dr Jim Wafer – On the Hunter River – Lake Macquarie language.

Dr Jim Wafer is a member of the Endangered Languages Documentation, Theory and Application (ELDTA) group at the University of Newcastle, Australia, and has worked with Australian Aboriginal languages for the past 35 years. He is currently collaborating with Professor Hilary Carey on an edition of Lancelot Threlkeld’s translations into the Hunter River-Lake Macquarie language.

On 21 June 2011 Dr Wafer delivered this paper in the Friends Reading Room, Cultural Collections, Auchmuty Library.

A reply to Dr Wafer’s paper was delivered by Mr Raymond Kelly, Associate Lecturer at the Wollotuka Institute.


Lancelot Threlkeld, to whom we owe most of our knowledge of the Hunter River-Lake Macquarie language (HRLM), recorded almost no indigenous texts, but devoted himself to scripture translation. From a linguist’s perspective this might perhaps be considered a deficiency, since it deprives us of the opportunity to understand HRLM verbal art as it was practised by the speakers themselves. Nonetheless, it gives us the chance to investigate semantically HRLM’s approaches to the issues of human subjectivity with which the scriptures deal, and these are less likely to be encountered in indigenous stories and songs.

Threlkeld uses two different words to translate “soul”: maray and minki. The first of these occurs more often as a translation of “spirit”, and the latter as a translation of “sorrow, sympathy, repentance”. Both words are polysemous in HRLM, and the present paper will demonstrate the range of their allusions, in the context of Threlkeld’s translations, and attempt to draw some broader inferences about the HRLM understanding of subjective processes.

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