7 - NOUN Case


The two most interesting things about nouns in Ngan’gi are what we’ll call ‘case marking’ and ‘noun class’. Case marking refers to adding suffixes to nouns to add grammatical information of the kind that prepositions often mark in English (who did it, what did they do it with, where were they going to/from, etc.). Noun class refers to dividing up a language’s nouns into subclasses on the basis of some feature (like they all share some meaning), and marking that class somehow (maybe with a prefix). We’ll discuss both these constructions in Ngan’gi briefly here.


Case marking

In Ngan’gi there is a small group of words which mostly follow nouns that we can think of as ‘case markers’. As an example, consider ninggi, which marks the notion of ‘using an instrument’ to carry out an action, in the following example.


1) yenggi    ngi    pup pe   palayin ninggi 

    fire   1sgSMoveSelf rub Fut   firesticks with

I’ll rub up a fire with firesticks.


You can see that attaching ninggi to a noun in Ngan’gi can convey the same meaning we get by putting ‘with’ in front of a noun phrase in English – it tells us that the fire was lit using firesticks instrumentally.


There are about 16 of these ‘case markers’ in Ngan’gi. Although our convention is to write them as separate words, they are in fact a slightly mixed bag – some are suffixes, one is a prefix, others enclitics and particles, but we’ll treat them as a ‘class of words’ here, and briefly describe each, and providing several example sentences to demonstrate the meanings involved.


ninggi ‘Agents and Instruments’

Ngan’gi doesn’t need case markers to mark the subject and object of the verb, because as we’ve seen above, these roles are marked by prefixes and suffixed attached to the finite verb. However ninggi optionally attaches to subjects to stress their agentive role as the person carrying out the verb, especially when that role is surprising or needing clarification.


2) Falmi nem ninggi     ayerrkinwari   webe   dada tye yedi

woman 3sg AGENT saltwater crocodile 3sgSBashPI hit   Past 3sgSGo

His wife used to shoot crocodiles (for a living).


3) Minmi, ngayi ninggi     ngiminynge

no   1sg     AGENT 1sgSSay3sgFG

No! it was me that told her.


Ninggi also attaches to nouns to mark their instrumental role, as we saw above. In the following example you can see both instrumental ninggi and agentive ninggi.


4) Ngan’giKamu ninggi dinyngiti         tyerrakul     wulmen ninggi

Marrithiyel         INSTR 3sgSit1sgG speak             old man AGENT

The old man addressed me in Marrithiyel.


ngini/ne (NgW) ‘Purposive’

Ngini (in NgK) and ne (in NgW) attach to nouns marking the reason or motivation for doing something, as in these examples.


5) Kuru ne             ngambani pe         club

beer PURP 1dlincSGo Fut

Let’s go to club for a beer.


6) ngarambi       fipal     pe     ki         ne             ngunyi                     ta pe.

1sgPokeSelf2sgG return Fut fight PURP 1sgSlash2sgO hit Fut

I’m getting back to you, for a fight, I’m going to belt you!


7) kinninggi ngani     pe     ayinimbi  ne.

thisway     1sgSGo Fut mother-in-law PURP

I’m going round this way because of my mother-in-law (in order not to run into her).


8) falmi nem     ne             dini         di     tye.

woman 3sgM PURP 3sgSit cry Past

He was crying for his wife.


werri/werre (NgW) ‘Having’

Werri (in NgK) and werre (in NgW) attach to nouns marking some possession or characteristic or trait that it has, as in these examples.


9) Knife anggirrgimi werre     yimungiti   wa.

  rib     having 2sgSSnatch1sgG pick up

Get me a serrated (rib-having) knife!


10) Wurek kinyi, kuru     ayerrkinwari                     were.

                       bad         here     water saltwater-crocodile having   

It’s no good here, the water’s got a saltwater crocodile (in it) !


11)  Dege werre     yenim.

belly having 3sgSGo

She’s pregnant.


nimbi ‘from’

Nimbi attaches to nouns marking the source of a movement verb (ie. come from town, change from a boy into a man), or a temporal source (ie. since last week), or the cause of some resultant state (ie. be sick from poison), as in the following examples.


12) Gagu         yudungurr     puty     pe     kin nimbi.

animal 2sgSMove1plexG chase Fut here from

You’ll scare the (fish) away from us.


13) Ngirrsyenyi         wurr pe     ngityirr abarri nimbi.

1plexPull2sgO enter Fut ground soft     from

We’ll pull you out from the bog.


14)  Wawedimuy nimbi yedi     tye     wademe                             piyiri             tye     yedi.

child   from 3sgGo Past Male-3sgSHands headnumb Past 3sgSGo

From when he was a child he was always shy.


15) Kuru nimbi ngini kukuduk tye     demngi mitit.

 beer from 1sgSit drink  Past 3sgSHands1sgO have headache

I have a headache from the beer I was drinking.


nide ‘in’

Nide attaches to nouns marking location, or the endpoint of movement, and often corresponds to ‘in, into and at’ in English, as the following examples show.


16) Ngayi malfiyin nide ngirim     nyine dede.

1sg   placename at 1sgSSit now     camp

I’m living at Malfiyin now.


17) Fidi    nide wangirrki       syalat pe     wiri.

sunheat in     3sgSHeat1dlexO warm Fut 3sgSit

We’ll warm ourselves in the sunshine (lit: It will warm us in the sun’s heat)


18) billycan musyulng wanniny madikuli         mudiga nyinyi nide.

swag  3plS.Go inside-throw car             2sg         in

They threw the billies and swags into your car.


19) Wamanggal ngudupun wele yewirr nide.

wallaby   1sgSMove hang tree         in

I hung the wallaby in the tree.


pagu ‘via’

Pagu attaches to nouns marking them as a pathway along which movement takes place, as in the following examples.


20) Depi pagu ngeme                         syarr     tye     tyet.

head via     1sgSHandsSelf scrape Past shirt

I pulled my shirt off over my head.


21) Mentyikanbi pagu ngupung genket ngekin masyapu.

windpipe   via     1sgSSlash cut         colon     large

I pulled (the turtle’s) guts out through (a hole in) its windpipe.


22)  Old highway pagu ngarrany fipal.

via     1plexSPokeSelf return

We came home by the old highway.


pagu and pefi ‘this way’ and ‘that way’

Pagu also occurs in opposition to pefi respectively marking movement towards and away from the speaker. You can see this contrast in the following pair of sentences where these words clarify the direction of return.


23) Etye kinyi pagu     yara  fipal pe?

when here thisway 2sgSPokeSelf return Fut

When are you coming home?


24) Etye wuni     pefi  yara  fipal     pe?

when there thatway 2sgSPokeSelf return Fut

 When are you going home?


Note that pefi and pagu can also attach to verbs with the same meanings, so the above two examples could be reworded as;


25) Etye yara fipal  pagu pe?

when 2sgSPokeSelf return thisway Fut

When are you coming home?


26) Etye yara  fipal  pefi pe?

when 2sgSPokeSelf return thatway Fut

When are you going home?


Note also that pagu can attach to verbs as well as nouns, and here it also has the ‘this way’ sense of ‘do it for me’ or ‘do me a favour’, as in this example.


27)  Ya, peke yudingindi fityi pagu!

tobacco 2sgSMove1sgG roll thisway

Heyroll me a smoke!


nana/merrendi (NgW) ‘warning’

Nana (in NgK) and merrendi (in NgW) attach to nouns marking meanings like concerns, warnings, prohibitions, and inability. As you can see from the examples below, translations of nana/merrendi are usually expressed as ‘in case something happens’, ‘better not’, ‘aren’t allowed to’, or ‘can’t’, etc.


28) Wawetimuy yenim wurrsimuy, ngemi                 palak nana.

                       little boy         3sgSGo afraid             1sgSHands drop in case

                       The little boy is afraid, in case I drop him.


29) minbe yarra                         figimityat,             ngumbudu     madifili     merrendi.

                       Neg         2plSPokeSelf place-on-side 1plincSMove chestroll in case

                       Don’t all sit on the (one) side (of the boat), in case we roll it over.


30) Nem     wunu ngirrwat     ngayi yenim, minbe merrendi ngarrenengirrki tyerrakul.

                       3sgM that     namesake 1sg     3sgSGo Neg     allowed     1dlexSGo1dlexG talk

                       He is my namesake, we’re not allowed to talk to each other.


31) Ngayi wamirrisyarrangi minde nana mudiga kinyi ngemi  baty.

1sg  blind man-me           Neg     can’t car  this   1sgSHands take

I’m blind, I can’t drive this car.


yirre ‘correctly’

Yirre attaches to nouns marking them as the correct entity, in contrast to something said or assumed that is incorrect, i.e. ‘It’s not X, as you think, but Y-yirre that is correct’.


32) ngem fiket were ngiminyne,  epe yetyi yirre  ngumbumumne

1sgSMouth say-falsely brother 1sgSSay3sgG but son correctly 1dlincSSay3sgG

I mistakenly called him ‘brother’, but it’s ‘son’ that you ‘n me correctly call him.


yendi ‘same’

Yendi attaches to nouns marking them as the ‘same’ as something else. As you can see from the examples below, translations of yendi are usually expressed as as ‘same’, ‘again’, ‘as well’, ‘still’ etc.


33) Dede         nyin nendi yawamngi!

                       country that same     2sgSTake1sgO

                       Take me back to that same place again!


34)  Anyin         nendi     minbe tye     wanni     fili.

                       Anim-that same     Neg         Past 3plSGo wander

                       That’s still the same (bullocks), they haven’t wandered.


35)  Minbendi     yangi tyerrpu, minbe pagu         yumu-ngiti

Neg-same 2sgSPoke1sgO ask  Neg     thisway 2sgSSay1sgG

Don’t ask me more of the same questions. Don’t question my


tyagan ne, tyepe ngan’gi ngayi yumungi me     wa.

what     for     just     word         1sg     2sgSSnatch1sgO hand pickup

intentions. Just take my word for it!


 gimi/gumu ‘like’

Gimi (in NgK) and gumu (in (NgW) attach to nouns marking them as something similar to, or like something else, as you can see in the following examples.


36) Knife pagu  ngini kinyi gumu yumungiti  wa             pe wagarri.

 thisway kind this     like         2sgSSnatch1sgG pickup Fut two

Get me two knives like this kind!


37) Kuderri         bengin         derrilit         ngani bafun gimi.

billabong 3sgSBash backcover kind     dust     like                     

The billabong was covered (in a film of something) like a kind of dust. 


ngani/ngini ‘like’

Ngani (in NgK) and ngini (in (NgW) attach to nouns marking them as something ‘of the same kind’ as something else. Unlike all the other Ngan’gi ‘case markers’ discussed in this section, ngani/ngini is a prefix (it attaches to the front of nouns), and it frequently co-occurs with gimi/gumu, as you can see in the following examples.


38) Yerr ngini kinyi minbe derrigidi ngerim,         warrmadi wayim         waty                 ngidde.

Thing kind this     Neg     want         1sgSHands quickly         3sgSHeat consume 1sgBad

I don’t like this kind of (tree class member) tobacco, It burns up too quickly on me.


39) gagu     angini                 kide         derrigidi yerim?

meat     Anim-KIND which     want         2sgSHands

Which kind of meat do you want?


napa ‘just’

Napa attaches to nouns as a type of limiting emphatic, and is usually translated as ‘just’ as the following examples show.


40)           Yenggi wayim         waty             yenim, bafun napa wibem.

fire             3sgSHeat consume 3sgGo ash     just     3sgSLie

The fire has consumed (the whole log), it’s just ash.


41)           Nyinyi napa deti     felfi     derrigidi ngerinynyi.

2sg         just     same alone want             1sgSHands2sgO

It’s still you alone that I want/love.


nawa ‘instead’

Nawa attaches to nouns identifying that entity/activity as ocuring ‘instead of’ or ‘in preference to’ some other thing, as the following examples show.


42)           Yedi     nawa wannim fifi     falmi         minmi.

man instead 3plSGo blow woman Neg

It’s men who blow (the didjeridu), women don’t.


43)           Syiri damuy yerim                 baty? Minbe yawurr, menynin                         wun nawa

cartridge             2sgSHands hold     Neg     thing         3sgSSay1dlincG there instead

‘Got any cartridges?’, ‘No, nothing’ he told us.


Wulmen nide yanneyerri, nyin nawa         demim             baty.

oldman to         2sgSTravel that instead 3sgSHands hold

‘but go over there (instead of here) to the old man, he instead (of me) has got some’.


wurru ‘Unsatisfactory’

Wurru attaches to nouns identifying them something the speaker finds to be unsatisfactory. It often translates into English with meanings like ‘too much’ and ‘not enough’, as the following examples show.


44)           ti     kinyi wurek wurru.

tea this     bad         UNSATIS

This tea is too weak!


45)           firrngityirr nimbi yani         lali,

footwalk     from     2sgSGo around

If you were to go on foot,


diwin erreke         nawa         yemengge, minbe mendi wurru.

moon howmany instead 2sgSArrive Neg     close     UNSATIS

it’d take you months to get there… it’s too far!


46)           minbe mi     wurru                 ngirim.

Neg         Veg UNSATIS     1sSgSit

I haven’t enough food (to spare you any).


47)           gagu     minmi wurru             a-minbadi mani.

Anim Neg         UNSATIS Anim-big     money

(I don’t have) enough money, it’s too expensive!