Archives for July 2012

Pronoun prefixes on verbs

Pronoun Prefixes on Verbs

Learning a new language involves committing many words to memory, regularly. But there are of course many points of grammar that you also need to know in order to construct sentences correctly. If you have already read the post on the polysynthetic nature of languages such as Kunwinjku and Gundjeihmi, you will know that it is necessary to learn parts of words as well as whole words. In this lesson you will learn the most common pronominal prefixes that are used on verbs. This means the word parts that go on the front of a verb that indicate who is the subject or participant relating to the verb. For those of you who subscribe to Karriborlbme Kunwok, a recent word we learnt was kun-bolk 'place' and an example of this noun being incorporated into a verb was this:


This word consists of four word parts or morphemes:

  1. nga- the pronominal prefix that means 'I'
  2. -bolk an incorporated noun kun-bolk 'place' (after the noun prefix is stripped)
  3. -na the verb to see or look
  4. -n the tense marker on the verb indicating non-past (present or future)

In this post we are concerned with word parts as in part 1 above, the pronominal prefixes on verbs.

The pronoun prefixes in the table below will need to be committed to memory. You will also need to know the grammatical concepts of ‘tense’, ‘person’ and ‘number’. The concept of number in English is limited to singular and plural. In Kunwinjku and Gundjeihmi you can also have dual forms i.e. pronoun prefixes that indicate two referents such as 'you and me', 'me and another person (but not you)', 'they 2' and 'you 2'. Note the idea of inclusive and exclusive pronoun prefixes 'we all (but not you the addressee)' and 'we all (including you the addressee)'.

As far as tense is concerned, the only change in tense for pronominal verb prefixes is in the third person:


ka- 'he/she/it' in the non-past tenses becomes ø (zero i.e. nothing) in the past tense.


ga- he/she/it' in the non-past tenses, but in the past tense it changes to ba-.

Kunwinjku: ka-re 'he/she/it is going, wam 'he/she/it went.

Gundjeihmi: ga-re 'he/she/it is going, ba-wam 'he/she/it went.

Kunwinjku: kabene- 'they 2' becomes bene- in past tense

Gundjeihmi: gabani- 'they 2' becomes bani- in past tense

If you are learning Gundjeihmi, here is the Gundjeihmi table. In Gundjeihmi many initial nasal sounds 'ng' are optional and so this is indicated by brackets e.g. (ng)ani-

Person Minimal 

[base form]

Unit Augmented 

[base form plus one more]


[more than unit augmented]


First person exclusive









we (but not you)


First person







me, you+him/her



we (you too)


Second person



you (one person)



(variant) guni-

you two



(variant) wurri-

you (3+)


Third person:










they two




they (3+)

If you are learning Kunwinjku, here is the Kunwinjku table:

Person Minimal 

[base form]

Unit Augmented 

[base form plus one more]


[more than unit augmented]


First person exclusive









we (but not you)


First person







me, you+him/her



we (you too)


Second person



you (one person)



you two



you (3+)


Third person:





zero (nothing)





they two




they (3+)

GUNDJEIHMI prefixes using the verb to go -re as an example:

Present Tense

(ng)a-re I go, I’m going, I will go

(ng)ani-re we two go, we two are going, we two will go

arri-re we (but not you) go, etc

arre you and me go (see [1] below)

gani-re you+me and he/she go (we 3)

garri-re we all go, let’s go (including the addressee)

yi-re you (singular) go, you are going, you will go

(ng)uni-re you two go, you two are going, you two will go

gurri-re (or wurri-re) you all go (more than 2 people)

ga-re he/she is goes, he/she is going, he/she will go

gabani-re they two go, they two are going, they two will go

gabarri-re they (more than 2) go

In the past tense, the verb 'to go' is irregular (or suppletive), just as it is in English go>went. In Bininj Gunwok it is –re > -wam (where the hyphen means that there must be a prefix).

Past Tense

nga-wam I went

ngani-wam we (2 of us) went

ngarri-wam we (3+ but not you) went

ngarr-wam you and I went

gani-wam you+me and him/her went

garri-wam we all went (including the addressee[s])

yi-wam you (singular) went

nguni-wam you two went

ngurri-wam you (3+) went

ba-wam he/she/it went

bani-wam they two went

barri-wam they all (3+) went

[1] Note that this form is underlyingly ngarr-re but this often gets reduced to ngarre.

KUNWINJKU prefixes using the verb to go -re as an example:

Present Tense

nga-re I go, I’m going, I will go

ngane-re we two go, we two are going, we two will go

ngarri-re we (but not you) go, etc

ngarr-re you and me go

kane-re you+me and he/she go (we 3), etc

karri-re we all go, let’s go (including the addressee)

yi-re you (singular) go, you are going, you will go

ngune-re you two go, you two are going, you two will go

ngurri-re you all go (more than 2 people), etc

ka-re he/she is goes, he/she is going, he/she will go

kabene-re they two go, they two are going, they two will go

kabirri-re they (more than 2) go, etc

Past Tense

nga-wam I went

ngane-wam we (2 of us) went

ngarri-wam we (3+ but not you) went

ngarr-wam you and I went

kane-wam you+me and him/her went

karri-wam we all went (including the addressee[s])

yi-wam you (singular) went

ngune-wam you two went

ngurri-wam you (3+) went

wam he/she/it went

bene-wam they two went

birri-wam they all (3+) went

A good way to learn these paradigms is to make up cards that you can post up on the wall where you will see them frequently or alternatively, make up pocket cards that you can carry with you and check when you have time.


That is all.


Konda yibennan "One Mob" kabirriborrkke

bongolinj-bongolinj mankarre.

madjandemed barra ngalero

madjandemed barra ngalero

madjandemed barra ngalero

kabidbun kuwardde kawohbarndi

madjandemed is Gilbert's dragon (Lophognathus gilberti) also known as the 'tata lizard' because of its habit of lifting its hand and 'waving tata'.

barra ngalero has no meaning in ordinary language as it is said to be the language of the madjandemed lizard.

ka-bidbun 'it climbs up' ku-wardde 'on the rock' ka-wohbarndi 'it sits half way up'

Kamarrang Nawarddjak kayolyolme nawu "One Mob, Different Country" kabirriborrkke.

Kamarrang Nawarddjak talks about the "One Mob, Different Country" dance group

Nangarridj Reuben benbimmey kabirriborrkke dja biwokmey Kamarrang.

Audio and video recorded by Nangarridj Reuben Brown.

20120706RB02-01_Lazarus_Nabobob (Yibiddjuyme yiwokbekkan / Click for audio)

[00:00:00.00] Ngarri-yawurrinj ngarri-borrkke one group ngarrimarnburrinj

We young men are dancing in a group we have made ourselves.

[00:00:06.06] one mob different country ngarriborrkke ngarringeyyo.

We are dancing in a group called "One mob, different country".

[00:00:08.13] ngad kun-ngey but ane song manu

That's our name, but there are songs

[00:00:12.19] Bangardi rowk banih-wayini Bangardi Laywanga, Jolly Laywanga

that Bangardi used to sing, that Bangardi Jolly Laywanga

[00:00:19.06] and mani yoh like family ngad family yerre old man nungkah nuye family

and we are all family of that old man, his family

[00:00:24.15] so ngarriwayini mahni kunkare like ngarridjare mankarre kayilhyo kare

so we sing these songs because we want them to keep going and be passed on to the next generations

[00:00:29.13] kore entertain ngarriyime Balanda Bininj kayime Mumurrng kayime kabirrikarrme o kabirridadjke lakkayen kayime

and we entertain Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people such as at Mamurrng ceremonies or circumcision ceremonies

[00:00:39.21] o kayime funeral ngarrbenkurrme ngarriwayini

or at funerals when we take the deceased, we sing

[00:00:45.04] this song manu ?? celebrate ngarriyime, yiman kayime Mamurrng

we use these songs to celebrate, like at a Mamurrng ceremony

[00:00:46.13] ngaye, ngaye Kamarrang, Nawarddjak ngamdolkkang Maburrinj kunred ngarduk

I am Kamarrang subsection and Warddjak clan and I am from Maburrinj which is my country

[00:00:54.13] kore ngaye ngarduk kunred Maburrinj

Maburrinj is my country

[00:00:56.01] ngabuhme mako, ngawayini, ngaborrkke

I play the didjeridu, I sing and I dance

[00:01:00.06] kore ngaye mawah ngaye ngabbard nganbukkang ngayahwurdni

I was taught by my grandfather and my father when I was small

[00:01:04.05] kune kayime ngaborrkke dja ngabuhme

that's how I can sing and play didjeridu now

[00:01:07.04] bad namekke yawurrinj ngarribukkan laik kabirriborrkke warridj

but we have also taught these young guys here to dance these songs also

[00:01:10.08] ngarrim-... nani yawurrinj birrimwam from koyek kore kayime Yirrkala

these young men are from the east, such as at Yirrkala

[00:01:15.02] kore kayime Kaliwinhku konda ngamed kayime Bulmun kore kayime Nukka

and places like Galiwin'ku and whatsit Bulman and Ngukurr

[00:01:23.06] kore kayime ngamed Duck Creek kayime Jilkminggan kabirriyime

and whatsit, the place Duck Creek which they call Jilkminggan

[00:01:31.06] ngarriwokbibika ngarriwokbiyika ngarriwayini

we are all from different language groups singing together

[00:01:35.01] mani "one mob" ngarri-... ngarrimarnburren "one mob" ngarriwayini

that's why we called ourselves "one mob" we made our singing group as "one mob"

[00:01:37.15] en ngarriborrkke so ngarribukkan nawu Balanda la kabirriwakwan

and we dance to show non-Aboriginal people who don't know anything about such traditions

[00:01:42.06] konda kabirriwakwan nawu yiman kayime kabirrimre kore oversea-beh

here the people don't know about this, such as people from overseas

[00:01:46.23] kabirrinan korlhdja ngadberre Kunbarlanja konda Kunbarlanja konda karri Australia

they can see something of our culture here form Kunbarlanja here in Australia

[00:01:51.14] mani korlhdja ngandiwong ngadberre ngandiwong nawu mawah ngarriyime

this is the culture given to us by we call our grandfathers

[00:01:54.09] ngabbard ngarrbenyime kakkak ngarrbenyime makkah

our fathers and mother's parents and father's mother's family

[00:01:57.06] ngandiwong korlhdja ngadberre ngad

they gave us our culture

[00:01:59.04] ngarridjare ngarrbenbukkan birribiyika

and we like to show it to foreigners

[00:02:02.16] dja ngarriwokdi kunwok kunbihbiyika

and we are a group made of people speaking many different languages

[00:02:04.18] dja half bedda Rembarrnga, Dalabon kabirriyime kabirriwokdi nani kayime Kumadj kabirriwokdi

some of them speak Rembarrnga and Dalabon and some speak Gumatj

[00:02:11.19] koyek kabirrimdolkkan ngarriwokbiyika ngad

from north-east Arnhem Land, we are all from different language groups

[00:02:14.14] laik ngarrimre represent ngarriyime one song ngarriborrkke kunkudji ngarringeyyo "one mob"

but we all represent one song tradition and we come together as one and call ourselves "one mob"


That is all.




we (inclusive)-word/language-reduplicate-cut-[transitive verb theme]

'Cutting up words'- learning about Bininj Gunwok verb parts.

Linguists describe Bininj Gunwok (Kunwinjku, Gundjeihmi, Kuninjku, Kune, Kundedjnjenghmi, Mayali) as a ‘polysynthetic language’ because of the way meaning is built up at the word level. Many different word parts are glued together around the root of verbs such that a single word in the language can be a sentence when translated into English. For this reason languages such as Bininj Gunwok are also called ‘agglutinative’ because of the way a string of morphemes (word parts) are 'glued' together to make what can sometimes be very long words.

[Gundjeihmi] gabarrire ‘they are going’

[Kunwinjku, Kuninjku, Kune] kabirrire ‘they are going’

gabarri- / kabirri- 'they plural'

-re 'go'

[Gundjeihmi] gabarriyawoihre ‘they are going again’

[Kunwinjku, Kuninjku, Kune] kabirriyawoyhre

gabarri- / kabirri- 'they plural' -yawoyh- / -yawoih- 'again' -re 'go'

OK, let's glue together a few more word parts:

[Kunwinjku, Kuninjku, Kune] ngurriwernhyawoyhwarddemoyhma



‘you all pick up the rocks again carefully’

The -ø symbol at the end of the definition above is not a letter in the language but a linguistic symbol which means 'zero' i.e. nothing on the end. The verb -mang means 'to get' but when you drop off the final nasal sound [ng] -ma then it becomes a command (an imperative).

Here’s a sentence transcribed from a Kune speaker at Korlobidahdah outstation talking about a particular kind of native honey bee which unlike most species of native bees, can give an irritating little nip when the hive is raided:

Ngokkowino ngandjalkuyinmimbayehbayemeninj, ngadjalborrohborrohmeng.

‘Yesterday it [the bees] nearly bit my eyes, I was chasing [it] them away with my hands.'

Don't fret yet. Yes, it's a long word, but in the same way that you can fluently join many words together in an English sentence, so with practice you will be able to join word parts together to make a polysynthetic word in Bininj Gunwok.

When the individual parts of the words are broken up into their smaller units of meaning (or morphemes) it looks like this:

Ngokkowi-no ‘yesterday-its’ (the 'its' means a part of the whole daily cycle)



ngan- it (as the SUBJECT) acting on me (as the OBJECT). This prefix is pronominal (relating to pronouns, i.e. words in English like I, me, you, he, she, it, they, us, them). Note that this prefix combines two grammatical elements simultaneously i.e. both the subject and the object of the verb.

-djal- ‘just kept the action going’. This is an adverbial prefix on the verb stem. There are many different kinds of adverbial prefixes that can be used in this slot. They give information about the direction, location, immediacy, the manner or quantification of an action and other information about time.

-kuyin- ‘almost, nearly happened but didn’t’. This is another adverbial prefix to the verb as described above for –djal-

mim ‘eye(s)’ (but it also means 'seeds'). This is a noun which has been incorporated into the verbal complex. Linguists call this ‘nominal incorporation’ (nominal means ‘related to nouns’). The kind of nouns which can be incorporated in this way belong to a closed class. This means, you can’t just incorporate any kind of noun into the verb complex, but only those in a limited set. One of the type of nouns which are in this set are body parts and so mim ‘eye(s)’ is acceptable. Note that when this happens, nouns with noun class prefixes drop the prefix when incorporated. Normally the word for eye would be kun-mim (or spelt gun-mim in Gundjeihmi) and so the kun- / gun- is dropped and the stem mim is what is incorporated into the verbal complex.

bayehbaye ‘to bite [repeatedly]. This is our verb stem which in its base form is -baye but it has been reduplicated according to a formula which produces bayehbaye. This iterative reduplication gives the verb a sense of repetition, that is, there were many bees trying to 'bite and bite' the speaker’s eyes.

-meninj Irrealis suffix. Now we have moved on to the bits glued on the end of the verb. This suffix is of a form which applies only for those verbs which fall into a particular class of which –baye is a member. We will look at verb classes some time in a future lesson post. Suffixes on verbs give information about:

  • the tense (the time of an event)
  • aspect (temporal view and issues of continuity, or not)
  • mood (kinds of speech acts and issues of realisation of an event)

In this case, the irrealis form –bayemeninj means that the biting didn’t actually occur, but nearly did. Irrealis is a linguistic term meaning 'not a real or realised event'. This is also consistent with the –kuyin adverbial prefix ‘nearly’ mentioned above.


that is all

Nabangardi Ka-yolyolme

Nabangardi Nabordoh ka-yolyolme

kun-wardderurrkken Enamaraway.

Djarrang kore Enamaraway, Wamud Namok ba-bimbom c1950s wanjh kum-durndi 1996 wanjh ba-yawoyhbimkerrngehwong djarrang.

Horse (and rider) at Enamaraway by Wamud Namok, painted c1950s and then again in 1996 he returned to renew the horse image again.

Story by Nabangardi Nabordoh about life in rock shelters.

Inspired by a visit to sites in Djordi clan country at Enamaraway and Dumebe

Recorded by Alys Stevens, photo by Peter Cooke



[00:00:08] mm manekke kunwardde

Yes, that rock [shelter]

[00:00:11] yiman kayime Enamaraway, Dumebe manwarddekuken dabbarrabbolk korroko barriyoy yiman

such as at Enamaraway and Dumebe which are important traditional camping places for our ancestors who lived there long ago

[00:00:20] dabbarrabbolk yiman kayime nawu kakkak, doydoyh

the ancestors such as my grandparents and great grandparents

[00:00:27] djongok and then nawu bewuh mak nawu birriyungki duninj nawu birriyoy

and my in-laws and then before them, there were other early ancestors who lived here

[00:00:35] bindiwaddabukkahbukkang nawu anwaddakuken korroko birriyoy

They passed on knowledge about these traditional camping places to the next generation

[00:00:38] like yiman ngad nawu bininj karrkakarrkad

like us, the people who live up on the higher country

[00:00:43] nawu kuwarddehwardde birriyoy

there where they lived in the rock country

[00:00:46] kunwardde wanjh manekke kurrambalk bedberreni yiman bolkkime ngarrkarrme kurrambalk

Our ancestors lived in these rock shelters which were their houses, but we live in other houses

[00:00:50] kunkukbelebeh bedda makkanj mane kurrambalk bedberreni

the houses introduced to us by white people, but these [rock shelters] were their houses [the ancestors]

[00:00:55] birribolkbodmerawoni yiman kayime njamed dolobbo birrikurrmi

They enclosed all along the side of the shelter with stringybark

[00:00:58] birriyoy

and camped there

[00:01:00] kume wurdurd bindibukkabukkani daluk bu birrikarungi bedman njamed

The women would teach their children how to dig whatsit

[00:01:03] kayawal birribuni njalenjale

long yams and other foods


[00:01:06] anburre mak ...[pause] manyong yiman kayime

such as bush radish (Decaschistia byrnesii) called anburre or manyong

[00:01:13] bedman bininj start birrimey kume borndok birrimangi

that was in the time when men walked around taking their spear throwers

[00:01:16] bedman daluk birrimey kume bedman kundjadj birrimangi, korroko

and the women would take with them their digging sticks, long ago

[00:01:19] wanjh manborndok birriwanawam bedman kundjadj birringolkani daluk

so that men went with spear throwers and women with their digging sticks

[00:01:25] kubebeh, start birriyimi birriyoy

from the time they started living there [in these rock shelters]

[00:01:30] (someone) kunlenj (inaudible)

[and they gave] gifts of meat to their in-laws

[00:01:30] lenjno

gifts to in-laws [affinal prestations]

[00:01:31] kunmurrng bindimarnemurrngkurrmi

and they laid out the bones of their dead for each other

[00:01:35] bindimarnemurrngbarungi kume yerre kuwardde

and they painted those bones with ochre there in the rock shelters

[00:01:45] mak bu ...

and also

[00:01:49] bu kundarrkid kumeke birriyoy manek... birriyoy manu bu birriyakwong wanjh bonj bindikurrmi wanjh bindidudjengi kunbuyika birridudjengi o bindiyawoyhkarungi

when they were alive, they lived there... they camped there and when they died, they would place them [in the rock shelter] and bury them at another place and later they might dig them up again [in a disinterment ceremony]

[00:01:57] yimarnek manek mandjewk ankudji bindihkarungi bindimurrngbebkeni

they might wait for a year and then disinter the bones, taking them out

[00:01:59] o yika bindikukkurrmi kore njamed kalawu

or sometimes they were placed up on a mortuary platform

[00:02:02] bindihmurrng... njamed wanjh bindiwelengmurrngbarungi bindikurrmi kore lorrkkon

they would then paint the bones with ochre and prepare them for a lorrkkon hollow log ossuary ceremony

[00:02:06] lorrkkon biwelengkarrmeng wanjh

they would finally rest in a hollow log coffin

[00:02:07] birriyikolungi birriwelengkani namud all the families

they would bring all the family together into the camp [to complete the lorrkkon ceremony]

[00:02:12] bindikokbokayinj wanjh

they would lead the people out as they called out 'kokbo kokbo'

[00:02:14] djabdi yimane birridjabnami djaldi wanjh manek kumek wanjh bidurndiweninj

then the hollow log was stood upright into its final resting place

[00:02:18] mane kumekke birrurrkmangi durndi wanjh kuwardde

and then they would return to the stone country

[00:02:21] wanjh yawoyhdurndi kuwardde bikodj ngad karriwarddewaken bininj wanjh kume'e kumeke ankarre kayime, that's our life and people of this warddeken birriyoy kunkare

they would go back to the stone country because we are people who belong to the stone country and that is our way of life, the people of the stone country who have have lived here since ancient times


That is all.