Ngahborlbme 'I am learning'

The online Kunwinjku course is going well. There are some great discussions and questions in the forums. Here is an answer to an interesting question:

QUESTION FROM A STUDENT about ngahborlbme 'I am learning':

"I was wondering about the word for learning too as I hadn’t come across that exact phrase. Is there a suffix like -ing? or would you always add in the -h- if currently in the process of doing something?

I am just curious as when I learnt Portuguese there is a suffix -ndo that is the equivalent of our -ing, for example the verb to learn = aprender and if you were to say I learn (as in right now) it would be ‘Eu aprendo’, but you can also say ‘Eu estou aprendendo’ = I am learning.

I am greatly enjoying the experience so far and I find the videos very useful to hear how different speakers say the same words."

For the question about if there is a participle for verbs in BK like 'learning' the answer is no. BK verbs are very different to verbs of European languages and don't have an auxiliary verb 'to be' that precedes a participle (e.g. I am That kind of phrase is achieved with one word in BK. BK verbs are organised into themes determined by the final formative suffix (-me, -ke, -men, -kan, -di, -dong, -dung, -re, etc). They must also have a prefix that indicates who is doing the action (the subject) and if they are transitive verbs, also who is the object. So if you want to use the verb 'to learn' you must say who is doing the learning. You can't just say 'learning'. The stem of the verb to learn is -borlbme. It is in the class of verbs that end in -me. So you could say nga-borlbme 'I learn' or ngah-borlbme 'I am learning [now]' or ngarrih-borlbme 'we [exclusive, not you] are learning or karrih-borlbme 'we all are learning'. These examples are all in the non-past tense (that means present and future are the same form). The glottal stop sound -h- has been added to show that the action is happening currently (as opposed to an unspecified present time or in the future).


That is all.

Dird 'the moon'

The Research Unit for Indigenous Languages at the University of Melbourne recently tweeted a nice graphic with various names for the moon in a number of Australian Indigenous languages. Here is their same graphic background reworked with names for phases of the moon in Bininj Kunwok:

phases of moon BK

In Bininj Kunwok dialects ome people call the moon dird and some say karrakbarl. There is an important story about the moon involving two characters, the moon and the quoll. In their human forms in the creation period or 'the dreaming' as some English speakers call it, they both fought over the fate of humanity. The quoll said that when people die, they should die forever and not return to earth but the moon disagreed. As they could not resolve their differences, the moon said he would leave the earth and live in the sky where he could live through a monthly cycle, die, and then return again for another cycle. The quoll stayed on earth and introduced death and so now all humans die but the moon is reborn each month. This is why a waning moon is said to be 'dying' or dird karrowen  [moon it-dies] in Bininj Kunwok. In sign language, the hand sign for the quoll is the same as that used for wayarra 'spirit of a dead person' or 'death'. A beautiful and famous image of the moon spirit with his long arms and long penis is depicted at Ngalurdbirrhmi. The picture below depicts this image with Obed Wurrkkidj standing in front.


Obed Wurrkkidj at Ngalurdbirrhmi. © Bininj Kunwok Language Project

The most noticeable difference between English and Bininj Kunwok terms for phases concerns the new moon. A new moon in English is announced before any crescent is visible, i.e. on the night when the whole moon in dark. In Bininj Kunwok the very first thin crescent is called lirrk and when that first thin crescent does appear it is said that 'it [the moon] has put lirrk [the first crescent]'. The opposite term, when the last waning crescent is visible, the term is:

kalirrkdangen karrowen 'the crescent stands and is dying'

ka-lirrk-dangen ka-rrowe-n

it-crescent-stands it-die-non-past

The full moon is called either bukkulurl or dird nayuyhmi.

The word for moon is also the word for month, these two concepts being closely related or the same word in many languages of the world.

You can hear the pronunciation of the word dird by clicking here.


That is all.


Balang Djimarr Kebbarurrinj

In this post we will learn the verb -barung 'to cover in paint or ochre, to smear'.


In this picture Balang Djimarr (a speaker of Kuninjku) has painted his body and face. His body has a plant design painted in black ochre. This plant is called wurrurrumi in Kuninjku which is a vine that botanists call Tinospora smilacina. This is also the name of a song series that Djimarr sings. That's why he has that design painted on his body. On his face he has white ochre or delek splattered in a design known as bedjek-bedjek.

The verb -barung means to cover with paint or ochre or to smear a surface with some liquid or viscous substance (like paint, glue, oil etc). There is another verb -bimbun which means to draw, write or paint an image. This has a different meaning to -barung which means to smear, cover a surface with paint, ochre or some other similar substance.

Here are some examples of the verb with a few different pronoun prefixes:

nga-barung 'I smear it'

yi-barung 'you smear it'

karri-barung 'we are (all) smearing it'

kabirri-barung 'they are smearing it'

You can incorporate a noun into the verb, between the pronoun prefix and the verb. The word kun-keb means 'nose/face' but when it gets incorporated into the verb you drop off the noun class prefix kun- like this:

kabi-kebbarung 'he is painting/smearing his (another person's) face'. In this example, the prefix kabi-means 'he/she acting on another single person' (third person singular subject acting on a third person singular object). If you wanted to say he/she is painting their faces you would use:


The prefix kaben- means that a single person is acting on a plural (three or more) object i.e. 'he/she acting on them'.

If you are painting your own face, then you need to use the reflexive form of the verb which is -barurren [baru-rr-en]. This is the present or future tense form. In the past tense the reflexive is -barurrinj. 

If I want to say 'he painted his face' then in the third person singular past tense, there is no prefix on the verb. It is what linguists call a zero prefix. We need to keep the noun 'face' incorporated however so we end up with this:


ø-             keb- baru-  rr-             inj


Then we can change the "mood" to an event that is not real, i.e. something that didn't happen, or what is known as "irrealis mood". This form of the verb occurs with the negative marker minj 'not'. If you wanted to say 'she didn't smear/cover it with paint' you would say:

minj baruyi

But if Balang didn't paint his face with the ochre in the above picture, you would say this:

Balang minj kebbarurremeninj.

Balang did not paint/smear his/her (own) face.


That is all.

Darth Vader ka-wokdi Kunwinjku

Darth Vader ka-wokdi Kunwinjku!

See here for more discussion about the pronouns in other languages:

i am yr father

Bornang! 'I am your father'

In Kunwinjku you just say it in one word bornang ‘I am your father’ (literally: 'I>you fathered'). The subject and object marking is by zero prefix (i.e. nothing) ‘first singular acting on second singular’ on the kinship verb -bornan ‘to father OBJECT’. In past perfective you change the final alveolar nasal to a velar ø-borna-ng ‘I>you father PP’. In light of the above discussion about pragmatics (follow the link above) however, you could add the free standing first person pronoun ngaye for emphasis so that ngaye bornang “Me, I fathered you”.

nga-bornang 'I fathered him/her' > I am his/her father

ngan-bornang 'he fathered me' > he is my father

ngun-bornang 'he fathered you' > he is your father

yi-bornang 'you fathered him/her' > you are his/her father

kan-bornang 'you fathered me' > you are my father

bornang 'I fathered you.' > I am your father

But a woman can also use this verb to talk about the children of her brothers because she too as father's sister 'fathered them'.


that is all

Djidbidjidbi barri-kerrnge kabarri-borlbme

Djidbidjidbi Kurrambalk barri-kerrnge kabarri-borlbme

New staff at Djidbidjidbi Residential College do cross-cultural training

Djidbidjidbi Kurrambalk kure Jabiru barri-kerrnge nawu kabarri-durrkmirri barri-wam training-ken. Barri-borlbmeng Bininj an-karre dja Bininj Kunwok yiman ka-yime Kundjeyhmi dja Kunwinjku.

New staff at Djidbidjidbi Residential College and some existing Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation staff in Jabiru went to do some training at the college recently. They have been learning about Bininj culture and learning some Kundjeyhmi and Kunwinjku language.

Arri-borlbmeng kun-wok wurdurd-ken bu arri-djarrkdurrkmirri:

We learnt some phrases for when we are working with the students:


Bu wolewoleh arri-djarrkngun an-me, arri-djarrkyime kun-wok.

Each evening when we eat together, we always say this together:


Karri-djarrkngun— an-me an-mak karri-murrngrayekmen.

We are all eating together— good food makes us healthy.

karri-djarrkngun anme anmak




Some other phrases for youth workers to learn include:



Come here!



Two of you, come here



All of you, come here!



Go away (to 1 person).



Go away (you 2)



Go away (you all, 3+)


Ma wurdurd, an-me karri-ngun.

OK children, time to eat.

ma wurdurd an-me karri-ngun


Wash your hands (said to 3+).


Korrogo yi-biddjirridjburrinj?

Have you (1) washed your hands?

korroko yibiddjirridjburrinj

Korroko? ma!

Already? OK then!

korroko ma


Sit down (1).



You 2 sit down!



You all sit down!


Plate yi-djirridjburrimen!

Wash the plates!

plate yidjirridjburrimen

Bolkkime na-ngale ka-djirridjbun plate?

Who is doing the washing up today?

bolkkime nangale kadjirridjbun plate

Bale yi-yime?

What are you doing?

bale yiyime

Bale ngune-yime?

What are you two doing?

bale ngune-yime

Bale ngurri-yime?

What are you all doing?

bale ngurri-yime

Wurdurd baw!

Hey kids, be quiet!

wurdurd baw

An-kudji yi-djare?

Would you like another one?

an-kudji yi-djare


Are you full up (food)?



Are the two of you full up (food)?



Are you all (3+) full up (food)?


Ma wurdurd ngurrim-ray karri-wokdi.

OK kids, come here and let's have a talk/meeting!

ma wurdurd ngurrimray karriwokdi

Wurdurd baw, ngurri-yun!

Hey kids, quiet, go to sleep!

wurdurd baw ngurri-yun

Yawurrinj, ka-mak?

Hey boys, everything OK?

yawurrinj ka-mak

Yawkyawk, bale ngurri-re?

You girls, where are you going?

yawkyawk bale ngurri-re

Bale yi-re?

Where are you (1) going?

bale yi-re?

Al-kodjok baleh wam?

Where has Al-kodjok gone?

alkodjok baleh wam

Al-kodok baleh kah-di?

Where is Al-kodjok?

alkodjok baleh kahdi

Ka-dirri kuberrk. (the 'd' changes to 'rr' between vowels, so it is actually ga-rrirri)

He/she is playing outside.

ka-dirri kuberrk

Ngale kah-di.

There she is!

ngaleh kah-di

Nanih kah-di (close distance)

Here he is!

nanih kah-di

Nabe kah-di.

He's just over there.

nabe kahdi

Korrogo ngurri-yidmedjirridjburrinj?

(ngurri- 'you all'-yidme 'teeth'-djirridjbu 'wash' -rren 'yourself')

Have you brushed your teeth?

korroko ngurri-yidmedjirridjburrinj

Yi-re yi-yidmedjirridjburrimen.


Go and brush your teeth! (said to 1 person)

yire yi-yidmedjirridjburrimen

Yim-ray, arr-wokdi.

Come here (1 person), let's talk.

yimray arr-wokdi

Yi-dangbalhmen. (addressing 1 person)

Close the door! (You can just say yi-balhmen to mean 'close it'  for anything, window, box etc)



Open the door!


Wurdurd kandi-bekka!

Children, listen to me!

wurdurd kandibekka

Yun kun-warre yi-wokdi!

Don't say nasty/obscene things/don't swear! (gun-warre means 'bad speech, bad things')

yun kun-warre yi-wokdi



That is all.