Pronunciation guides on signage

Pronunciation guides on signage! Here is a typical problem when using some kind of pronunciation guide on signs for Bininj Kunwok words. When there is no equivalent sound or 'phoneme' in English for the Bininj Kunwok sound, how do you represent it in the pronunciation guide? The 'nj' in Bininj Kunwok sounds like 'ny' in canyon or the 'ni' in onion but it can appear at the start, middle or end of syllables e.g. manj 'not yet' or njale 'what' or nga-kinje 'I'm cooking it'. And what is it about a double 'l' that is better than a single 'l' (bull vs bul)? And in the confusing English spelling system 'u' can have various sounds such as in 'up' or 'put'. In Bininj Kunwok it's always ONLY the u sound in English 'put'.
Then there is the issue of different dialects of English spoken by the visitors who look at the signage. Australian English doesn't pronounce 'r' in many words whilst American English does. So if you use an 'r' in the pronunciation guide, it will mean different sounds to different people. The "Nar-" in 'Nar-bull-win-bull-win' is thus confusing. American English speakers will think it rhymes with American English "car" but that is misleading because there is no 'r' sound in the Bininj Kunwok prefix Na- in Na-bulwinjbulwinj.
And then there are the visitors for whom English is not their first language. Only the rainbow serpent knows how they would pronounce words in pronunciation guides! In this day and age, best to direct visitors to an audio file online where you can hear a native speaker pronounce words.
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.

New Bininj Kunwok Alphabet Chart

We are happy to launch new literacy resources. The first is our alphabet chart and phonics books. These feature illustrations by 15 year old Corben Nabanardi from Jabiru.

alphabet long poster

Or if you prefer it in compact layout:

alphabet chart square

The alphabet strip is available for classrooms and community language teaching groups in the Kakadu and Western Arnhem Land region. Each letter of the Bininj Kunwok alphabet is used in a word. Here's the alphabet:

a b d dj rd e h i k l rl m n ng nj rn o r rr u w y

DOB_8863 alphabet chart

Bininj Kunwok alphabet chart. (L > R) Julie Beer, Martina Balmana, Kaylene Djandjomerr, Shannon McLeod, Kestianna Djandjomerr, Christianna Djandjomerr, Marcus Dempsey, Annie Cameron, Murray Garde, Sonya Nango and Dion Hietmann kabirri-karrme Bininj Kunwok alphabet chart. (bim: Dominic O'Brien)


That is all.




The Resource Network for Linguistic Diversity has been posting some great Australian language tongue-twisters recently. Here is a selection from across the country. Sometimes the texts are also given in the International Phonetic Alphabet as well as a practical community spelling:

A tongue-twister from Bininj Kunwok (Kuninjku dialect):

ngangangh-ngangangh ʼngehngehʼ yimeng

(ŋaŋaŋʔŋaŋa ŋɛʔŋɛʔ yimeŋ)

The grey-crowned babbler said nge’ nge’.

and another favourite:

Dabborrabbolk birribidbom bembem birribimbom.

dabːorabːolk bɪrɪbitbom bembem bɪrɪbɪmbom

'The old people climbed up and painted a sole fish.'

--Murray Garde

From: Burarra/Gun-nartpa

rrugurrgurda jin-digigirrnga

'the crab crawls around'

--Margaret Carew

Here are some Lardil ones:

Dubuduburr durathur dulbiribiriwu burururu.

(ɖubudubur ɖuɹaðuɹ ɖulbiɹibiɹiwu buɹuɹuɹu)

'The tiger mullet will tickle the rain bird with a (species of bush used for firedrill)'

Burbur bana buribur bana burdu.

(buɹbuɹ bana buɹibuɹ bana buɖu)

'Both the feather and the gun are short'

Dulbiribiri dulburri burrurri.

(ɖulbiɹibiɹi ɖulburi bururi)

'The rain bird picked seaweed up off the ground'

--Norvin Richards


I’m loving these tongue twisters!  My students always struggle with this

one when learning Murrinhpatha - it’s a good test for the initial velar


ngunungam-ngem ngarra Kungarlbarl

‘I’m going to Kungarlbarl’.


--Rachel Nordlinger


that is all

Yi-djenmarnburren ba yi-wernhwokdi

Yi-djenmarnburren ba yi-wernhwokdi.

Organise your tongue so you can speak properly!

In a recent lesson we looked at the various sounds of Bininj Gunwok and the letters used to represent them. In this lesson we will look at some of the combinations of sounds including what are known as double stops, and combinations of two vowel sounds (or a vowel and a glide such as y or w) known as diphthongs.

Double stops

You will notice that some of the words listed in previous lessons had double letters as in:

dedded red-collared.lorikeet dedded

gukku (KW= kukku) water gukku

ngabbard father ngabbard

These double stop sounds only appear in the middle of words. They can never appear at the start or end of a word. This is because they straddle a syllable boundary and effectively the first of the two consonants closes off one syllable and the second commences the next one. When you pronounce these words you need to clearly articulate each of the two stops. All of the stop consonsants in Bininj Gunwok can be doubled:

bb, dd, rdd, djdj, kk

The retroflex sound rd when it is doubled is usually just written rdd. Here are some examples of each double stop:

nganabbarru buffalo nganabbarru

dabbarrabbolk ancestors, elderly people dabbarrabbolk

bedda them bedda

gaddum (KW= kaddum) above, up high

dardda younger brother dardda

gun-durddu (KW= kun-durddu) heart

godjdjan (KW= kodjdjan) a skin name godjdjan

yirridjdja a moiety name yirridjdja

gakkak (KW= kakkak) mother’s mother, mother’s mother’s brothers and sisters and converse (e.g. a woman’s daughter’s child) gakkak

bokko type of spear with uniserial barbs bokko

Whilst these double stops usually appear between vowels, there are also 6 consonants that can combine with a long stop:

with rr

lorrkkon hollow log coffin lorrkkon

with r

njarlkkan kind of orchid njarlkkan

with rl

warlkkarra ox-eye herring (Kuninjku dialect) warlkkarra

with l

Balbbun Escarpment near Jim Jim Creek, which is the home of the spirit being Algaihgo Balbbun

gubuldjdjarn in the middle gubuldjdjarn


Kunwinjku      iw, ew, aw, ow, ey, ay, oy, uy

Gun-djeihmi    iu, eu,  au,  ou, ei,  ai,  oi,  ui

These sounds are pronounced exactly the same in Gundjeihmi and in Kunwinjku. They are spelt differently because Gundjeihmi has a different orthography or spelling system to Kunwinjku.

Gundjeihmi / Kunwinjku

iu / iw iw

gun-diu / kun-diw liver gun-diu

eu / ew ew

an-djeuk / man-djewk rain an-djeuk

deudeu / dewdew dollar bird (Eurystomus orientalis) deudeu

au / aw aw

wurdyau / wurdyaw child wurdyaw

bauh / bawh be quiet, shush! bauh

ou / ow ow

an-bouk / man-bowk seasonal swamp an-bouk

rouk / rowk all rouk

ei / ey ey

ba-mei / mey he/she got it ba-mei

na-beiwurd / na-beywurd a man's son or woman's brother's son na-beiwurd

ai / ay ay

maih / mayh meat, animals maih

malaiwi / malaywi tomorrow malaiwi

oi / oy oy

gun-boi termite mound gun-boi

doidoih / doydoyh great grandparent doidoih

ui / uy uy

ba-rui / ruy it got cooked ba-rui

bi-rrui / bi-rruy he/she swore at him/her bi-rrui

Bonj. That is all.