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.



































Documenting and Revitalising Indigenous Languages Workshop

Documenting and Revitalising Indigenous Languages Workshop


Gure Jabiru, boyen arri-marnbom DRIL workshop ba gamak Gundjeihmi dja Gunwinjgu gabarri-djalwokdi. Daluk bani-bogenh banim-wam andi-bidyigarrmeng, Margaret Florey dja Donna McLaren. Gabani-durrkmirri gure RNLD (Resource Network for Linguistic Diversity). Andi-walebukkang gun-wern ba arrban-bukkan wurdurd dja barri-buyiga bu gabarri-djare gabarri-borlbme Gundjeihmi.


Recently in Jabiru we conducted a DRIL (Documenting and Revitalising Indigenous Languages Workshop) to help people keep speaking Gundjeihmi and Kunwinjku. Margaret Florey and Donna McLaren came and helping us run the workshop. They both work for RNLD (Resource Network for Linguistic Diversity). They showed us many techniques to help us teach Gundjeihmi to children and other people who want to learn the language.


That is all.

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.




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

classes of nouns

Classes of nouns in Bininj Kunwok

This is another lesson for those studying Bininj Kunwok in Jabiru, Kunbarlanja, Maningrida and other parts of Western Arnhem Land.

Did you ever learn French, Italian or German at school? If you did, you will remember having to learn that nouns have gender assignment. Some language such as French, Italian and Spanish have two classes, masculine and feminine. German has a third gender, neuter. Bininj Kunwok dilaects have four classes— masculine, feminine, vegetal and other. The assignment of a noun to a particular gender class is most obvious when the noun has a prefix (a part that attaches to the front of the word) which denotes gender. The four noun class prefixes in Bininj Kunwok are:

Kundjeyhmi= •na- ‘masculine’ •al- ‘feminine’ •kun- ‘other’ •an- ‘vegetal’

Kunwinjku= •na- ‘masculine’ •ngal- ‘feminine’ •kun- ‘other’ •man- ‘vegetal’

nabeywurd na-beywurd 'male child of patriline (man's son or a woman's brother's son)'

ngalkohbanj ngal-kohbanj 'old woman'

kunbolk kun-bolk 'place'

mandjewk man-djewk 'rain'

Whilst these four genders in Bininj Kunwok can sometimes be organised based on the meanings of words, we can also organise nouns into classes based on the kind of prefixes the noun normally takes. Noun class prefixes appear on both nouns (but not all nouns) and the adjectives which qualify these nouns. Other kinds of word classes such as demonstratives (‘this one’, ‘that one’, ‘those’, ‘these’, ‘this one here’, ‘those over there’ etc) are also marked for gender.





The prefixes which appear on nouns are referred to by linguists as ‘head class’ prefixes. The prefix on the adjective must agree (i.e. have the correct prefix) with the noun class of the noun, but as always in language learning, there are exceptions. Sometimes the prefix on the noun will be different to that on the adjective qualifying this noun but this is still considered grammatically correct. When this happens linguists call this 'agreement class'. This means that a noun can be associated with a particular gender, but be in a different agreement class. An example is the word kun-dulk ‘tree’ which is in the vegetal class, but it does not have a vegetal class prefix man-.

kun-dulk man-kimuk 'a big tree' (notice it is wrong to say kun-dulk kun-kimuk)

There is quite a bit of difference amongst the various Bininj Kunwok dialects as to the strictness of agreement with gender prefixes. Kunwinjku would seem to be the strictest and in Kune the system is breaking down (i.e. in Kune you can use the masculine prefix on an adjective qualifying a noun in the feminine class e.g. daluk na-wern 'many women'. That would be grammatically incorrect in Kunwinjku or Kundjeyhmi) . Some nouns have a noun class prefix and others do not. For example in Kundjeyhmi:

namekke bininj na-kimuk ‘that big man’

(ng)alekke al-daluk al-wernwarre ‘that girl is the eldest [in a line of siblings]’

karrbarda an-wern ‘lots of long yams Diascorea transversa

kun-wok kun-wern ‘many languages’

Notice that in the first example there is no masculine gender prefix na- on bininj but there is on the following adjective –kimuk ‘big’. In the next sentence, the demonstrative ngalekke ‘that female referent’ is marked with a ngal- prefix as is the word ngal-daluk ‘girl, sister, female’. In the third example the word for yam you would expect to be in the vegetal class and it certainly is, but a vegetal class prefix only appears on the adjective an-wern ‘many (vegetal class things)’. In the fourth example both the noun and the adjective have neuter gender prefixes which are the same on both the noun kun-wok 'language' and the adjective kun-wern 'many (neuter class) (kun- + kun-).

Number is another consideration. When referring to people, adjectives have a noun class prefix in the singular but pronoun prefixes in the plural as in the following Kundjeyhmi examples:

daluk al-kudji ‘one woman’(-kudji means 'one')

daluk barri-wern ‘many women’ (barri- is a pronoun prefix that means 'they [past tense or referential]')

(You can also use reduplication to mark plural but the last consonant is replaced by a glottal stop daluhdaluk ‘women’)

If you are not sure of the gender of a noun and there are no obvious clues, then you can usually get away with using masculine as the default gender in many cases, but not always. Many birds and other animals use female gender as the default. For example emus and magpie geese are referred to as feminine nouns:

al-wern bamurru barri-mey ‘they got a lot of magpie geese’

Alwanjdjuk korrogo al-kohbanj ba-rri ba-yimi. ‘Long ago the emu was an old woman’.

You should be aware that in a number of other dialects of Bininj Kunwok (like Kune, Kuninjku and Kundedjnjenghmi), the noun class prefixes on part nouns (things which are parts of some other whole) are optional  and can be dropped off and the suffix –no added (which originally meant 'its' e.g. bidno 'its hand', otherwise kun-bid) Other languages such as Dalabon and Rembarrnga have this same feature (but they do not have gender prefixes). There are examples of when this is acceptable in k but to find out more about this, you should consult the native speakers of Kundjeyhmi who are assisting with this course. Some examples:

kun-mim > mimno ‘eyes, seeds, bullets’

kun-kodj > kodjno ‘head’

an-nguy > nguyno ‘flower’

Gender and meaning.

Some nouns can have a gender prefix that can change, which means that the meaning of the word will also change. Some examples are:

na-ngordo ‘man with crippling or disfiguring illness’

al-ngordo ‘woman with crippling or disfiguring illness’

kun-ngordo ‘crippling or disfiguring illness’

Some words change their meaning in significant ways that you cannot always predict:

kun-karre ‘calf, shin and lower leg’ an-karre ‘culture, law, way of life’ an-karre ‘traditional song’

Other changes have specialised meanings:

na-Badmardi ‘male member of the Badmardi clan’

al-Badmardi ‘female member of the Badmardi clan’

kun-Badmardi ‘someone whose mother’s clan is Badmardi’

kundjeyhmi ‘Kundjeyhmi language’

na-Djeyhmi ‘Kundjeyhmi man/person or people’

Many kin terms change when noun class prefixes are added:

daluk ‘woman’

al-daluk ‘female, sister’

yabok ‘sister’

al-yabok ‘my child, your sister [parent talking to their child about the child’s sister]’ Note: this is a special way of referring to people called kun-dembuy.

Changing the noun class prefix can also change the word class.

na-mak ‘a good man/boy’ (adjective)

al-mak ‘a good woman/girl’ (adjective)

kun-mak ‘goodness, satisfaction, righteousness’ (noun)

Some words are the same except for the presence of a noun class prefix and the change in meaning, but there is sometimes a logic to how the meaning was derived as in the following examples:

djak 'meat ant'

kun-djak 'sickness, pain'

mok bush fly

kun-mok sore, skin infection

Some common adjectives that can take gender prefixes:

good -mak [na-mak, al-mak, an-mak, kun-mak]

bad -warre

big -kimuk

small -yahwurd

many -wern

few -kudji, -kudjihkudji

Whilst there are four noun class prefixes you will encounter on nouns and adjectives that agree with them, as mentioned above, not all nouns have prefixes and in fact there are a great number of nouns which do not have an obvious gender assignment. These nouns might be grouped into a residual fifth class, but there are no general principles for why these nouns belong in this ‘left-over’ class. However, when you use an adjective with these nouns without gender prefixes, there is often a correct ‘agreement class’ reflecting the words association with a gender which must be known although there is some variation amongst the dialects.

Some principles

Basic principles for noun class organisation in Kundjeyhmi look like this:

Class 1 (na-) higher male animates some lower animates some kinds of honey [e.g. na-biwo]

Class 2 (al-) higher female animates some lower animates other things such as a few meteorological terms alkokkarrng ‘stars’, aldjurlum ‘willy-willy’

Class 3 (an-) plants, plant parts and products, sexual and excretory body parts, song, ceremony and custom, bushfire, food (not meat), some kinds of honey, some landscape features (with water or plant features). Things like motor vehicles, boats and aircraft are also in this class. This is probably an extention from the fact that canoes are in the vegetal class because they are made from trees. Other modern forms of transport are likewise placed in the (m)an- class. E.g. man-kerrnge muddika 'a new car'.

Class 4 (kun-) human/animal body parts some common plant form terms [e.g. kun-dulk ‘tree’, kun-dalk ‘grass’ kun-kod ‘paperbark’, kun-ngobarn ‘new leaf sheath of pandanus trees’] some objects made form plants [e.g. kun-yarl ‘string’] fire [used for domestic purposes] weather and sea, time measurement, languages (Kunwinjku, Kundjeyhmi) and speech some social categories [kun-mokurrkurr ‘clan’] abstract nouns [e.g. kun-njilng ‘feelings, emotions’, kun-mak ‘goodness’]

Bonj that is all.