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The first challenge for a balanda learner of Kunwok is to get used to the idea that there's no words for hello or thank you. We like to discuss the weather with strangers, but here in West Arnhem, there's not much to discuss, except to remark on it being cold if it falls below 20.

When speaking with people, it is good to minimise eye contact. Sustained eye contact may come across as domineering.

You'll probably need help to pronounce these phrases correctly. Please see the pronunciation guide and the podcasts. Feel free to ask bininj for advice; a whitefella asking for advice is like a breath of fresh air out here.


When greeting people, you'll probably be the one to initiate the interaction. If you're not an outgoing kind of person, you'll have to pretend! It is completely appropriate to show curiosity about where people are going and what they are doing, even if you hardly know them.

Kunwok English Comments
ngudda kamak? are you good? (use with any size of group)
yoh, kamak yes, good
baleh yire? where are you going? (said to just one person)
ngare shop I'm going to the shop (it's ok to include English words)
yire kakbi you're going north (fine to state the obvious)
yimdurndi you've come back
baleh keno yimdurndeng when are you coming back?
ngawarnyak wak I can't stand the crows
mah bonj, ngare ok, I'm going
nan kaluk see you later (use with any size of group)


Here your challenge is to get over needing to know someone's name. Learn their skin name, and optionally the kinship term you use for them, and try to just use that. Don't be afraid to ask the same question again next time you see someone. It's better to ask again and use it to consolidate what you're learning. Once you know people, you might ask if you can sit with them.

Kunwok English Comments
ngaye nakamarrang I'm nakamarrang (give your skin name if you have one)
baleh kunkurlah nguddangke? what's your skin?
nangale ngunwong? who gave it to you? (your skin name)
njale marneyime? what do I call you? (elicits a kinship term)
baleh ngudda beh? where are you from?
ngaye Melbourne beh I'm from Melbourne
kamak bu ngayerrkan? good if I sit? (i.e. may I sit)
baleh kayime wurdurd yikarrme? how many children do you have? baleh kayime = how many

Working together

Another adjustment when learning Kunwok is all the long words, e.g. karridjarrkdurrkmirri, which can be broken down into karri-djarrk-durrkmirri (we-together-work).

Kunwok English Comments
baleh karriyime? what are we doing? (to a group; includes the people you're addressing)
yibimbun you're painting/writing
yimilebun you're weaving
yidulkdadke you're cutting wood yi-dulk-dadke = you-tree-cut
yikarung you're digging
yimang mandengiyi you're fetching the vehicle
karridjarrkdurrkmirri we're working together karri-djarrk-durrkmirri = we-together-work
karribebbehdurrkmirri we're working separately karri-bebbeh-durrkmirri = we-separately-work
ngawarrewong I made a mistake
werrk! hurry up!
yeledj yeledj! slow down!
med! wait!
karriyakwong we finished it
ngamarnbun djurra I'm doing the timesheet djurra = paper

In the classroom

Note that expressions involving yi- are addressed to an individual, while those with ngurri- are addressed to a group. Feel free to replace yi- (you singular) with ngurri- (you plural) and vice versa, as needed. You can also use karri- (we all) if the expression includes the speaker.

Kunwok English Comments
kamak bu ngundinan bolkkime! nice to see you all today!
ngudda kamak? are you (all) good?
kamak yiyoy? did you sleep well?
ngurriyerrka all sit down
ngurringudmen all be quiet
ngurridolkka all stand up
kandibekka all listen
karribiddokme rowk let's all clap hands
ngurribiddjirridjburren wash your hands ngurri-bid-djirridjbu-rren = you-hand-wash-reflexive
yiyidmeburren? did you brush your teeth? yi-yidme-burren = you-teeth-beat
yibawo! stop that!
yimray! come!
kanyolyolmen tell me/us about it
ngurribidyikarrmerrimen help each other
yuwn yibidbun don't climb it

To do

  • leave-taking (woknan, kamak ngarriwokdanj)
  • on the road (yibidbu karrire, yibolkbengkan baleh yire?)
  • hospitality (kanwo djukka, kundjikka)
  • ailments (njale ngunbayeng?, ngababang)
  • sorry business (ngarribidkurrmeng)
  • outstation life (duruk yingudmen, djenj karrire, ngayawan kunyerrng ngaworrkme)
  • asking permission to go places
  • going to church
  • forbidden places
  • (requests welcome)