Learning Vocabulary

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This page contains a variety of suggestions for how to learn vocabulary. Perhaps some of these will work for you.


  • wakwak "crow"
  • djikirridj-djikirridj "willy wagtail"
  • bukbuk "pheasant" (the pheasant coucal makes this sound)

Almost omomatopoeia:

  • djarrang "horse": the sound of galloping


These are associations between Kunwok words and English expressions... the more ridiculous, the more memorable!

  • bobo means "goodbye": it sounds like "bye bye"
  • kaluk nan means "see you later": think of saying goodbye to someone, and waving a garlic naan
  • manmorlak means "Kakadu plum": think of holding a Kakadu plum for "more luck"
  • birrhme is "to sweep": think of the sound made by a straw broom as "birrh"
  • durndeng is "to return": the first thing you do when returning is turn, which is close to "durn"
  • kunyarl is "string": think of "yarn"
  • nin is "finch": a small word for a small bird, and both the English and Kunwinjku contain "in"

You can even do this for parts of words, e.g.:

  • man- is the vegetable prefix: think of a man who likes his vegetables (or who behaves like one)
  • yi- is the second person marker, you: think of old English "ye"

Move your body

Learn words while moving your body at the same time. You could as a speaker to give commands and you do the action. This is also known as total physical response.

  • yidolkka! stand!
  • yiyerrka! sit!
  • yibirrhmen! sweep!
  • yiborledmen! turn around!
  • yilobmen! run!
  • yiborrkkemen! dance!


Longer Kunwok words may consist of several parts, like a noun and a verb, e.g. English: haircut, weekend, daydream, fingerprint. Look at the following... see how predictable the meaning is:

  • kebkan: kunkeb "nose" + kan "to get" = sniff out (as in hunting with dogs)
  • karekarrme: kare "old" + karrme "have" = save for later
  • kodjdjobme: kunkodj "head" + djobme "cut off" = sulky, uncommunicative
  • kangerayekwon: kunkange "heart, emotion" + rayekwon "make strong" = hearten, encourage
  • bidbarrhbarrhmarren: bid "hand" + barrhbarrhma "repeatedly close" + -rren "themselves"

Sometimes, the parts of a word might be a clue:

  • karrkkanj: karrk plausible bird sound + kanj "meat" = falcon


Memorising whole sentences is a great way to learn vocabulary, as well as the pronominal prefixes. You can then construct new sentences by substituting words.

  • duruk nganbayeng "the dog bit me" (ngan- "it-me")
  • duruk ngadukkang "I tied up the dog" (nga- "I-it")
  • yuwn yikilekme mako "don't touch the gun" (yi- "you-it")
  • yuwn kandjekmiwon "don't laugh at me" (kan- "you-me")


  • X karohrok yiman Y = "X is similar to Y"
  • yuwn yi-X wardi yarrke yi-Y = "don't X else Y might happen", e.g. yuwn yibidbun wardi yarrke yimankayinj "don't climb it else you might fall down"
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