Lesson 1

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In this lesson you will:

  • get to know some local people
  • start learning skin names
  • learn some basic vocabulary
  • work on your pronuniation
  • pick up some learning tactics

Getting to know local people

Greeting people with "ngudda kamak?"

First things first... get out 10 minutes earlier in the morning and take an indirect route to work, or wherever you're going. Greet people along the way with "kamak?" good?, or "ngudda kamak?" you good?

If you get talking to anyone, ask "what's your skin?" When they say it, copy them. Ask if you said it right.

Tell them your skin name if you have one, and who gave it to you. It's fine to use English for this.

Learn some verbs

Time to get active! We'll use the Total Physical Response method. You'll need to do this with a local who can read a little, or with another learner who is confident with pronunciation.

The instructor says the word, then you perform the action. Ask them to drill you on the first three or four words before continuing to the rest.

Imperative English Comments
yibirrhmen sweep, clean up (the noise of sweeping?)
yiborledmen turn around
yiderrehmen move over (away)
yidokmen set off (home)
yikarrmen have, hold, touch confusible with kurrme, think of the "a" of have
yikurrmen put sth confusible with karrme, think of the "u" of put
yilobmen run, drive, function ("lope")
yiwurlebmen go into water, shower

These verbs all use the yi- second person prefix. The verb roots are shown in boldface. The n suffix marks imperative mood.

Learning skin names

Bininj society is organised into eight sections, or skin groups. These are used to address people and to refer to people. Here we learn four female skin names (pick the western or eastern version depending on your location).

The arrows mark out a cycle of four generations of women and their offspring. Learning these terms, and remembering who begets who, is a great go-to topic for your early interactions. Skin and kinship, society and relationships, is a guaranteed safe topic, like the weather in western culture.

Western skin names

These are the ones to use if you live in the Gunbalanya or Jabiru areas.

Female skin names (western)

ngal.wa.kadj → ngal.ba.nga.rdi → ngal.ka.ngi.la → ngal.ko.djok → ngal.wa.kadj

Eastern skin names

These are synonymous skin names to use if you live in the Maningrida, Bulman, or Pine Creek areas.

Female skin names (eastern)

nga.rridj.djan → ka.manj → bu.lanj.djan → wa.mud.djan → nga.rridj.djan

NB the "rr" is pronounced like a short d.

Suppose you have a friend whose skin is ngalkodjok. Her children will be ngalwakadj and her mother will be ngalkangila. If she travels east, she will be called wamuddjan.

NB this seems like a lot to take on. But imagine a newcomer in our mainstream culture who doesn't learn to address people, and the mistakes they make: using a title with a first name (Mr John), calling someone in an official role by their first name (John instead of Dr Smith), confusing Ms and Miss, and so on. It can easily come across as ignorant or disrespectful. Here too, learning how to address people in a culturally appropriate way is an early step in entering the community and making friends. The good thing is that locals will appreciate it and will enjoy helping you, so as before, just get out there!

Learn more about Skin Names.

Pronunciation: Vowels

Kunwok has just five vowels and their pronunciation does not vary. Read about the vowels in our Pronunciation Guide.

Pronouncing vowels
  • wak.wak crow
  • de.lek white clay
  • bik.bik pig
  • bo.bo bye
  • du.ruk dog

Listen to the first podcast

Podcast 1: Baleh yire? Where are you going?
Kabulwarnamyo Community, West Arnhem

Listen to the first podcast or subscribe to one of the podcast feeds (SoundCloud, iTunes, PlayerFM).

It was recorded in Kabulwarnamyo, a remote West Arnhem homeland, with one of the traditional owners. There's a lot in this podcast, and you might want to do it in sections.

Listen out for the following words. We put dots between the syllables for now, to help with pronunciation.

  • ka.mak good (as a question, are you good?, or a statement, I'm good)
  • ba.leh yi.re? where are you going? (the h represents a glottal stop)
  • nga.bolk.nan I'm (just) looking around (the ng is often silent!)
  • nga.re I'm going
  • nga.wok.di kun.wok I'm speaking Kunwok (Kunwinjku)
  • ba.lan.da whitefella (or whitefella language)
  • ku.red home or camp
  • yoh, larrh yes, no
  • kan.dji.kan.dji waterhole (literally, low ground)
  • wo.le.wo.leh afternoon
  • mah, bo.bo ok, bye
Podcast vocabulary

Learn these words. Try making new phrases with them. Check your pronunciation with a local.

Things to try this week

  1. get out earlier each day and greet people
  2. listen to the first podcast at least twice, practice with people
  3. read about How to learn
  4. start a learning journal to log your activities and reflect on what you're learning
  5. join our online forum and interact with other learners in our slack channel.

N.B. Minimise your note-taking and try to get your learning process away from the world of pen-and-paper. It's fine to ask again if you forget something.

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