Lesson 4

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Listening to Kunwok

Nabarlek Band
Nabarlek Band

This week's podcast takes us to Manmoyi, an outstation 200km east of Gunbalanya, and home to Nabarlek band. The name nabarlek means rock wallaby. We'll start by listening to some talk and music from Manmoyi.

The introduction starts with the following: "Hello. Ngaye Kamarrang Nabordoh. Nahne Nabarlek Band ngardduk ngaye. Yoh! yoh kamak. Konhda Manmoyi kabolkngeyyo."

Watch the video. During the first 30-40 seconds, you will hear the following words. You might like to listen a couple of times and see if you can make them out.

Vocabulary from Nabarlek video
  • nahne this (aforementioned)
  • ngardduk our
  • konhda / kondah here
  • kabirriyime (as) they say (sometimes used after an English word is spoken)
  • kabolkngeyyo the place is called
  • yiman similar to
  • daborrabolk, kobahkohbanj old people, ancestors
  • bokenh two
  • wurdurd children
  • kabirridjordmen they grow up
  • bukkan to teach
  • kabirriburrbun they understand

Where can you sit, hang out, and overhear some Kunwok? This is not to eavesdrop on private conversations, but to increase your exposure to language. Remember that your ability to understand language will outpace your ability to produce language. Listen in, and see if you can pick up any words.

Interesting words to learn

Just for fun, here's a novel take on ways of learning vocabulary. Trying to mix it up a little. Do you have any of your own tricks for learning words?

  • Similar words, different meanings
    • madbun vs marnbun to wait vs to work
    • bidbun vs bimbun to climb vs to paint
    • kunkanj vs kunj meat vs kangaroo
Kuwardde stone country
Kuwardde stone country
  • Nouns with kun- (neuter prefix) vs ku- (indicating the locus of action)
    • kunred vs kured camp vs at camp
    • kundulk vs kurrulk (kudulk) tree vs at the tree
    • kunwardde vs kuwardde stone vs in the stone country
  • Individual words with contradictory meanings
    • manbuyika next, previous (lit. other)
    • wolewoleh this afternoon, yesterday (cf English eve)
    • malaywi morning, tomorrow
    • korroko just now, a long time ago
  • Words with interestingly related senses
    • kundung sun, time (e.g. baleh kundung? what time?)
    • kundjikka milk, breast
    • kunwardde stone, money
    • mako gun, didjeridoo
    • kudjewk year, wet season
    • dabborrabbolk forebears whether living or deceased

This time we haven't provided you the recordings. It's up to you to sit with a bininj or daluk friend, and use your voice recorder to make short recordings, one per word. Name the file after the English meaning. (If you care to do this and share your files, we'll link them here and credit you.)

Note how we're writing things down in English, but preferring to learn Kunwok by speaking and listening.

Fourth podcast

Podcast 4: Kakbi dja walem, North and south

Listen to the podcast here or get it from one of the feeds (SoundCloud, iTunes, PlayerFM).

Here are some of the phrases you heard:

  • ngud.da, ba.leh yi.re Where are you going?
  • nga.nan kun.red I'm seeing the country
  • na.nga.le yi.ngey.yo What's your name?
  • ngad.bu.rrung sibling
  • ba.leh wam ka.ma.rrang where did Kamarrang go?
  • ka.ma.rrang wam kan.dji.kan.dji Kamarrang went to the spring
  • bolk.kime now, today
  • ka.luk after
  • yid.dok? is that so? (optional for questions)
  • yi.dja.re yi.nan ka.ma.rrang you want to see Kamarrang
  • nga.mad.bun I'll wait
  • nga.marn.bun mu.di.ka I'm working on the car/truck
  • nga.dja.re nga.re kak.bi / wa.lem I want to go north / south
  • (yiddok) yi.bim.bun mutika? Are you going to paint the car?
  • nga.bim.bun kunj dja djenj I'm painting a kangaroo and a fish
  • na.nga.le? / ngal.nga.le? who? (male and female versions)
  • ngud.da yi.dja.re na.nga.le yi.nan? who do you want to see?
  • nga.durn.deng I'm returning

As usual, there's a fair bit in the podcast. If it's too much for one sitting, break it into two or three. Pause playback if you need more time to respond. Familiarise yourself with the above vocabulary then listen to the podcast again.

When you're ready, try using some of these phrases with bininj and daluk in your work, or when you're out and about in the community. Note that it is socially acceptable to state the obvious. If you're heading north, say "ngare kakbi", even though it's patently obvious to everyone. Similarly, if someone is painting, you can say "ah yibimbun kamak" and no-one will be thinking that you're a simpleton.

Pronunciation: "retroflex" sounds

Kunwok has a group of sounds that are not present in English (except in the pronunciation of some Indian speakers of English). The closest sound we have is the r of red. Try saying this r sound by itself, holding it for a few seconds. Pay attention to the curled-up shape of the tongue and the position of the tongue tip.

words with "rd"

Words with rd

To make this sound, form an English r then push the tip of the tongue all the way up to the hard palate to make a "retroflex d". Here are some examples to try:

  • kun.bard knee
  • wu.rdurd child
  • rda.rda younger sibling
  • rdird moon, month (usually written "dird")
  • ngard.rduk my, mine (written ngardduk)

words with "rl"

Words with rl

To make this sound, form an English r then push just the middle part of the tongue tip to the hard palate to make a "retroflex l". Here are some examples:

  • kun.berl arm
  • be.rluh aunty
  • kun.yarl string
  • nga.wurlh.ke I'm setting fire to it
  • man.lab.barl waterhole

words with "rn"

Words with rn

To make this sound, form the rd while allowing air to flow through the nose, making a "retroflex n".

  • nga.marn.bun I'm making it
  • ma.rne.yi.me I say for you (e.g. skin name)
  • korn.ku.mo father
  • bi.rri.wern everyone, many people
  • ko.rno.bo.lo agile wallaby

Practice saying these words with a bininj or daluk friend. Ask them to correct you if you don't same them right. You might like to make your own recording, with your voice interleaved with a bininj or daluk voice. Listening to your voice alongside a local's voice is instructive!

When reading a text containing these sounds, it is tempting to associate the r with the previous vowel, changing its quality, e.g. kunwardde stone, money contains "war" which looks like a word of English that rhymes with "four". Instead, we have to use the open "a" vowel, rhyming with English "car". That r belongs with the following consonant!

Learning skin names

By now you should be gaining confidence with four skin names. Every newcomer who has attempted this has said it was quite challenging. We have found it motivating to talk to children and check their knowledge, and realise that yes, it is basic knowledge, and possible to learn it, cf:

Steven and Narelle Etherington

Children don't learn a cycle of abstract words, but they learn the skin names of the people related to them. This style of learning is associative, and the most effective way for adults to learn as well. So if you're still struggling with this, get creative and work out how you can learn these terms.

Check out the "SpeakingPhoto" app, and use it to (a) get a selfie with a new bininj or daluk acquaintance and (b) record the terms of address you use for each other. (Note that you need network access to do this.) Now use these selfies for review when you're alone.

Review the first cycle

Pick one of the following eight quizzes, depending on your skin (or if you're male, your sister's skin). What is the skin name of your: children, your mother, her mother, etc?

ngalwamud / kodjdjan your children your mother mother's mother mother's mother's mother
western ngalngarridj ngalbulanj ngalkamarrang ngalngarridj
eastern belinj kalidjan bangardidjan belinj
ngalngarridj / belinj your children your mother mother's mother mother's mother's mother
western ngalkamarrang ngalwamud ngalbulanj ngalkamarrang
eastern bangardidjan kodjdjan kalidjan bangardidjan
ngalkamarrang / bangardidjan your children your mother mother's mother mother's mother's mother
western ngalbulanj ngalngarridj ngalwamud ngalbulanj
eastern kalidjan belinj kodjdjan kalidjan
ngalbulanj / kalidjan your children your mother mother's mother mother's mother's mother
western ngalwamud ngalkamarrang ngalngarridj ngalwamud
eastern kodjdjan bangardidjan belinj kodjdjan

ngalwakadj / ngarridjdjan your children your mother mother's mother mother's mother's mother
western ngalbangardi ngalkodjok ngalkangila ngalbangardi
eastern kamanj wamuddjan bulanjdjan kamanj
ngalbangardi / kamanj your children your mother mother's mother mother's mother's mother
western ngalkangila ngalwakadj ngalkodjok ngalkangila
eastern bulanjdjan ngarridjdjan wamuddjan bulanjdjan
ngalkangila / bulanjdjan your children your mother mother's mother mother's mother's mother
western ngalkodjok ngalbangardi ngalwakadj ngalkodjok
eastern wamuddjan kamanj ngarridjdjan wamuddjan
ngalkodjok / wamuddjan your children your mother mother's mother mother's mother's mother
western ngalwakadj ngalkangila ngalbangardi ngalwakadj
eastern ngarridjdjan bulanjdjan kamanj ngarridjdjan

Review the kin terms

As a woman, what do you call your sibling, children, etc? What do they call you? (If you're male, do this on behalf of your sister.)

relation your sibling your (sister's) children your mother mother's mother mother's mother's mother
you call them ngadburrung djedje karrang kakkak doydoy
they call you ngadburrung karrang djedje kakkak doydoy

Your right skin

Traditional bininj society requires marriage to someone of the right skin, also known as "right-way marriage". This week you will learn your own "right skin". We will stick with female skin names, so the following table will list the skin name of your sister-in-law.

Western Eastern
ngalwamud, ngalkamarrang ↔ ngalbangardi, ngalkodjok kodjdjan, bangardidjan ↔ kamanj, wamuddjan
ngalwakadj, ngalkangila ↔ ngalngarridj, ngalbulanj belinj, kalidjan ↔ ngarridjdjan, bulanjdjan

Note that you have two choices. In other words, only one quarter of the opposite sex is in the marriageable category for you.

A good term to use for someone of your right skin (of either gender) is kanjok. You may also hear the terms kakkali and bundji.

Next time you're sitting with a bininj or daluk friend, you could check that you have learnt your "right skin" by saying, "the right skin for me is X and Y, yes?" Use the female skin names regardless of whether you are male or female. Alternatively, if you haven't yet learnt these skin names, ask someone "what is my right skin?". You might record them saying it.

Things to try this week

Here are some of our suggestions for you this week. As always, we encourage you to get out and learn this with bininj and daluk. Be creative, find ways of learning that work for you, and above all, be open to opportunities to sit with people.

  • hang out in a place where you can overhear kunwok, and listen out for any familiar words
  • record and memorise the suggested vocabulary
  • listen to the podcast and practice what you've learnt
  • drill those retroflex sounds rd, rl, and rn
  • review your first skin cycle; learn your "right skin"


Thanks to Belinj Rhonda Nadjamerrek for providing the recordings.

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