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 quite cold if the overnight temperature falls sub-20!
When speaking with people, it is good to limit eye contact.
A small amount is fine, but sustained eye contact may come across as domineering.
Bininj differ in how comfortable they feel with strangers,
so pay attention to how much eye contact you're receiving, and don't give more than that.
You'll probably need help to pronounce these phrases correctly.
Beginners struggle with the "ng-" words, and it's usually fine to not pronounce "ng-" at the start of words.
So, avoid the hurdle and leave it out to start with.
For more on pronunciation see the pronunciation guide and the podcasts.
You might find a bininj who is prepared to help you with pronunciation.
If you've forgotten a word or phrase that someone taught you,
don't be afraid to ask them again... it's better to ask again and use this to consolidate what you're learning.
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 appropriate to show curiosity about where people are going and what they are doing, even if you only just met them.
It is also appropriate to state the obvious, e.g. saying yire shop to someone who is heading towards the shop (a bit like saying "nice day!" when it is obviously the case).
are you good?
(use with any size of group)
where are you going?
(said to just one person)
I'm going to the shop
(it's ok to include English words)
you're going north
(fine to state the obvious)
you've come back
baleh keno yimdurndeng
when are you coming back?
I can't stand the crows
mah bonj, ngare
ok, I'm going
ok we're done
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.
(give your skin name if you have one)
Who are you?
Tell us about yourself
mulewan = give a report
baleh kunkurlah nguddangke?
what's your skin?
who gave it to you?
won = give (your skin name)
what do I call you?
(elicits a kinship term)
baleh ngudda beh?
where are you from?
where did you grow up?
ngaye Melbourne beh
I'm from Melbourne
I grew up in Darwin
good if I sit?
(i.e. may I sit)
baleh kayime wurdurd yikarrme?
how many children do you have?
baleh kayime = how many
ngakarrme danjbik wurdurd
I have three children
(nakudji, boken, danjbik = 1, 2, 3)
Cuppa Tea Time
Would you (singular) like some tea?
yi-bongun = you.sg-drink (bo-ngun = liquid-eat)
Would you (plural) like some tea?
ngurri-bongun = you.pl-drink
I'm making tea
nga-bo-marnbun = I-liquid-make
I'll put the kettle on
bo-kinje = liquid-cook
yikurrmen mambard kukunak
put the billycan on the fire
ku-kunak = at-fire
bo-wurlhme-ng = liquid-be.hot-past
Would you like milk?
mankung? / djukka?
mankung = honey
give me sugar
kan-wo = you.me-give.imperative
give me milk
kan-bo-wo = you.me-liquid-give.imperative
passing the tea, milk, sugar
talk, word(s), language
you're speaking Kunwok
yi-wokdi = you-speak
I'm learning Kunwok
nga-borlbme = I-learn
njale kayime "dog"?
how do you say "dog"?
ka-yime = it-says
don't laugh at me!
kan-djekmiwon = you.me-laugh.at
he/she said "hello"
0-yime-ng = he/she-say-past
I told them this morning
ngaben-marne-yime-ng = I.they-for-say-past
ngadjawan bu ngare kumekke
I'm asking him/her if I can go there
nga-djawan = I-ask
I'm introducing myself
nga-mulewa-rren = I-report-reflexive
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).
Note that we generally don't translate "do this with me" literally, but rather say "you and me we do it".
what are you doing / will you do?
(to a group)
baleh yiyime ngudda?
what are you doing / will you do?
(to one person)
you're painting/writing it
you're weaving it
you're cutting wood
yi-dulk-dadjke = you-tree-cut
you're fetching the vehicle
minj yimarnbun nakudji
you can't do it alone
we're helping each other
karri-bidyikarrme-rren = we-help-reciprocal
we're working together
karri-djarrk-durrkmirri = we-together-work
we're working separately
karri-bebbeh-durrkmirri = we-separately-work
I made a mistake
kan-bidyikarrme-n = you.me-help-imperative
we finished it
karri-yakwon = we-finish
I'm doing the timesheet
Note that the verb bun "strike" is often used to mean "call" or "ring".
when answering, else just "hello"
who do you want to talk to?
ngudda nangale / ngalngale
who are you? (male / female)
wait, I'll look for him/her
minj ngunewokdi, wam (dowen, warlbom)
you can't talk he/she is gone (sick, went hunting)
minj kahdi bolkkime
he/she isn't here now/today
yimwokngimen wolewoleh o malaywi
call this afternoon or tomorrow
try this number
wokmadbom bu minj yimbuyinj
I was waiting for you but you didn't call
I was calling you yesterday
I was trying to talk to you
yimbu ngudda yimwokngimen
you call me
come and get me
kan-mang = you.me-get
where are you?
yi-h-di = you-immediate-stand
ngahdi kore kunred
I'm at home
lit. what bit you?
what happened to you?
ngun-njamedmeng = it.you-somethinged
tell me about it
my head hurts
nga-kodj-babang = my-head-hurts (substitute other body parts)
karri-djal-rohrokme = we-still-try (we're driving til we find what we're looking for)
I forgot the place
nga-bolk-bengmidjdanj = I-country-forgot
wrong road, rough road
wrong place, bad place
ku-warre = loc-bad
here is a good place
ka-bolk-mak = it-country-good
we've got a flat tyre
ngamwam nayinj bu minj yidiwirrinj
I came to see you but you weren't there
madbom kunkuyeng bu minj yimrayinj
I waited for you for a long time but you didn't come
yi-m-ra-yinj = you-towards-go-irrealis
Can I go there?
Okay, you can go.
larrk, minj yire
No, you can’t go.
Sacred place for men only
daluk bedberre kundjurle
Shelter for women only
bininj minj kabirrire
Men can’t go there.
minj yire, ngalyod kahyo
Don’t go there, Rainbow Serpent is there.
ngalyod – Rainbow Serpent (usually around water bodies)
kunbolkbang, mimih kahyo
A spiritually dangerous place. A mimih spirit is there.
kubolkbang – spiritually dangerous place
kunbolkwarre, kinga kahyo
A dangerous place (not spiritually). A crocodile is there.
kunbolkwarre – physically dangerous place
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.