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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 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).

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
yire you're going
mah bonj ok we're done
nan kaluk see you later (use with any size of group)
bobo goodbye


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.

Kunwok English Comments
ngaye nakamarrang I'm nakamarrang (give your skin name if you have one)
ngudda yingale? Who are you?
yimulewarren ngudda Tell us about yourself mulewan = give a report
baleh kunkurlah nguddangke? what's your skin?
nangale ngunwong? who gave it to you? won = give (your skin name)
njale marneyime? what do I call you? (elicits a kinship term)
baleh ngudda beh? where are you from?
baleh yidolkkang where did you grow up?
ngaye Melbourne beh I'm from Melbourne
ngadolkkang Darwin I grew up in Darwin
kamak ngayerrkan? 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

Kunwok English Comments
tea yibongun? Would you (singular) like some tea? yi-bongun = (bo-ngun = liquid-eat)
tea ngurribongun? Would you (plural) like some tea? ngurri-bongun =
ngabomarnbun tea I'm making tea nga-bo-marnbun = I-liquid-make
ngabokinje I'll put the kettle on bo-kinje = liquid-cook
mambard billycan
yikurrmen mambard kukunak put the billycan on the fire ku-kunak = at-fire
bowurlhmeng it's boiled bo-wurlhme-ng =
kundjikka yidjare? Would you like milk?
mankung? / djukka? sugar? mankung = honey
mankung kanwo give me sugar kan-wo =
kanbowo kundjikka give me milk kan-bo-wo =
nja here passing the tea, milk, sugar


Kunwok English Comments
kunwok talk, word(s), language
yiwokdi kunwok you're speaking Kunwok yi-wokdi = you-speak
yiwokdi yeledj speak slowly
ngaborlbme kunwok I'm learning Kunwok nga-borlbme = I-learn
njale kayime "dog"? how do you say "dog"? ka-yime = it-says
yuwn kandjekmiwon! don't laugh at me! kan-djekmiwon =
yimeng "hello" he/she said "hello" 0-yime-ng = he/she-say-past
ngabenmarneyimeng malaywi 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

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).

Note that we generally don't translate "do this with me" literally, but rather say "you and me we will do it".

Kunwok English Comments
baleh ngurriyime? what are you doing / will you do? (to a group)
baleh yiyime ngudda? what are you doing / will you do? (to one person)
yibimbun you're painting/writing it
yimilebun you're weaving it
yidulkdadjke you're cutting wood yi-dulk-dadjke = you-tree-cut
yikaru! dig it!
yimang mandengiyi you're fetching the vehicle
minj yimarnbun nakudji you can't do it alone
karribidyikarrmerren we're helping each other karri-bidyikarrme-rren = we-help-reciprocal
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! slow down!
med! wait!
kanbidyikarrimen! help me! kan-bidyikarrme-n =
karriyakwon we finished it karri-yakwon = we-finish
ngabimbun timesheet I'm doing the timesheet


Note that the verb bun "strike" is often used to mean "call" or "ring".

Kunwok English Comments
yoh yes? when answering, else just "hello"
nangale ngunewokdi who do you want to talk to? ngune-wokdi you.two-talk
ngudda nangale / ngalngale who are you? (male / female)
med, ngayawan 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
yirohrokmen (number) try this number
wokmadbom bu minj yimbuyinj I was waiting for you but you didn't call
ngamwokngimi wolewoleh I was calling you yesterday
ngarohrokmeni kanewokdiwirrinj I was trying to talk to you
yimbu ngudda yimwokngimen you call me
yimre kanmang come and get me kan-mang =


Kunwok English Comments
ngamarrwedoweng I'm hungry nga-marrwe-dowe-ng I-hunger-sick-past
ngakombukdoweng I'm thirsty nga-kom-buk-dowe-ng I-throat-dry-sick-past
njale ngunbayeng? what's wrong? lit. what bit you?
baleh ngunnjamedmeng? what happened to you? ngun-njamedmeng =
kanmarneyolyolmen tell me about it
ngakodjbabang my head hurts nga-kodj-babang = my-head-hurts (substitute other body parts)
ngakodjke I'm tired also nga-mim-kodjke = my-eyes-tired
ngabondjek I'm cold
ngaladmen I'm hot
ngadjare ngayo I want to lie down
ngaworrkoluy I fell out of a tree
ngadengelurlmeng My foot is swollen
birndu nganberlbayeng A mosquito bit my arm ngan-berl-baye-ng =
ngaberlbakmeng I broke my arm nga-berl-bakme-ng = I-arm-break-past
ngabiddorrinj I hit my hand nga-bid-do-rri-nj = I-hand-hit-reflexive-past

Playing cards

Kunwok English Comments
ngurrimray karridirri kunkod you (all) come, we're playing cards kunkod = cards (from paperbark)
karridirri ABC / Instant we're playing ABC / Instant
ngadjobke kad I'm shuffling the cards djobke = cut (i.e. cut cards)
yidjobkemen shuffle them djobke-men = cut.imperative
ngakadmang I'm picking up the card/s mang = get, collect
yikadma get the card/s ma = get.imperative (from mang = get, collect)
ngaye / ngudda wali my/your turn
ngakadmang I'm picking up the card/s mang = get, collect
yiwewemen kad deal the cards we-we-men = throw-redup-imperative (throw repeatedly)
ngadilhme kad I'm dealing the cards dilh (from English "deal")
ngakukwarrewong I lost
ngadowen I've got no luck
moken the pile
budda ten full house (ABC game)
mayla nothing (ABC game)
ngaye ngardduk rowk I win
ngawinhmeng I won winhme = win (from English "win")

On the road

Kunwok English Comments
ngurribidbu karrire you (all) get in and let's go
werrk karrire hurry up, we're going
nangale kakanemkarrme? who's driving? ka-kanem-karrme = pres-ear-hold (he/she drives)
kandikan Jabiru you (all) take me to Jabiru (remember "kan" is pronounced like English "gun")
yibolkbengkan baleh yire? do you know where you're going? yi-bolk-bengkan = you-country-know
karrire kumekke let's go there (pointing)
karrire djarre go further / keep going karri-re djarre = we-go far
yibolhkadjung follow the road yi-bolh-kadjung = you-road-follow
karridjowkke we're crossing over (the river)
karridjalrohrokme we'll keep trying karri-djal-rohrokme = we-still-try (we're driving til we find what we're looking for)
ngabolkbengmidjdanj I forgot the place nga-bolk-bengmidjdanj = I-country-forgot
manbolhwarre wrong road, rough road
kuwarre wrong place, bad place ku-warre = loc-bad
konhda kabolkmak here is a good place ka-bolk-mak = it-country-good
ngudda yibebmen! get out
dengebelngdanj kadberre 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

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
ngudda warridj you too .
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!
yibidbawo! don't touch that!
yimray! come!
yirohrokmen! try it!
yiburlumerren you're doing it well / showing off yi-burlume-rren you-praise-reflexive
kanyolyolmen tell me/us about it
ngurribidyikarrmerrimen help each other ngurri-bidyikarrme-rri-men =
yuwn yibidbun don't climb it

Collecting Pandanus

Kunwok English Comments
karrire karrimang kunngobarn Let's go and get pandanus also karri-ngobarn-mang = we-pandanus-get
balekeno karrire? When will we go?
yibenbengdayhkemen daluk Let the women know yiben-bengdayhke-men = you.them-inform-imperative
ngalngale kamre? Who is coming? ngal-ngale = fem-who
yimka manmarli Bring the pandanus hook yi-m-ka = you-towards-carry.imperative (you bring)
yibomey kukku? Have you got water? yi-bo-mey = you-liquid-get.past
ngamang mudika I'll get the truck
karribenkan daluk Let's take the women karriben-kan = we.them-carry (in the vehicle)
baleh kabirrihdi? Where are they?
kanbukka njale yiyime Show me what you're doing kan-bukka =
yiyirrme You're stripping it yi-yirrme = you-it.strip
karrimang kala Let's collect colour (ochre, bark) karri-mang = we-it.collect
kadungyibme karridokme The sun's going down, let's head off home ka-dung-yibme = it-sun-descend


Kunwok English Comments
nganjilngmak I feel good nga-njilng-mak = I-feeling-good
nganjilngwarre I feel bad nga-njilng-warre = I-feeling-bad
nganjilngmarnbun I'm cheering him up
ngakangemak I'm happy nga-kange-mak = I-heart-good
ngamarrmarrni I'm happy
ngakangewarre I'm sad nga-kange-warre = I-heart-bad
ngakukdowen I'm bored
ngadjurrkwon I'm getting excited
ngangukruy I'm angry nga-nguk-ruy = I-belly-burn
ngakangebakke I'm attracted to him/her
ngakangerayekwon I'm encouraging him nga-kange-rayekwon = I.him-heart-make.strong
kayiddung He's speaking harshly
kayidwern He's a troublemaker
njale ngunbayeng? What's wrong? ngun-bayeng =
njale ngunngun What's wrong? ngun-ngun =
njaleken yinalkbun? why are you crying?
ngankangemey it touched me ngan-kange-mey =

To do

  • country (kunbolk, kunred)
  • family (bininj, daluk, namud, wurdurd, mawahmawah)
  • leave-taking (woknan, kamak ngarriwokdanj)
  • at the arts centre (njale yimarnbun?)
  • sorry business (bolkwarreminj, ngarribidkurrmeng)
  • outstation life (duruk yingudmen, djenj karrire, ngayawan kunyerrng ngaworrkme)
  • asking permission to go places
  • church (yiwarrudj, karriwayini, karriburlume)
  • forbidden places (kubolkdjamun djang)
  • fire and burning
  • cars and road safety
  • hunting
  • stripping bark and bark painting
  • jobs, ranger work
  • food and food preparation (kandidjawa, buburru, ngabiddjibme)
  • (requests welcome)
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