Ma! Garri-re wanjh, garri-wokdi Gundjeihmi.
OK, let's go, let's speak Gundjeihmi.
1. Getting Started
This is the first post for Jabiru students and agency employees learning the Australian languages Gundjeihmi and Kunwinjku, which are spoken in Kakadu National Park and Western Arnhem Land. Other people who live and work in Western Arnhem Land might also be interested in these lessons. Whilst they are in the form of blog posts in English, there will be some posts from time to time which will be exclusively in Bininj Gunwok dialects. You can ask questions or make comments in response to these lessons and I will attempt to answer your questions.
What does 'Bininj Gunwok' mean? There are a number of Aboriginal languages spoken in Western Arnhem Land today. You will already know the names Gundjeihmi and Kunwinjku, but in addition to these two, there are also four other varieties (call them dialects) of the same language. These varieties are Mayali, Kuninjku, Kune and Kundedjnjenghmi. You can find more information about the six Bininj Gunwok dialects here. And you can see the map of their locations here. These are all the same languages, just different dialects. If you speak in one, the people who speak a different dialect will still understand you. Linguists define dialects along the lines of 'mutual intelligibility'. Bininj will have a range of different views on these dialect names. We need a way to refer to these varieties as one group and so linguists have coined a new name after talking to Bininj (Aboriginal people) about what might be an appropriate collective name. Bininj in some cases use the name of their own language variety to refer to all the other dialects too but this doesn't always go down well with the speakers of another dialect. Some people say that all the dialects are really 'Mayali' and others say that all the varieties should be called 'Kunwinjku'. No collective name is perfect, but Bininj Gunwok is the name we will use to refer to all the varieties mentioned above when we need a collective name. Otherwise, just use the name of the variety you are learning, Gundjeihmi or Kunwinjku. The learner's guide material presented here is a general course where I have tried to keep the technical grammatical terms to a minimum. If you want to read a more technical grammatical description of Bininj Gunwok see this:
Evans, Nicholas (2003) Bininj Gun-wok: A pan-dialectal grammar of Mayali, Kunwinjku and Kune. [2 volumes] Canberra: Pacific Linguistics
2. The sounds and symbols that represent them.
Vowel Sounds in the English Language
We need to say something about the difference between the sounds of a language and the symbols that represent them (what linguists call phonemes and orthography). Depending on the accent, the English language can have anywhere from 11 to 20 vowel sounds. The English alphabet only has 5 letters that are used exclusively to represent these many vowels.
It is important to understand the difference between the letters and the sounds they represent. In Australian English there are about 20 vowels (includes some diphthongs – combinations of two vowels in one unit), represented by individual or combinations of five roman letters (a,e,i,o,u). Examples of these are in the table above.
But in Gundjeihmi and Kunwinjku there are 5 vowels represented by 5 letters, a, e, i, o, u.
gakkak (would be spelt kakkak in Kunwinjku)
gikkik (would be spelt kikkik in Kunwinjku)
gukku (would be spelt kukku in Kunwinjku)
Bininj Gunwok orthography
Use these letters ONLY:
Kunwinjku & Gundjeihmi a, e, i, o, u
Kunwinjku iw, ew, aw, ow, ey, ay, oy, uy
Gun-djeihmi iu, eu, au, ou, ei, ai, oi, ui
b, bb ,d, dd, dj, djdj, h, (g)/k, kk, l, m, n, ng, nj, r, rr, rd, rdd, rl, rn, w, y
Note that in Gundjeihmi there are both g and k. The former is used at the start of syllables and the latter at the end of syllables except if there is a long stop represented by kk which straddles the syllables as in gakkak. In Kunwinjku only the letter k is used. There is no letter g except when it appears as part of the digraph symbol ng which is what linguists call a velar nasal. There are no pronunciation differences between g in Gundjeihmi and k in Kunwinjku. Gundjeihmi speakers just wanted to have a different spelling system to Kunwinjku to distinguish themselves from other dialects.
Some of these letters have the same sound as they do in English; others do not. As you can see from the list above, some combinations are not found in English, e.g. nj, iw/iu. These may cause problems until you get used to the system.
Note that in writing Aboriginal languages each sound is always written in the same way and letters (single and double) stand for one and only one sound in a given position. This means you can make a reasonable attempt at pronouncing new words once you know the sound that goes with each letter.
Some of the letters are called vowels (a,e,i,o,u). Some are called DIPTHONGS (Kunwinjku= aw, ay, ew, ey, iw, oy, ow, uy / Gundjeihmi= au, ai, eu, ei, iu, oi, ou, ui). The rest are called CONSONANTS. We will discuss the vowels first, then the dipthongs, then the consonants. But first, here is an overview of the whole set of letters together with rough English equivalents.
a as in about, but
e as in bed or French e
i as in bit
o as in pot or Italian o as in Dio
u as in put
Kunwinjku spelling on left / Gundjeihmi spelling on right (both sound exactly the same)
aw / au as in house
ay / ai as in 'ay-ay, captain'
ew / eu (no English equivalent - nearest to the Adelaide pronunciation of 'hell')
ey / ei as in hey, they
iw / iu (no English equivalent - nearest to the Adelaide pronunciation of 'hill')
oy /oi as in boy
ow / ou as in oak, choke
uy / ui as in Nhulunbuy
b as in bank
d as in dog
dj as in jump
h as in Cockney wha' for 'what'
(g), k as in get or (Gundjeihmi has g a the beginning of a word or syllable, Kunwinjku never uses g except in the symbol ng as in English sing)
l same as in English
m as in mad
n as in nose
ng as in sing
nj as in canyon.
r as in rice
rr as in Scottish carry, or 'sloppy' pronunciation of 'butter'
rd as in American pronunciation of 'harder'
rl as in American pronunciation of Harlem
rn as in American pronunciation of harness
w as in wait
y as in yell
Long consonants are written double, e.g. bb, dd, djdj. These have no English equivalent.
LONG STOPS (consonants)
short b k d rd dj
long bb kk dd rdd djdj
short b g,k d rd dj
long bb kk dd rdd djdj
(note in Gun-djeihmi spelling, ‘g’ syllable initial and ‘k’ syllable final e.g. gakkak ‘MM(B)’)
What kind of differences are there between Kunwinjku, Gundjeihmi and some of the other Bininj Gunwok dialects?
The grammatical differences are minor. The vocabulary differences are more noticeable. For example, look at the following:
English: Why did he go? He went (for) magpie geese.
Gundjeihmi: Njanjukgen ba-wam? Bamurru ba-wam.
Kunwinjku: Njaleken wam? Manimunak wam.
Kuninjku: Njaleken wam? Murnubbarr wam.
Don't worry too much about these differences for the time being. You can ask about these kind of differences as comments to this post. If you want to read some more about dialect differences, have a look here.
Vowels- click on the audio link to hear pronunciation.
-Yi-biddjuyme ba yi-wokbekkan.
ngabbard ngabbard father
nga-yawan nga-yawan 'I'm looking for it/him/her'
bedberre bedberre 'theirs, for them'
dedded dedded red-collared lorikeet
mimih mimih rock spirit
bininj bininj man, human being
dolobbo dolobbo bark of stringybark tree
bobo bobo goodbye
bun bun I'll hit you
kukku kukku water
b ba-bidbom 'he/she climbed up'
d doidoi various great grandparents: FFM, FMF, MFF, MMM(B) (where F= father, M= mother, B= brother)
dj ngadjadj 'mother's brother' Note: this sound is not the same as that represented by the English letter 'j'. Linguists call it a voiced palatal plosive. It sounds like this.
(g), k gek (Gundjeihmi spelling), kek (Kunwinjku spelling) 'is that so, I see'
(Gundjeihmi has g a the beginning of a word or syllable, Kunwinjku never uses g except in the symbol ng as in English sing)
l lablab 'spotted nightjar' (bird)
m gun-mim 'eye, seed' kun-mim (Kunwinjku spelling)
n nin 'grass wren'
ng ngalelek 'little corella'. This sound often occurs word or syllable initially. It doesn't in English. It sounds like this.
nj gun-njam 'guts, intestines' kun-njam (Kunwinjku spelling). Linguists call this sound a palatal nasal. It sounds like this.
r Rol 'a clan name'
rr barri-wam 'they've gone' birri-wam (Kunwinjku). This sound is an alveolar tap. It sounds like this.
rd gun-bard 'knee' kun-bard (Kunwinjku spelling). Remember that 'd' and 'rd' are two different sounds. It sounds like this.
rl gun-garlang 'shoulder' kun-karlang (Kunwinjku). Just remember that 'l' and 'rl' are two different sounds. It sounds like this.
rn ga-marnbun 'she/he is making it. Kunwinjku= ka-marnbun. Remember that 'n' and 'rn' are two different sounds. It sounds like this.
w wolewoleh 'afternoon
y yekke 'early dry season'
Ma, bonj. OK that's enough for this first lesson.
Look for a Bininj language teacher to help you with your learning.
Gundjeihmi: Yi-yawa bininj dja daluk nawu ngundi-bidyigarrme gun-wokgen.
Kunwinjku: Yi-yawa bininj dja daluk nawu ngundi-bidyikarrme kun-wokken.