Bininj Kunwok pilot 2016

Bininj Kunwok pilot 2016

Cultural information

Learning how to talk to and about family members

Bininj kinship and its terminology appears to be very complex to outsiders, but of course is very natural to Bininj. This unit will introduce some useful terms, but there are many more that can be learned.

The material presented here is somewhat simplified to make it manageable to learn. Because of this, and because of variations in how different families use kin terms, the Kunwinjku speakers you know may not completely agree with what you see in these lessons. As with everything, always follow the advice of speakers you know, which overrides anything in these lessons.

We’ll start with a “nuclear family” for the sake of simplicity, with a father (nakornkumo), mother (ngalbadjan) and siblings. Of course, for Bininj family is much wider than that, so the nuclear family is much less important than in mainstream Australian culture.

Skin groups and family members

In the previous unit we introduced the idea of skin names, which are determined at birth by the mother’s skin group. Here we will look at how these names are connected within an immediate family. You should be able to expand this to further generations. Here’s the skin group chart as a reminder.

(Note the following assumes people marry the “right way”, which  isn’t always the case)

You will find it helpful to refer to the skin groups chart from Unit 1 as you watch these two videos. In particular follow the arrows from mother to her offspring and between potential marriage partners.


The video will help explain how to use the chart, based on particular skin groups, one female (Ngalkangila) and one male (Nabulanj). In the first video, a woman describes the skin names of her immediate family members.

As you watch the videos, see if you can work out the skin names of your immediate family using the chart. [Sorry about the spelling error – it should be birri-danginj not *birrirranginj]

In the second video,* a man describes the skin names of his immediate family members.

If you know someone’s skin name, you can predict their brother’s and sisters’ skin names and their mother’s. You can also narrow down their father’s skin name to two possibilities (assuming right-way marriage). Make sure you know how to do this using the chart before finishing this unit. It will help you to predict the skin names of Bininj you associate with, and they will appreciate it.

Test how much you’ve learnt by attempting this quiz on Skin and family names [WpProQuiz 5]

Learning terms of address

IMPORTANT DISTINCTION: There is a difference between terms of address (what people call each other – these are sometimes just called kin terms), and terms of reference (which people use when talking about someone else).

(A comparison in English would be to say that ‘father’ is a term of reference and ‘dad’ or ‘daddy’ is a term of address.)

These videos use a very simple family tree to demonstrate what different family members call each other, from the perspective of a male (bininj) and a female (daluk). Note that both would call their parents by the same name, but there are differences between what a man or a woman would call their siblings (however there is variation between speakers).

As you watch the videos,* think about what you would call your immediate family members.


Quiz – test how much you’ve learnt by attempting this quiz on Family matters

Brothers and sisters

Another interesting aspect of Bininj life (which is similar in many other Indigenous communities in Australia) is the strict rules about brothers and sisters.  Listen to Cheryl Garnarradj and Frank Nadjalaburnburn explain this.

They talk about Kunbalak language, which is a particular register used when talking to or about or in the presence of people in a particular relationship of avoidance or respect. If you want to learn more about this special language, there is a book available:

Manakgu, A, Etherington S, and Etherington N. (1996). Kunbalak: Stories for Kunwinjku young people in mother-in-law language, ordinary Kunwinjku and English. Kunwinjku Language Centre, Kunbarllanjnja.

Talking about family is one of the most complex aspects of learning any Indigenous language, but also probably the most important. You will most likely need to revisit these concepts many times before you fully understand them. If you persist in you will have climbed a small but important hill on your way to grasping Bininj kinship which will surprise and delight your Bininj friends and colleagues. So it’s worth persisting!


Sorry about the two spelling errors – it should be birri-danginj not *birrirranginj, and djedje not *djede.