Bininj Kunwok pilot 2016

Bininj Kunwok pilot 2016

Pronunciation – vowels

Kunwinjku has 5 vowel sounds, written as a, e, i, o, u. But don’t be fooled into thinking they’re just like English vowels! In fact, English has around 20 different vowel sounds, but they’re written with the same 5 letters in various combinations.

Unlike English, Kunwinjku spelling is very consistent, so one letter corresponds to one sound only. Here are the 5 Kunwinjku vowel sounds with some examples for you to practise.

a similar to the sound in car, father, never like in cat or cake. The sound is the same the whole way through – don’t change the shape of your lips or the position of your tongue while you’re making it.


e similar to the vowel sound in English leg or head , or even like the English word air, but don’t let the shape of your mouth, or the position of the tongue change during the sound (i.e., it is a pure, long vowel )


TIP: an e at the end of the word doesn’t affect the preceding vowel, unlike English (think cap/cape or bit/bite). For example mankole (spear) has 3 syllables man-ko-le, and kore (at, to) has 2 syllables ko-re.

i similar to the ee in feet but a bit longer, and without changing the shape of lips or position of tongue. Sometimes it sounds like the English sound in bit or lip.


  • yiddok yiddok = not
  • yinang yinang = you saw (2sg)
  • kayime kayime = he says/does (something)

o similar to the English word or or awe. Never pronounced like in soap or cope but may sometimes sound like pot. Don’t change the shape of mouth or position of tongue when saying it, and remember it is a bit longer than an English vowel. If you speak English with an American accent, this might be more like the sound in thought, hawk or broad.


u similar to the vowel in English words push, book, and could, but never like in cut or flute. Say it with your lips puckered and hold the sound a bit longer without changing tongue or lip position.


TIP: Don’t be confused by the spelling of English words like but or cup – that would be the a sound in Kunwinjku, which is always spelled with ‘a’.

If you think you are hearing an ee sound in Kunwinjku write it as i .

If you are tempted to write oo in a Kunwinjku word, it should be u.

In the next unit we’ll look at combinations of vowels (diphthongs)


  • Listen to these examples or watch the following video and repeat the words after the speaker
  • Record yourself saying these words – if you do this a few times during the course you should notice improvement
  • Practise reading aloud this week’s reading and focus on the vowels.
  • If you have Bininj connections, practise these words with them

Text adapted from Etherington (1998) Kunwinjku Kunwok, pp27-33