Yolngu Matha pronunciation2018-02-21T09:33:45+00:00

How to pronounce letters in Yolŋu Matha

 

Northeast Arnhem Land, the home of the yidaki

Northeast Arnhem Land, the home of the Yolŋu people

We would like to give a short introduction into the pronunciation of some of the sounds that you can see on our website (also the ones, that you can see when you reading about the didgeridoo of Notheast Arnhem Land). The Aboriginal people of Australia had hundreds of languages before the colonisation, many of them are still spoken. Their cultural and historical traditions had been passed down by the world of mouth without any written instruction. From the early 20th century a few methods had been developed by different Australian linguists to write down the Aboriginal languages.

The Aboriginal people of Northeast and East Arnhem Land speak many languages; all of these belong to a large group, called Yolŋu Matha (Yolŋu means people or person, Matha means tongue). The Yolŋu languages are spoken by different distinctive and closely related clan groups, each of them have their own cultural and ceremonial traditions. Yolŋu Matha is using sounds that are different from the sounds used in English language. To be able to write these sounds down, phonemes were introduced by a pioneer linguist Beulah Lowe, who was working in Arnhem Land during the `50s and `70s. Each phoneme has a written form, made by one or two letters; to learn how to write and pronounce these phonemes is the key to be able to pronounce the Yolŋu Matha worlds.

On this website, we try to follow the correct written form of Yolŋu Matha in order to learn to pronounce the words and names properly. Here is a brief overview of some of the different written sounds used by Yolŋu languages, unusual for an English speaker. For the full list of phonemes see our Resources link.

Ä ä – long `a`, similar to the `a` in `star` or `father` / bäpurru – clan group or funeral

Ḏ ḏ – voiced retroflexed sound with a `d`, the tip of the tongue turned back, the bottom touches the roof of the mouth; you might hear an `r` sound before the `l` because of the similar tongue position between the two sounds; we do not roll the sound / yiḏaki – didgeridoo, maḏayin` – sacred.

Dh dh – interdental nasal sound, the tip of the tongue is between the front teeth; `h` is not pronounced, it is a silent letter as you are saying `do` with the tip of the tongue is between the front teeth  /  dhäwu – story

Dj dj – alveodental sound, the blade of the tongue pushed forward up, the tip of the tongue behind the bottom teeth  / djäma – work

Ḻ  ḻ – called the retroflexed `l`; the tip of the tongue turned back, the bottom touches the roof of the mouth; you might hear an `r` sound before the `l` because of the similar tongue position between the two sounds; we do not roll the sound  / buḻ`yun` – play

Rr rr – rolled `r` / rrupiya – money

Ṉ ṉ ; retroflexed `n`, the tip of the tongue turned back, the bottom touches the roof of the mouth; you might hear an `r` sound before the `l` because of the similar tongue position between the two sounds; we do not roll the sound  / ŋäṉḏi – mother

Nh, nh – interdental nasal sound, the tip of the tongue is between the front teeth, `h` is not pronounced, it is a silent letter  / wanha – where

Ŋ ŋ – the tailed `n`, sometimes written as `ng`, sound similar to the `ng` in `sing`, `song`, long `..etc. `

Ny ny – alveodental sound, the blade of the tongue pushed forward up, the tip of the tongue behind the bottom teeth, similar to `n` in `new` /  manymak – good, ok, right

Ṯ ṯ –  voiced retroflexed sound with a `t`, the tip of the tongue turned back, the bottom touches the roof of the mouth; you might hear an `r` sound before the `t` because of the similar tongue position between the two sounds; we do not roll the sound  / gurruṯu – kin

Th th –  interdental nasal sound, the tip of the tongue is between the front teeth, `h` is not pronounced, it is a silent letter (not like in `this`)  / matha – tongue

Tj tj – alveodental sound, the blade of the tongue pushed forward up, the tip of the tongue behind the bottom teeth  / miny`tji – colour, design

– glottal stop. It is a voiceless sound, although as important as any other sounds in the Yolŋu languages. The airflow from the mouth is stopped by closing of the vocal cords. One of the best ways to try this sound is saying “m’m” when you are indicating “no”. The glottal stop can change the meaning of a word / goḏarr’ – morning.

 

If you would like to use the fonts used in Yolŋu Matha, you can download the Yolŋu keyboard from here.