Gunwinggu language

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Bininj Gunwok
Native to Australia
Region Northern Territory
Native speakers
920  (2006 census)[1]
to 2,000 (2003)[2]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 gup
Glottolog gunw1252[3]
AIATSIS[4] N186*, N65, N44

Kunwinjku (Gunwinggu or Gunwinjgu), also known as Bininj Gunwok[2] or Mayali, is an Australian Aboriginal language in northern Australia. Speakers live primarily in western Arnhem Land. There are perhaps two thousand fluent speakers in an area roughly bounded by Kakadu National Park to the west, the Arafura Sea to the north, the Blyth River to the east, and the Katherine region to the south.


Kunwinjku is spoken in the largest population centre, the township of Gunbalanya and is the most widespread, with an ethnic population of around 900, almost all of whom speak Kunwinjku in spite of increasing exposure to English.

Evans identifies six dialects: Kunwinjku, Kuninjku, Gundjeihmi, Manyallaluk Mayali, Kundedjnjenghmi, and two varieties of Kune most commonly known as Kune Dulerayek and Kune Narayek; based on the fact that

  • the phonology, grammar and lexicon of these dialects share significant clusterings of properties
  • these distinctions are recognised, at least by the relevant group and its neighbours, by the use of distinct language names.[2]

He introduced the cover term Bininj Gunwok for all dialects.


Kunwinjku is typical of the languages of central Arnhem Land (and contrasts with most other Australian languages) in having a phonemic glottal stop, two stop series (short and long), five vowels without a length contrast, relatively complex consonant clusters in codas (though only single-consonant onsets) and no essential distinction between word and syllable phonotactics.[2]

Consonant inventory[edit]

Peripheral Laminal Apical Glottal
Bilabial Velar Postalveolar Alveolar Retroflex
Lenis stop p k c t ʈ ʔ
Fortis stop ʈː
Nasal m ŋ ɲ n ɳ
Lateral l ɭ
Rhotic r ɹ
Approximant w j

Vowel inventory[edit]

Front Central Back
High i u
Mid e o
Low a

Further reading[edit]

Evans, Nicholas. 2003. Bininj Gun-Wok: a pan-dialectal grammar of Mayali, Kunwinjku and Kune: Pacific Linguistics 541, Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.

Carroll, Peter J. 1976. Kunwinjku: a language of Western Arnhem Land. MA Thesis, Australian National University, Canberra.

Etherington, S., & Etherington, N. 1996. Kunwinjku Kunwok: a short introduction to Kunwinjku language and society, 2nd ed. Kunwinjku Language Centre: Kunwinjku Language Centre.

Oates, Lyn F. 1964. A tentative description of the Gunwinggu language (of western Arnhem Land). Sydney: Oceania Linguistic Monographs.


  1. ^ AUSTLANG. The 1996 census recorded 1,410 speakers.
  2. ^ a b c d Evans (2003) Bininj Gun-wok: a pan-dialectal grammar of Mayali, Kunwinjku and Kune. (2 vols). Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
  3. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Gunwinggu". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  4. ^ Kunwinjku at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies  (see the info box for additional links)