Bininj Gun-Wok

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Bininj Gun-Wok
Bininj Kunwok
Native toAustralia
RegionNorthern Territory
EthnicityBininj (Gunwinggu etc.)
Native speakers
1,702 (2016 census)[1]
  • Kune
  • Mayali
  • Kunwinjku
  • Kuninjku
  • Kundjeyhmi
  • Kundedjnjenghmi
Language codes
ISO 639-3gup
AIATSIS[2]N186 Bininj Gun-wok
ELPBininj Gun-wok

Bininj Gun-Wok (Bininj Gunwok, Bininj Kunwok, Bininj Kun-Wok, Kunwinjkuan) is an Australian Aboriginal language group which includes six dialects: Kunwinjku (Gunwinggu or Gunwinjgu), Kuninjku, Kundjeyhmi (formerly Gundjeihmi), Manyallaluk Mayali (Mayali), Kundedjnjenghmi, and two varieties of Kune ( Kune Dulerayek and Kune Narayek). Kunwinjku is the dominant dialect, and also sometimes used to refer to the group.

The Aboriginal people who speak the dialects are the Bininj people, who 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.

Dialects and naming[edit]

Evans (2003), who introduced the cover term "Bininj Gunwok for all dialects, identifies six dialects: Kunwinjku, Kuninjku, Gundjeihmi (now Kundjeyhmi[3]), Manyallaluk Mayali, Kundedjnjenghmi, and two varieties of Kune most commonly known as Kune Dulerayek and Kune Narayek; based on the fact that[4]

  • 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.

As of June 2015, the Gundjeihmi dialect group officially adopted standard Kunwinjku orthography, meaning it would in future be spelt "Kundjeyhmi".[3]

As of 2020, AUSTLANG, under the title "N186: Bininj Gun-Wok / Bininj Kunwok", cites Evans' grouping, but adds that others have used Kunwinjku as the equivalent of Bininj Gun-wok (Dixon 2002). It also notes that Mayali has also sometimes been used in the same way.[5]

As of 2020, only three of the 12 original languages spoken in the Kakadu area are regularly spoken: Kundjeyhmi, Kunwinjku and Jawoyn. Kundjeyhmi and Kunwinjku are regarded as dialects of each other, while Jawoyn is a separate language spoken in the southern areas.[6]

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. Kundjeyhmi is spoken in the central part of Kakadu.[citation needed]


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.[7]

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 ɻ
Approximant w j

Vowel inventory[edit]

Front Central Back
High i u
Mid e o
Low a


Kunwinjku is polysynthetic, with grammatical relations largely encoded within the complex verb. The verb carries obligatory polypersonal agreement, a number of derivational affixes (including benefactive, comitative, reflexive/reciprocal and TAM-morphology) and has an impressive potential for incorporation of both nouns and verbs.

Nominals seem to have a lesser role in the language's grammar. Kunwinjku dialect preserved four noun classes but lost the core case marking on the nouns, and a handful of semantic cases are optional. Kune and Manyallaluk Mayali dialects have an optional ergative marker -yih. Nominals have extensive derivational morphology and compounding.


Morphology is mainly agglutinating, with fusion zones at the edges of the word.


Kunwinjku shows syntactic patterns characteristic of 'non-configurational' languages: nominal modifiers can appear without the N head (typical of many Australian languages), there is no rigid order within the 'nominal group', and the distinction between predicative and argumental use of nominals is hard to make.[8]


  1. ^ "North-West Arnhem: 2016 Quick-Stats". Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 27 October 2017.
  2. ^ N186 Bininj Gun-wok at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  3. ^ a b "Orthography— how to write words". Bininj Gunwok. Kunwinjku Language Project. Retrieved 1 October 2015.
  4. ^ Evans 2003
  5. ^ "N186: BININJ GUN-WOK / BININJ KUNWOK". AIATSIS Collection: AUSTLANG. 26 July 2019. Retrieved 19 February 2020.
  6. ^ "Language". Parks Australia. Retrieved 19 February 2020.
  7. ^ Evans 2003, chapter 2
  8. ^ Evans 2003, chapter 6

Further reading[edit]