Singing the Land, Signing the Land

Yolngu matha orthography and pronunciation

Yolngu matha translates literally as 'the tongue of the Yolngu people', It is a generic term describing the sixteen mutually intelligible clan languages of the Laynhapuy region of NE Arnhemland. In this text three of those clan languages have been used: Gumatj, Rirrutjiŋu and Wangurri.

The orthography used to write Yolngu matha differs from the orthography used for English since many of the sounds found in Yolngu matha are not found in English. In pronouncing words in Yolngu matha the emphasis is always on the first syllable. The following sounds are represented by letters in Yolngu matha.

vowel sounds

a - as in mud
ä - as in far
e - as in feet
i - as in tin
o - as in pore
u - as in put

consonant sounds

b - as in boy
d - as in dog
ḏ - retroflexed: retroflexed sounds are pronounced while the tip of the tongue curls back to roof of mouth
dh - pronounced with the tip of the tongue between the teeth
dj - pronounced with tip of lOngue curled behind lower teeth and top of tongue touching palate
g - as in ragged
k - as in bucket
l - as in lump
ḻ - retroflexed
m - as in man
n - as in net
ṉ - retroflexed
nh - 'n' with tongue between teeth
ny - 'n' with tongue curled behind lower teeth
ŋ - as in singing
p - as in rapid
r - as in the American pronunciation of car with tongue retroflexed
rr - rolled sound common in Scottish pronunciation
t - as in tar
ṯ - retroflexed
th - 't' with tip of tongue between teeth
tj - 't' with tip of tongue curled around behind lower teeth
w - as in way
y - as in yellow
‘ - apostrophe: indicates a stop in a word.

This list is taken from Raymatja Munuŋgiritj & Trevor Stockly, Yolngu matha: an introduction to Gumatj and related languages in NE Arnhemland, Yirrkala Community School Literature Production Centre, Yirrkala, NT, 1985.

Next page