Skip to main content

Your free what's on guide to the NT

Language with a Local - August

Have you ever tried to say an Aboriginal word, perhaps a place name, and kind of felt that you weren’t saying it properly? 

By Emily Tyaemaen Ford 

Aboriginal languages use the Latin Script (you know, A, B, C, D, etc.) just like English, Spanish, French, and a whole lot of other languages. Although they all use the same alphabet, there are different spelling rules.

The same goes for Aboriginal languages. They may have some similarities, but there are distinct differences in how you would say a word in English versus another language. Here are some pointers to help you get started.

Try sounding out the example words slowly to hear the specific sounds. 

5 Quick Tips to Pronouncing Aboriginal Languages

ng – pronounced like the -ng in “swing”, “English” or “bling”.  It can also be written like “ŋ”

rr – pronounced like the -tt in “butter” said in an Aussie accent (think “budda”, not “butta”)

ny – pronounced like the -ny in “Sonya” or the first -n in “onion”. Not like -ny like in “pony”

a – pronounced like the -a in “far”. Not like -a in “cat” or “late”

u – this one is a bit tricky as it may be pronounced like the -u in“tutu” or the -u in “gun”. 

A little bit confused? Don’t worry – these are just some tips to hopefully give you a better idea of how to pronounce Aboriginal words like a pro. 

There are a whole lot of other rules to spelling, as with any language, but no one expects you to pronounce everything perfectly. People appreciate it when you put in the effort to try and say some-thing in their language correctly. When people say something in my language, even if it sounds accented – forget day – it makes my whole month! And people have accents in every language, so don’t sweat it too much and give it a go.

Try giving these words a go: Jingili (ng), Marrara (rr), Leanyer (ny)

Emily Tyaemaen Ford is a Rak Mak Mak Marranunggu woman from Kurrindju, who speaks two languages - Rak Mak Mak Marranunggu and Rak Marrithiyel. She is on the City of Darwin Youth Advisory Committee and works in Indigenous research at Northern Institue.

Advertisement: Darwin Fringe 2024