This is a general appeal to anyone who knows a little bit of Kunwinjku, even just the basics. And it’s no use hiding, I know you exist. My question is: what are the nominal roots for ‘here’ and ‘there’?

I ask because the album I wrote about last week, Wurrurrumi Kun-Borrk, which jointly won the Northern Land Council’s 2007 Traditional Music Award (and can be bought online, by the way), includes extensive cultural and linguistic notes, such as the lyrics in Kunwinjku/Kuninjku¹ and their rough English translations. However, as I have been reading through the lyrics and translations several times while listening to it, I’ve noticed a small discrepancy.

Konda is translated in a few instances as ‘here’, ‘this way’ or roughly anything to do with the deictic centre, while kure is given as ‘there’, ‘that side’, etc. For instance:

Konda nuk ngandi-bawong
They have deserted me (I suspect this is literally ‘they have left me here’)

Kure karri-re
Let’s all go over there

But in other songs, konda and kure are translated as ‘there’ and ‘here’ respectively, exactly the opposite.

Kure-beh kam-re konda-beh ka-re
She comes and goes

Kurebeh yi-kolkmen kondabeh nga-kolkmen
You chop (with your axe) on this side and I’ll chop the other side

I don’t intend to criticise this album in the slightest, I think it’s a brilliant production, not only musically, but also culturally and linguistically. And I’m not just saying that because the producer is my boss, I really do like it. Murray Garde has done an excellent job with the cultural notes that accompany each song, which make listening to this album and reading the lyrics and the cultural background to each song a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Furthermore, Djimarr’s singing is almost transcendent, and the rhythm and metre of the clapsticks is quite metronomic (as even an innocent bystander remarked to me on the bus). I really don’t want to assume any mistakes have been made here, so I’ll allow for the possibility that Kunwinjku has some quirky deictic referentiality going on.

So, any ideas?


¹I’m not sure of the difference exactly. The notes in the CD’s front-matter suggest that Eastern Kunwinjku is the ‘language’ as such, and Kuninjku, also the name of Djimarr’s clan, is his particular lect.


I’ve just heard over email from Linda Barwick, that the CD by Kevin Djimirr, Wurrurruni Kun-Borrk: Songs from Western Arnhem Land, with extensive notes by Murray Garde, has just won, jointly with the Kembi dance group, the Northern Land Council’s 2007 Traditional Music Award.

I heard the CD when I got back to Sydney and I have to say (objectively of course) that it’s brilliant. An excellent production for which all involved should be proud. In case you’re interested, which you should be, the CD can be bought online from Sydney University Press for a mere 25 Australian dollars. It’s excellently packaged too, with very detailed anthropological and historical notes from Murray Garde, including both transcriptions in Kuninjku and English translations.

I don’t have a copy of the CD handy, so I can’t give an example of the poetry, but this excerpt from the SUP page should give you an inkling:

Unlike the totemic song genres of many other ceremonies in Arnhem Land, kun-borrk songs concentrate more on the episodic minutiae of human emotions, subtle physical movements of the body, conflicts, suspicions, and the gossip of interpersonal relationships. An examination of the song texts on this CD reveals an almost haiku-like poetic beauty. Small isolated incidents without any given context are presented in a few lines of a song.

Congratulations to Kevin, and to everyone involved.