Spelling

Like many other Australian Aboriginal languages, Jiwarli has six vowel sounds. Three of these are short and written: i, u, a. Three are long and written iiuu, aa

i has the sound of ee in ‘see’
a has the sound of u in ‘cut’
u has the sound of oo in ‘too’

The long versions of each vowel are simply written double:

ii as in piilura ‘dove’
aa as in maatha ‘boss’
uu as in nguu ‘face’

There are 20 consonants, some of which are written with two letters together:
k, jl, lh, ly, m, n, ng, nh, ny, p, r, rr, rl, rn, rt, t, th, w, y.

The sounds written with two letters have the following values:

  • for lh, nh and th the h indicates that the tip of the tongue is placed between the teeth, so pronounce lh like l but with the tongue tip between the teeth, the same for nh and th — do not pronounce th like English ‘th’ in ‘thing’ or in ‘this’. The Jiwarli sound does not have the noisy friction of the English sound
  • for jly, and ny  the body of the tongue is raised towards the hard palate, adding a palatal ‘y’ to the consonant. Jiwarli ny sounds similar to Italian gn in signora ‘Mrs’ or gnocchi ‘a kind of stuffed pasta’, or like Spanish ñ as in señor ‘Mr.
  • for rl, rn and rt the r indicates that the tip of the tongue is raised and curled backwards to produce what are called ‘retroflex’ sounds. You can approximate this by producing an American English ‘r’ plus ‘l’ or ‘n’ or ‘t’
  • the combination ng represents a single sound, like English ‘ng’ at the end of ‘sing’. In Jiwarli it can also occur at the beginning of words, as in ngatha ‘I’, which can be difficult for English speakers to master. Do not pronounce ng at the beginning of a word like plain ‘n’ as this will be incorrect and cause confusion.

Jiwarli has two r-sounds: a glide r with the tongue tip turned back, similar to an American ‘r’, and a second sound written rr that varies between a short flap r (pronounced very quickly, like the ‘d’ in the middle of Australian English words), and a strongly rolled rr pronounced like a Scottish ‘r’. The difference between the ‘r’s’ is important for meaning.

Jiwarli has five n-sounds: n, nh, ny, ng and rn, and four l-sounds: l, lh, ly, and rl. Again, the differences between these sounds are important for meaning.

All words in Jiwarli must end in a vowel, and all words begin with one and only one consonant. In general, stress (emphasis) falls on the first vowel of a word. So, for example, we have the word mantharta ‘person’ which is pronounced as man-tha-rta with stress on the first syllable man. Do not put emphasis on later syllables as this sounds very unnatural in Jiwarli (in English we might be tempted to pronounce this word as man-tha-rta, but if you pronounce it this way it would sound very strange to someone who speaks Jiwarli).

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