Kaurna Warra Pintyanthi
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Revised Kaurna Spelling System (adopted 2010)

The Kaurna Sound System

The Kaurna sound system is similar to that of most other Australian Indigenous languages. Kaurna has 21 distinctive consonant sounds, or 29 if we consider the pre-stopped nasals and laterals as single sounds.

Kaurna Consonants:




Place of Articulation

















Prestopped Nasals













Prestopped laterals










































Interdental (th, nh, lh), Alveolar (t, n, l) and Retroflex Consonants (rt, rn, rl)

It can be difficult for speakers of English to distinguish between interdental, alveolar and retroflex consonants. Indeed, most early observers of Kaurna did not adequately distinguish between them (often using t for th, t and rt; n for nh, n and rn; and l for lh, l and rl). Nonetheless, the difference between these sounds is important.

Pronunciation Interndental
Kaurna Pronunciation Alveolar Pronunciation Retroflex 
The difference between the Kaurna words for ‘belly’ /munhthu/ and
‘anus’ /murnrtu/ is the difference between interdental and retroflex consonants.
(tongue between the teeth)
(tongue on the alveolar ridge)
(tongue tip curled back)

In a cluster /rlrt/ as in /pirlrta/ ‘brushtail possum’ we write the r only once (ie pirlta ‘brushtail possum’). Similarly for the interdental cluster in /mudhlha/ ‘nose’ we write the h only once (ie mudlha ‘nose’). The presence of the r or h indicates that the whole consonant cluster is retroflex or interdental.

Stops (p, th, t, rt, ty and k)

Stops are sounds that do not allow any air to pass out from the mouth or nose. Kaurna makes no distinction between voiced and voiceless stops; that is between b and p; d and t; or g and k. The actual sound might vary somewhere between the two. Sometimes the same observer recorded the same word with p and at other times with b, etc.

Nasals (m, nh, n, rn, ny and ng)

For every stop in Kaurna there is a corresponding nasal consonant. The ng sound at the beginning of words and syllables in Kaurna is often difficult for speakers of English to pronounce, only because it does not occur at the beginning of a word or syllable in English.

Pre-stopped Nasals

Kaurna has a series of pre-stopped nasals that pattern as single consonants and these are written using the letter d before the nasal (ie dnh, dn, rdn, dny). They are not simply a sequence of d + nh or d + n etc. Rather they are a single sound in the same way that sh in English is a single sound, not simply an s followed by an h.

Laterals (lh, l, rl and ly)

English has just one distinctive l-sound, whilst Kaurna has four. Each l-sound corresponds to a stop and a nasal produced in the same place in the mouth.

Pre-stopped Laterals

Kaurna has a series of pre-stopped laterals that pattern as single consonants and these are written using the letter d before the lateral (ie dlh, dl, rdl, dly). They are not simply a sequence of d + lh or d + l etc. Rather they are a single sound in the same way that sh in English is a single sound, not simply an s followed by an h.

Rhotics (rr, rd and r)

Whilst English has just one distinctive r-sound, Kaurna has three separate r-sounds. One is a trill (rr), as in Scottish, Indonesian or Italian. Another is a short tap (rd), rather like the tt sound in ‘butter it’ when we say it quickly. The third glide (r) is familiar since we regularly produce this sound in Australian English as in ‘run’ or ‘curry’. Note that the tap rd has nothing to do with the letters rd in the retroflex prestopped nasal (rdn) or the retroflex prestopped lateral (rdl) where it only indicates the position of the tongue in the retroflex clusters.

Semivowels (w and y)

These are unproblematic. They are the same as w and y in English. A great many Kaurna words commence with these consonants.


Kaurna Vowels

Kaurna, like many other Aboriginal languages, has a small number of vowels in comparison with English. Kaurna vowels are identical to Pitjantjatjara vowels. There are just three short vowels (i, a and u), though the pronunciation of each may vary a little. Each vowel has a long counterpart (ii, aa and uu), which is used infrequently and only ever appears in the first syllable of a word. In addition, there are three diphthongs or vowel combinations (ai, au and ui).

Kaurna Vowels


How to pronounce these vowels?

a as in the English words: mama, papa, visa or Maori haka
i as in the English words: bit, pit, sit
u as in the English words: put, butcher
aa as in the English words: father, Bart,
ii as in the English words: tea, key, ski
uu similar to the vowel in the English words: cooler, flu, Sue
ai as in the English words: pie, spy, chai
au as in the English words: power, town, Maui
ui similar to the vowel in the English word: boy



You should always stress the first syllable of Kaurna words. In longer words, there is primary stress on the first syllable and secondary stress on the third syllable, as in Wárripàringga (the place name). Stress is not normally written in Kaurna because it is predictable.


In all languages there are some constraints on where certain sounds may occur in a word. There are even more constraints in Kaurna than in English. All Kaurna words must end in a vowel, and probably all Kaurna words begin with a consonant, despite the fact that some words were written by T&S with an initial i, as in ipiti ‘orphan’. These words probably actually begin with a y. In any case, Kaurna words never begin with u or a.

Kaurna words never begin with r, l, ty or ny. If Kaurna phonotactics are the same as Nukunu, then every time a word begins with a t or n, it is an interdental th or nh. As a result of these constraints, Kaurna words can only begin with the following eight distinctive sounds:

p, t, k, m, nh, ng, w and y


Vowel-initial Suffixes

Some endings in Kaurna commence with a vowel (eg –ana ‘towards’). When the suffix commences with a vowel a hyphen is inserted between the word and the suffix. If it starts with a consonant, no hyphen appears. For example:

    wardlingka ‘in the house’
    wardli-ana ‘to the house’
    wardlinangku ‘from the house’ OR wardli-unangku ‘from the house’
    wardli-arra ‘through the house’
    wardli-ityangka ‘in the vicinity of the house’

Bound Pronouns

There are both free independent pronouns and reduced pronoun suffixes or bound pronouns in Kaurna.  When a bound pronoun is used, an apostrophe appears between the word and the bound pronoun as in:

    padni’adli ‘let’s go’ (cf ngadli ‘us two’)
    taityu’ai ‘I’m hungry’ (cf ngai ‘I’)

Kaurna Personal Names

Many Kaurna people have adopted Kaurna names before the spelling reforms were introduced. Names are a matter of personal choice. Many have kept the old T&S spellings in their names whilst others have adopted the revised spellings.


Kaurna placenames appear with a wide variety of spellings, ranging from gross corruptions such as Onkaparinga to Ngangkiparingga. The KWP committee decided to retain the T&S spellings for the Locative suffixes in placenames. That is –ngga and –illa rather than  -ngka and –ila which appear on common nouns. So the Onkaparinga is spelt Ngangkiparingga, using the –ngga location ending, but in the sentence Yuku paringka. ‘The boat is in the river’ the regular –ngka spelling is used. Similarly Cowandilla will be spelt Kauwantilla, but in the sentence Ernabella kauwantila, ‘Ernabella is in the north’, a single l is used in the location suffix –ila, though it is really the same word. Remember, whenever you use a capital letter (for a proper name) use the –ngga and –illa forms. Otherwise use –ngka and –ila.