Lesson 1 – Sounds and Spelling

The Lower Arrernte alphabet has 32 letters and is quite different to the English alphabet. You’ll need to learn the sound that each letter stands for in order to accurately pronounce the Lower Arrernte language.

Here is the Lower Arrernte alphabet:

a e g h i k kng l lh ly m n ng nh ny p pm r rn rt rtn rl rr t th tn tnh tny ty u w y


Sounds represented by a single letter

l, m, n, w

these sounds are just like the English counterparts like the ‘l’ in love, ‘m’ in mad, ‘n’ as in ‘another’ and the ‘w’ just like ‘away’

try saying:

Lower Arrernte
English
aleme
liver
amenge
fly (insect)
anatye
yam
aweme
hearing, understanding

k, p, t

the ‘k’, ‘p’ and ‘t’ sounds are similar to the English corresponding sounds, but also sound a bit like ‘g’, ‘b’ and ‘d’, especially after another consonant. 

try saying:

akenye
soakage
amperte
a type of cloud, fleecy and white
atetherre
budgerigar

h

Australian English does not have this sound. It is similar to the ‘ch’ in the Scottish word ‘loch’, or in the exclamation of disgust ‘ugh’.
try saying:

ahakeye
wild plum
ihelhe
ground, sand

y

as in the ‘y’ in yacht. Never like baby or try.

try saying:

arleye
emu
ayerrere
east

e

this sound is the most relaxed position for your mouth to be in. It usually happens in Australian English at the end of words like water, which usually sounds a bit like ‘wodeh’. The sound ‘e’ in Lower Arrernte is often influenced by the sounds that come before and after, and so it can sometimes sound more like the ‘ee’ in bee. When it follows a ‘kw’ or a ‘pw’ it sounds more like the ‘oo’ in foot.
try saying:

ilepe
axe
akateye
type of spear
arrkwetye
woman

i

As in hit or bee. Never like bite or idle.
Try saying:

ingke
foot, toes, footprint
amirre
woomera

u

As in put or soot. Never like plum or unit or urgent or flute.
Try saying:

alturle
north
arlputye
ringneck parrot

Sounds that are represented by two or three letters

In Lower Arrernte, some sounds are represented by two letters, like ‘ch’ or ‘th’ in English. When these letters appear together, they are always pronounced as one sound. For example ‘ly’ together will always sound like the ‘ll’ in million and will never sound like bully. So when you’re reading Lower Arrernte, always keep an eye out for these pairs of letters.


th, nh, lh

These sounds are made by pushing your tongue on or between your front teeth. Linguists call these sounds interdental sounds.


th

Try saying English ‘t’ but with your tongue pushing against the place where your top and bottom teeth meet at the front of your mouth. This is not like English ‘th’, it is a much harder sound.

athenge
ironwood tree
ipmethe
mirage

nh

these two letters sound like a ‘n’ in English under, but you need to put the tip of your tongue between your front teeth while you are saying the ‘n’, to slightly change the sound of it.

antenhe
possum
anhere
damp, moist

lh

Try saying English ‘l’ but with your tongue pushing against the place where your top and bottom teeth meet at the front of your mouth:

alhingke
a type of snake
ihelhe
ground, sand

ty, ny, ly

These sounds are made by pushing the blade of your tongue against the top of your mouth, your palate, while you make the sound. Linguists call these sounds palatal sounds.


ty

Try saying English ‘t’ but instead of putting the tip of your tongue on the ridge behind your teeth, put the middle part of your tongue against the roof of your mouth. This should sound a little bit like the ‘ch’ in church, but softer. It never sounds like the ‘ty’ in batty.

kwatye
water
atyelpe
native cat

ny

Try saying English ‘n’ but instead of putting the tip of your tongue on the ridge behind your teeth, put the middle part of your tongue against the roof of your mouth. This should sound a little bit like the ‘nio’ in onion or minion, never like tiny or bunny.

anye
louse
alenye
tongue

ly

Try saying English ‘l’ but instead of putting the tip of your tongue on the ridge behind your teeth, put the middle part of your tongue against the roof of your mouth. This should sound a little bit like the ‘lio’ in million, never like widely or weekly.

ilyentye
galah
kwerralye
Seven Sisters constellation

rt, rn, rl

These sounds are made by curling your tongue back in your mouth and touching the roof of your mouth with the bottom of your tongue. Linguists call these sounds retroflex sounds.


rt

Try saying English ‘t’ but instead of putting the tip of your tongue on the ridge behind your teeth, curl your tongue backwards, with the tip pointing towards the back of your mouth. This might sound a bit like the American English pronunciation of the ‘rt’ in cart.

ankerte
bearded dragon
arturte
round, spherical

rn

Try saying English ‘n’ but instead of putting the tip of your tongue on the ridge behind your teeth, curl your tongue backwards, with the tip pointing towards the back of your mouth. This might sound a bit like the American English pronunciation of the ‘rn’ in barn.

arntepe
bronzewing pigeon
arlpamerne
type of bush, possibly roly-poly bush

rl

Try saying English ‘l’ but instead of putting the tip of your tongue on the ridge behind your teeth, curl your tongue backwards, with the tip pointing towards the back of your mouth. This might sound a bit like the American English pronunciation of the ‘rl’ in curl.

arliwe
south
arurle
stick, tree

ng

This sound is like the English singing or bringing, never like finger or anger.
Try saying:

ingwele
at night
inenge
chest

Unlike English, Lower Arrernte allows this sound to begin a word. This can be very difficult for English speakers, and the best way to get better at it is to practice.

Try saying:

ngerrempe
foot
ngarlte
charcoal

r, rr

There are two kinds of ‘r’ sound in Lower Arrernte. The first, represented by a single ‘r’, is very similar to the English pronunciation, like in courage or bring.

Try saying:

aremaye
sand goanna
kere
meat

rr

The second, represented by ‘rr’, is a tap or trill, which occurs in languages like Spanish. Try tapping the tip of your tongue quickly on the ridge behind your top front teeth. We make this sound in English in words like butter if you are talking fast.
Try saying:

arrakerte
mouth
amiwarre
the Milky Way

Sometimes, if you’re an English speaker, it’s difficult to hear the difference between ‘r’ and ‘rr’. Try listening to the difference between them in these two words:

iwerre
path, road
iwere
desert bandicoot

The following words have both ‘r’ and ‘rr’, in them. Have a listen and see if you can pick them:

ayerrere
east
kerarrek-arreke
a devastating flood

Unusual sound combinations

pm, tn

These sounds occur in English in words like topmost or chutney. This feature is called ‘pre-stopping’. Unlike English, however, Lower Arrernte allows these kinds of sounds at the beginning of the word, which can be difficult for English speakers.

ipmethe
mirage
pmere
place, camp, home, house
arrutne
chin

kng, tnh, tny, rtn

These are all one sound represented by three letters. It is where the ‘pre-stopping’ feature is combined with another sound that is already represented by two letters (see above).
Try saying:

akngerrtye
big, old, plenty, very
atnyere
supplejack plant
antepirtne
bony bream
ahutnhirrem
fighting

kw, pw, tw

These are called ‘rounded consonants’ because they are formed by rounding your lips and closing them slightly while you make the sound. Try saying English ‘p’, ‘k’ or ‘t’ but at the same time tightening your lips to form a circle. This rounding changes the following sound, usually an ‘e’ (see above).

atwakeye
wild orange
kwatye
water
urlilpatwenhe
a kind of hawk

Spelling notes

If two retroflex (rt, rn, rl), dental (th, nh, lh), or palatal (ty, ny, ly) sounds occur together, we leave off the extra ‘r’, ‘h’, or ‘y’. This keeps things simple, and stops words from becoming really long and scary looking.
For example:

urnterreme (rnt not rnrt)
being cheeky or mean
antherrtye (nth not nhth)
mountain range
antyipere (nty not nyty)
bat

In English, we have many sounds that are represented by the letter combination ng. For example, try saying the words singer, anger and hinge out loud, and see if you can hear the different ng sounds in them. In Lower Arrernte, we have a very specific ways of spelling all these different sounds. Once you learn the letter combinations, you should always be able to know which sound they represent, not like English spelling!

ng – always like singer, never like finger.

Try saying:

apenge
men's carrying bag

ngk – always somewhere between finger and thinker, never like singer.

Try saying:

ingke
foot, track

nng – we don’t really have this sound in English.

Try saying:

annge
chest

nk – we don’t really have this sound in English.

Try saying:

ankerre
coolibah tree
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