Guugu Yimithirr Lesson 5

Slightly different endings meaning the same thing

We’ve learned that the ending –wi means “to”. We say

Johnnywi nambal wuwaa! – Give the money to Johnny!

But there is a variation. If the word we put the ending on ends in a vowel sound, the ending becomes –bi.

Johnnywi nambal wuwaa! – Give the money to Johnny!

Shannonbi nambal wuwaa! – Give the money to Shannon!

We have the two sentences

Johnnywi nambal wuwaa!


Shannonbi nambal wuwaa!

They mean the same thing, except the name of the person is different. The endings –wi and –bi mean the same thing, but we automatically change the ending to –bi if the word end in a consonant sound.

Practice adding endings

Think of people you know. Add the right form of the ending, –wi or –bi. Listen for the last sound of the name.

Janebi – The last sound is N, not E.

Hannahwi – The last sound is A, not H.

Did you know?

Linguists call variants of endings allomorphs. The endings –wi and –bi are allomorphs of the same thing.

“Owning something” and “receiving something” are both indicated with –wi / –bi

The ending -wi/-bi has more than one use. In the sentence

Shannonbi nambal wuwaa! (Give the money to Shannon!)

bi means “to”.

But in the sentence

Yiyi Shannonbi nambal (This is Shannon’s money)

bi means “belonging to”.

Did you know?

Linguists call the receiving case dative.

The owning case is called genitive.

Summary of what we’ve learned

We have learned two things about grammar:

  • Endings sometimes have variants, like –wi and –bi, but there’s no difference in meaning between –wi and –bi. So it’s really only one ending: –wi/bi.
  • The ending –wi/bi can mean that the person receives a given object or something belongs to that person.

New words to make sentences

Now we’ll learn some more words to make sentences. I previous lessons we said that we’ll try as to speak whole sentences as soon as possible.

Let’s learn “father”, “mother” and “child”, so we can talk about our families.

biiba – “father”

ngamu – “mother”


Ganggal means “somebody’s child”, as in “This is my child”, not a child in general. The word for a child in general is bitha.

Why don’t we immediately learn words for “daughter”, “son”, “grandmother” and so on?

Guugu Yimithirr has such a rich system of family words (kinship words) so we have to take a few words at a time.

In fact we already simplify when we say that ngamu means “mother”. Your mother’s younger sister is also your ngamu. And your father’s younger brother is your biiba!

biiba – father

ngamu – mother

ganggal – child

Speaking in sentences

We recall words such as:

ngayu – “I”

nhundu – “you” (one person)

ngathu – “my”

nhanu – “your” (one person)

Now we can say many new sentences, such as:

Ngayu nhanu ngamu.

Nhundu ngathu ganggal.

Practice this with your family when they are around.

More common nouns

Let’ learn just a few more nouns so we can make even more sentences:

Which pronoun to use when we talk about our family?

We use the ordinary ownership pronouns when we say “my father”, “my mother”, even though a family member isn’t an alienable possession.

bayan – house

muurruga – car

thaan – shirt Video coming soon!

tharrutha – trousers Video coming soon!

gawn – dress Video coming soon!

nambuurr – bed, blanket Video coming soon!

With the words we’ve learned we can say hundreds of correct sentences, such as:

Yiyi nganaa? – “What is this?”

Yiyi ngathu gaban – “That is my book”

Gaban biibawi wuwaa! – “Give the book to Dad!”

Nhayun ngamuwi muurruga – “That is Mum’s car”

Nhayun Shannonbi thaan – “That is Shannon’s shirt”

Ngayu nhanu ngamu – “I am your mother”


We increase our ability to talk about our home by learning words for family members and common objects.


biiba – “father”

ngamu – “mother”

ganggal – “child”

bayan – “house”

muurruga – “car”

thaan – “shirt”

tharrutha – “trousers”

gawn – “dress”

nambuurr – “bed, blanket”


One ending can take different forms. The ending –wi/-bi is one ending, but it has two different forms.

The –wi/-bi can mean:

  • belonging to the word (often a person) with the ending: Johnnywi nambal (“Johnny’s money”)
  • the word with the ending (naturally a person) receives a object: Johnnywi nambal wuwaa! (“Give the money to Johnny!”)


Now go to the Quizlet web site to practice what you learned in this lesson:

Quizlet Lesson 5

Free word order

Remember that word order is quite free. Nambal shannonbi wuwaa! and Wuwaa nambal Shannonbi! are both right.