Like many other Australian Aboriginal languages, Yinggarda has just three vowel sounds: i, u, a. These are pronounced short and clear as in Italian.
There are 20 consonants, some of which are written with two letters together:
b, d, g, j, l, lh, ly, m, n, ng, nh, ny, r, rr, rd, rl, rn, th, w, y.
The sounds written with two letters have the following values:
- for th, lh, and nh 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 — sometimes th can sound like English ‘th’ in ‘this’, but the Yinggarda sound does not have the noisy friction of the English sound
- for j, ly, and ny the body of the tongue is raised towards the hard palate, adding a palatal ‘y’ to the consonant. Yinggarda 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 rd, rl, and rn 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 ‘d’ or ‘l’ or ‘n’
- the combination ng represents a single sound, like English ‘ng’ at the end of ‘sing’. In Yinggarda it can also occur at the beginning of words, as in ngadha ‘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
Yingarda has two r-sounds: a glide r with the tongue tip turned back, similar to an American ‘r’, and a short flap r (pronounced very quickly, like the ‘d’ in the middle of Australian English words) or alternatively a rolled r pronounced like a Scottish ‘r’. The difference between the ‘r’s’ is important for meaning.
Note that Yinggarda 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 Yinggarda must end in a vowel, and all words begin with a consonant. In general, stress (emphasis) falls on the first vowel of a word. So, for example, the name of the language Yinggarda is pronounced as ying-ga-rda with stress on the ying. Do not put emphasis on later syllables as this sounds very unnatural in Yinggarda (English speakers might be tempted to say ying-ga–rda with stress on the middle syllable this would sound very strange to Yinggarda people).