Papuan Languages

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Papuan Languages


a conventional designation for a number of language groups and isolated languages in New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, and the Solomon Islands that do not belong to the Malayo-Polynesian (Austronesian) family. There are more than 2 million speakers of Papuan languages (1970, estimate). Various estimates place the number of Papuan languages at between 300 and 700, with no reliable data on genetic relations between the languages. According to the preliminary data of the Australian scholar S. Wurm, the languages may be classified as follows: Trans-New Guinea phylum (approximately 1.4 million speakers), Sepik Ramu (approximately 100,000), Western Papuan phylum (fewer than 100,000), Wapei-Palei phylum (approximately 65,000), Toaripi phylum (approximately 30,000), the Bougainville phylum on the island of Bougainville (approximately 40,000), and a number of smaller genetic groupings. The major Papuan languages, in numbers of speakers, are Enga (110,000), Hagen (60,000), Chimbu (60,000), Huli (54,000), Kamano (40,000), Wahgi (40,000), and Kewa (40,000). Bilingualism and multilingualism are common. In eastern New Guinea a number of regional languages are spoken in addition to Neo-Melanesian, a Pidgin English used by more than 0.5 million people in New Guinea and the neighboring islands. In western New Guinea (Irian Jaya), Indonesian is widely used as a common language.

The Papuan languages are typelogically diverse. They are distinguished by rich consonant systems that include preglottal-ized and prenasalized consonants and by a specific set of allo-phonic alternations, in which, for example, [t] and [p] are frequently allophones of a single phoneme. Verbal affixes with single grammatical functions form an extremely complex inflectional system. There are complex morphophonemic alternations at affix junctures. Many Papuan languages have grammatical classes, unusual counting systems, and forms known as medials (types of adverbial participles).

N. N. Miklukho-Maklai was the first to provide a scholarly description of Bongu and other Papuan languages. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Papuan languages were studied by the British scholar S. Ray. Most research in the mid-20th century has been done by Dutch, Australian, and American linguists, including S. Wurm, A. Capell, C. Voorhoeve, and H. K. J. Cowan. The Papuan languages have not been fully described.

The languages generally do not have writing systems and are not used for instruction in schools. Literature is practically nonexistent.


Puchkov, P. I. Naselenie Okeanii. Moscow, 1967.
Butinov, N. A. Papuasy Novoi Gvinei. Moscow, 1968.
Leont’ev, A. A. Papuasskie iazyki. Moscow, 1974.
Capell, A. A Linguistic Survey of the South-Western Pacific, 2nd ed. Nouméa, 1962.
Capell, A. A Survey of New Guinea Languages. [Sydney, 1969.]
Linguistics in Oceania. The Hague-Paris, 1971.


References in periodicals archive ?
Whilst Bunaq retains roughly half of the prefixes of Pantar languages, these have been all but lost in the other Papuan languages of Timor.
In this section we examine the encoding of 'give' events in the four Papuan languages of Timor.
Given the survival into historical times of at least one socially prominent Papuan population with a reported maritime tradition, and the significantly changed character of the Austronesian languages east of Sumbawa, it is almost certain that other, now vanished, Papuan languages were present in more of the islands west of New Guinea than is the case today, and that these populations were socially significant during the period in which Austronesian language-speakers arrived in the region.
71) Interestingly the Bomberai coast is also the area identified by Ross as the likely linguistic origins for the Fataluku and other Papuan languages of the Timor-Pantar-Alor region, based somewhat tenuously, it must be said, on the evidence of shared innovation of pronouns.
It is generally agreed that the 800 or so Papuan languages predate the Oceanic (Oc) languages in Melanesia by as much as 50,000 years (Spriggs 1997).
examine variation among mostly Papuan language groups of eastern New Guinea.
Among the neighbouring Papuan languages it has around 25% common vocabulary with Meriam Mir, 12% with Kiwai, 11% with Bine and Gizra, and 8% with Gidra (Mitchell 1995).
As in many other Papuan languages spoken in mountainous terrain, TAP languages have elaborate coding of elevation deictics.
Papuan Languages and the New Guinea Linguistic Scene.
Foley, William, 1986, The Papuan Languages of New Guinea, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
The samples included show what Renck feels is a style too "verbose" for written style, though "very close to the way many people actually speak", with the tail-head sentence-linking redundancy and the discourse particles so typical of most Papuan languages.
The Papuan Languages of Timor, Alor and Pantar; Volume 2: Sketch Grammars