Border languages (New Guinea)

Tami River – Bewani Range
New Guinea
Linguistic classificationNorthwest Papuan?
  • Border

The Border or Upper Tami languages are an independent family of Papuan languages in Malcolm Ross's version of the Trans–New Guinea proposal.

Unlike the neighboring Sepik languages and many other Papuan language families of northern New Guinea, Border languages do not have grammatical gender or number (dual and plural forms).[2]


The Border family is named after the Indonesia – Papua New Guinea border, which it spans. Other than the Border languages, the Skou, Senagi, Pauwasi, Anim, and Yam families also span the Indonesia – Papua New Guinea border.

Classification history

Cowan (1957) tentatively proposed a "Tami" family, named after the Tami River, that included the modern Border and Sko language families. Some of the previously unclassified languages did turn out to be Sko, and were added to that family; the remainder (including the languages of the upper Tami) constitute the Border family.


Laycock classified Morwap as an isolate, but noted pronominal similarities with Border. Ross included Morwap in Border but noted that they do not appear to share any lexical similarities. However, his Morwap data were quite poor. Usher included it as a branch of Border.

Foley (2018)

Foley (2018) provides the following classification.[2]

Border family

Usher (2020)

The Border languages are:[3]

 Tami River – 
Bewani Range
 Upper Tami River 



 Bewani Range 


 Poal River 



Kilmeri (Mbo)

 Bapi River 

Sowanda (Waina)







Morwap (Elseng)

Senggi (Viid)

He does not mention Ningera, subsuming it into another language.


The pronouns that Ross (2005) reconstructs for proto-Border are the following:

I *ka exclusive we *kia- ?
inclusive we *bile ?
thou *je you ?
s/he *ihe they *ihe- ?

Foley (2018) lists pronouns for the following five Border languages.[2]

Border family pronouns
Taikat Kilmeri Amanab Waris Imonda
1incl nuko bi pi pəl
1excl ku ko ka ka ka
2 kebe de ~ ne ne ye ne
3 ki ehe hi ehe


Border family cognates (Awyi, Taikat, Kilmeri, Waris, Imonda) listed by Foley (2018):[2]

Border family cognates
gloss Awyi / Taikat Kilmeri Waris / Imonda
‘bone’ sagər kili kəl
‘cloud’ tik tik
‘eat’ na- ni- ne-
‘egg’ sur su sui
‘eye’ nondof dob nof
‘house’ ya yip yɛf
‘moon’ usɛ wɪs wɛs
‘sun’ kɛwom ɒkɒmba
‘tongue’ mariel ber məde
‘tooth’ lu
‘tree’ di ri ti
‘water’ obea pu po

Migration history

200–250 years ago, Bewani speakers rapidly expanded and migrated towards neighboring regions, which started off chain migrations among various peoples of the region. The migration of Bewani speakers split up the territory of Kwomtari speakers, and Fas was displaced to the swampy area of Utai (3°23′26″S 141°35′02″E / 3.390507°S 141.583997°E / -3.390507; 141.583997 (Utai)). The displaced Fas speakers then expanded further east into One territory, causing conflicts between the Fas and One peoples in the Kabore area (3°18′51″S 141°50′27″E / 3.314106°S 141.840799°E / -3.314106; 141.840799 (Kabore 1)).[4]

The Pagei, Bewani, Bo, and Ningera peoples expanded down the Pual River to displace speakers of Inner Skou and Serra Hills languages. Inner Skou speakers were then forced to migrate, displacing Barupu/Warapu speakers (Piore River branch). Bewani speakers, however, were not able to expand eastward into the lowland swampy areas occupied by Busa and Yale speakers, who were themselves pushed out of the more fertile hills into the lowland swamps. Westward expansion of Bewani speakers was halted by fighting in Kaure territory.[4]


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Border". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ a b c d Foley, William A. (2018). "The Languages of the Sepik-Ramu Basin and Environs". In Palmer, Bill (ed.). The Languages and Linguistics of the New Guinea Area: A Comprehensive Guide. The World of Linguistics. 4. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. pp. 197–432. ISBN 978-3-11-028642-7.
  3. ^ New Guinea World
  4. ^ a b Donohue, Mark; Crowther, Melissa (2005). "Meeting in the middle: interaction in North-Central New Guinea". In Andrew Pawley; Robert Attenborough; Robin Hide; Jack Golson (eds.). Papuan pasts: cultural, linguistic and biological histories of Papuan-speaking peoples. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. pp. 167–184. ISBN 0-85883-562-2. OCLC 67292782.
  • Ross, Malcolm (2005). "Pronouns as a preliminary diagnostic for grouping Papuan languages". In Andrew Pawley; Robert Attenborough; Robin Hide; Jack Golson (eds.). Papuan pasts: cultural, linguistic and biological histories of Papuan-speaking peoples. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. pp. 15–66. ISBN 0858835622. OCLC 67292782.

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