Bulaka River languages

Bulaka River
EthnicityJab (Yab)
Tubang and Ilwayab subdistricts, Bulaka River watershed, Merauke Regency, Papua
Linguistic classificationOne of the world's primary language families
Bulaka River languages.svg
Map: The Bulaka River languages of New Guinea
 The Bulaka River languages
 Trans–New Guinea languages
 Other Papuan languages
 Austronesian languages

The Bulaka River languages are a pair of closely related Papuan languages, Yelmek and Maklew, on the Bulaka River in Indonesian West Papua. They are ethnically Yab (Jab); their speech is Yabga (Jabga).


Yelmek is spoken west of Merauke, between the Digul River and Mbian River, (from north to south) in the villages of Wanam, Bibikem, Woboyo, and Dodalim.

Maklew is spoken in Welbuti village.[1] The former two villages are located in Ilwayab subdistrict, and the latter three in Tubang subdistrict.


The two languages are transparently related. Ross (2005) tentatively included them in the proposed Trans-Fly – Bulaka River family, but Usher, who reconstructs that family, does not connect Bulaka River to any other language family.[2]


Usher (2020) reconstructs the consonant inventory as follows.[2] Although the modern inventories of Yelmek and Maklew are nearly identical, the lack of a one-to-one correspondence between them suggests the ancestral inventory was somewhat larger. Usher posits a series of palatal consonants *ɲ *c *ɟ to handle the correspondences of alveolar in Yelmek with velar in Maklew (n~ŋ, t~k, d~g), plus *j for j~s, *w for w~h, *ɣ̃ for ŋ~h, and *s for t~s (found in loans).

*m *n
*p *t *c *k
*b *d *g
*w *l *j *ɣ̃
*i *u
*e *o


Usher (2020) reconstructs the pronouns as:[2]

sg pl
1 *ŋ[e]l *ŋag
2 *au (?) *ale (?)
3 *eb *em[e]l


  1. ^ Evans, Nicholas (2018). "The languages of Southern New Guinea". 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. 641–774. ISBN 978-3-11-028642-7.
  2. ^ a b c New Guinea World: Bulaka River

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