Lower Mamberamo languages

Lower Mamberamo
mouth of the Mamberamo River, New Guinea
Linguistic classificationAustronesian, or a primary language family ("Papuan")

The Lower Mamberamo languages are a recently proposed language family linking two languages spoken along the northern coast of Papua province, Indonesia, near the mouth of the Mamberamo River. They have various been classified either as heavily Papuanized Austronesian languages belonging to the SHWNG branch, or as Papuan languages that had undergone heavy Austronesian influence. Glottolog 3.4 classifies Lower Mamberamo as Austronesian, while Donohue classifies it as Papuan. Kamholz (2014) classifies Warembori and Yoke each as coordinate primary subgroups of the South Halmahera–West New Guinea languages.[2]


The two languages, Warembori and Yoke, were listed as isolates in Stephen Wurm's widely used classification. Donohue (1998) showed them to be related with shared morphological irregularities.[3] Ross (2007) classified Warembori as an Austronesian language based on pronouns; however, Donohue argues that these are borrowed, since the two pronouns most resistant to borrowing, 'I' and 'thou', do not resemble Austronesian or any other language family. The singular prefixes resemble Kwerba languages, but Lower Mamberamo has nothing else in common with that family. (See Warembori language and Yoke language for details.) Donohue argues that they form an independent family, though one perhaps related to another Papuan family, that has been extensively relexified under Austronesian influence, especially in the case of Warembori.

Pauwi, now extinct, may have been a Lower Mamberamo language.[4]


In 1855, G. J. Fabritius collected numerals from around Geelvink Bay. At the 'Ambermo' (Mamberamo) River at the eastern extent of his coverage, he collected tenama '1' and bisa '2' from an unnamed language. However, he notes that the people only 'count' by means of singular and plural, so it's doubtful whether tenama and bisa are actually numerals. In any case, these words do not resemble the numerals in any language of the area, so the language Fabritius encountered remains unidentified.[5]


Reconstructed independent pronouns in proto-Lower Mamberamo are:[4]

sg pl
1 *e *ki
2 *a *mi
3 *(y)i *si

Foley observes that there are likely similarities with Austronesian languages, likely due to contact.

*e ‘I’ and *a ‘you (sg)’ are also shared with neighboring Kwerba languages.[4]


Basic vocabulary, mostly cognates, of the Lower Mamberamo languages (Warembori and Yoke) listed in Foley (2018):[4]

Lower Mamberamo family basic vocabulary
gloss Warembori Yoke notes
‘bird’ mani mani < Austronesian
‘bone’ kombo akombu
‘eat’ an aang < Austronesian ?
‘egg’ ndowa nduvu
‘give’ ore o
‘go’ da da < Austronesian ?
‘hair’ bun bo < Austronesian
‘hear’ nata nanta
‘kill’ muni mu < Austronesian
‘leg’ epi pi
‘louse’ ki ninggi < Austronesian ?
‘man’ man mamb
‘name’ nan nand
‘tree’ ayo a < Austronesian

Vocabulary comparison

The following basic vocabulary words are from the Trans-New Guinea database:[6]

gloss Warembori Yoke
head irimundo
hair iburando kiraumga
eye ibaro kikia
tooth iburoro kebrua
leg kemaro kipitaopa
louse kiro niŋi
dog nieiba
pig puwe pero
bird maniro
egg manindobaro
blood daro
bone kekomboro
skin akuero
tree awuro aba
man mando maomba
sun ururo tebia; wit
water dando diri; memba
fire ontemaro oba
stone bakandaro antusua
name inanora
eat ando ani
one iseno osxenu
two kainduo kaiamba


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Lower Mamberamo". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ Kamholz, David (2014). Austronesians in Papua: Diversification and change in South Halmahera–West New Guinea. Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Berkeley. https://escholarship.org/uc/item/8zg8b1vd
  3. ^ Donohue, Mark (1998 [2003]). Warembori, and the Lower Mamberamo family.
  4. ^ a b c d Foley, William A. (2018). "The languages of Northwest 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. 433–568. ISBN 978-3-11-028642-7.
  5. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "'Ambermo'". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  6. ^ Greenhill, Simon (2016). "TransNewGuinea.org - database of the languages of New Guinea". Retrieved 2020-11-05.


  • 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.

See also

External links

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