Pauwasi languages

Pauwasi River
West New Guinea, Papua New Guinea
Linguistic classificationOne of the world's primary language families

The Pauwasi languages are a likely family of Papuan languages, mostly in Indonesia. The best described Pauwasi language is Karkar, across the border in Papua New Guinea. They are spoken around the headwaters of the Pauwasi River in the Indonesian-PNG border region.

The Pauwasi family is not accepted by Søren Wichmann (2013), who splits it into separate Western and Eastern groups.[2] Foley (2018) and Pawley and Hammarström (2018), noting the sharp differences between the two groups, are agnostic about whether Western Pauwasi and Eastern Pauwasi should group together.[3][4]


The languages are not close: though the Eastern languages are clearly related, Yafi and Emumu are only 25% lexically similar. Pawley and Hammarström (2018) also question whether Eastern Pauwasi and Western Pauwasi are really related. They also note that Tebi and Towei are very different from each other, and may not necessarily group with each other.[3]

Karkar-Yuri, long thought to be an isolate in Papua New Guinea, is clearly related and may actually form a dialect continuum with Emumu in Indonesia. On the other hand, the Western languages are so poorly attested that it is not certain that they are part of the Pauwasi family (or even related to each other), or if the common words are loans and they constitute a separate family or families, though a family connection appears likely.[5]

Only 1sg, 2sg, and 1pl pronouns are attested for any Indonesian language, and the proto-language cannot be reconstructed. Attested forms are:

1sg 2sg 1pl
Dubu no fo numu
Towei oŋgo ŋgo nu
Yafi nam nəm nin
Emumu  ? mo nin
Karkar on-o am-o ex. yin-o, in. nám-o

Yafi and Emumu are similar, and Dubu and Towei may share 1pl *numu, but there is not apparent connection between them. Dubu no and Yafi nam might reflect pTNG *na, and Towei ngo pTNG *ga (*nga), and the plural pTNG *nu and *ni.

Usher (Pauwasi River)

Timothy Usher expanded the family with several previously unclassified languages. The inclusion of Molof is especially tentative (as of 2017).[6]

Pauwasi River


Stephen Wurm (1975) classified the Western (Indonesian) languages as a branch of the Trans–New Guinea (TNG) phylum, a position which Malcolm Ross (2005) tentatively retained. Ross's TNG classification is based on personal pronouns. Since no pronouns could be reconstructed from the available data on the poorly attested Indonesian Pauwasi languages, which were all that were recognized as Pauwasi at the time, only a tentative assessment could be made, based on a few lexical items. Some of the pronouns of Dubu and Yafi look like they might be TNG. However, Ross counted Karkar, for which the pronouns were known, as an isolate because its pronouns did not pattern as TNG. At this stage its relationship to Emumu was unknown.

Pawley and Hammarström (2018) do not consider there to be sufficient evidence for the Pauwasi languages to be classified as part of Trans-New Guinea, though they do note the following lexical resemblances between Tebi, Yafi, and proto-Trans-New Guinea.[3]

  • Tebi ne ‘eat’ < *na-
  • Tebi mi, Yafi yemar ‘louse’ < *iman, *niman

Foley (2018) notes that Western Pauwasi has more Trans-New Guinea lexical similarities than East Pauwasi does. He notes that Karkar-Yuri shares some typological similarities with the Trans-New Guinea languages, which could be due to chance, contact, or genetic inheritance.[4]

Basic vocabulary

Below are some basic vocabulary words in Tebi (Western Pauwasi), Zorop (Eastern Pauwasi), and Karkar-Yuri (Eastern Pauwasi) listed by Foley (2018):[4]

Pauwasi basic vocabulary
gloss Tebi Zorop Karkar-Yuri
‘I’ na nam ɔn
‘you (sg)’ fro nem am
‘we’ numu nim nəm (incl) / yin (excl)
‘belly’ dialə yalək yare
‘bird’ olmu awe ant
‘black’ təŋəra seŋgəri yəkəre
‘blood’ təri mob yəri
‘breast’ mamu muam mɔm
‘come’ kəlawai kwalopai koʔrop
‘eat’ ne fer- fɨr
‘eye’ ei ji yi
‘foot’ puŋwa fuŋi pu
‘give’ taʔa tipi səp
‘good’ pani kiap kwapwe
‘hand’ təro jae
‘head’ məndini məndai me
‘hear’ fei fau wao
‘house’ nab nap
‘louse’ mi yemar yəʔmər
‘man’ toŋkwar arab arɔp
‘mosquito’ mimi yəŋkar təʔnkarəp
‘name’ kini jei e
‘road’ fiaʔa mai mwæ
‘root’ periŋgu fiŋgu arak
‘sand’ tədən gərək kaʔrək
‘tooth’ kle jurai yu
‘tree’ weyalgi war yao
‘water’ ai jewek ənt
‘who’ mate waunap wao
‘one’ kərowali aŋgətəwam ankər
‘two’ kre anəŋgar anənk


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Pauwasi". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ Wichmann, Søren. 2013. A classification of Papuan languages. In: Hammarström, Harald and Wilco van den Heuvel (eds.), History, contact and classification of Papuan languages (Language and Linguistics in Melanesia, Special Issue 2012), 313-386. Port Moresby: Linguistic Society of Papua New Guinea.
  3. ^ a b c Pawley, Andrew; Hammarström, Harald (2018). "The Trans New Guinea family". 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. 21–196. ISBN 978-3-11-028642-7.
  4. ^ a b c 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.
  5. ^ Harald Hammarström, 2010. The status of the least documented language families in the world
  6. ^ NewGuineaWorld Pauwasi River
  • 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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