Sulka language

Regioneastern Pomio District, East New Britain Province
Native speakers
(2,500 cited 1991)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3sua
Coordinates: 5°16′33″S 152°05′32″E / 5.275769°S 152.092315°E / -5.275769; 152.092315 (Guma Village)Coordinates: 5°16′33″S 152°05′32″E / 5.275769°S 152.092315°E / -5.275769; 152.092315 (Guma Village)

Sulka is a language isolate of New Britain, Papua New Guinea.[2] In 1991, there were 2,500 speakers in eastern Pomio District, East New Britain Province.[3] Villages include Guma (5°16′33″S 152°05′32″E / 5.275769°S 152.092315°E / -5.275769; 152.092315 (Guma Village)) in East Pomio Rural LLG.[4] With such a low population of speakers, this language is considered to be endangered. Sulka speakers had originally migrated to East New Britain from New Ireland.[5]


Sulka may be described as having ancient Papuan (non-Austronesian) roots, which additionally displays morphosyntactic constructions and some vocabulary items associated with the Oceanic branch of Austronesian (i.e. languages of the St. George linkage such as Mali).[6] Alternatively, it has been proposed as possibly related to Kol or Baining as part of the East Papuan proposal, but Palmer (2018) treats Sulka as a language isolate.[7]

Sulka has some influence from the Mengen language.[5]

Over 3,000 to 3,500 years ago, Sulka speakers arrived in the Papua New Guinea area.[2]


Although the history of the language is not well known, it may display a mixture of Oceanic and Papuan language traits.[8] These are languages Sulka came into contact with, when the peoples speaking these other languages populated the area in neighboring villages, around 3,200 years ago.[9]

Geographic Distribution

Sulka is spoken along the coastal region of Wide Bay,[4] on the Southern coast of the Gazelle Peninsula,[10] on the eastern side of New Britain Island, Papua New Guinea. Some estimate speakers to number as high as between 3,000 and 3,500.[11][4] Reesink (2005) reports on some Sulka speakers who have intermingled in neighboring villages with speakers of other languages such as Mali, southeast of Kokopo.[4]



The phonological system of Sulka comprises 28 contrasting segments, fourteen consonants, and seven vowels.[4] On the topic of consonants, there is no recent evidence to support contrast between [b] and [β], therefore they're assumed to be allophones and are represented in the table of consonants as [β] only.[4]

Sulka consonants are:[5]

Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Stop voiced (d) g (q)
voiceless p t k
Nasal m ŋ (ɴ)
Fricative β s (ɣ) (ʁ) h
Lateral l
Trill r
Approximant j


For its vowels, Sulka has a contrast between three front vowels: high, mid, and low, [i], [e], and [ε], but there is no instance of the central high vowel [ɨ].[4] However, when it comes to vocalic contrasts, it is not always clear. The mid front vowel may fluctuate somewhere between close-mid [e] and the more central-close vowel [ɪ], pronounced like English i in 'in'.[4] The sounds [o] and [u] often fluctuate with each other as in the example of '1SG verbal pronoun' [ku] and [ko]. This pattern of fluctuation seems to commonly occur for high front vowels. When looking at the length of vowels, long vowels are often confused with diphthongs.

Front Back
Close short i u
long iː uː
Mid short e ~ ɪ, ɛ o, ɔ
long , ɔː
Open short a

The seven vowel sounds can be found in the following words:[4]

IPA Meaning
[hip] 'tree wallaby'
[hep] 'bed'
[hɛp] 'make fire'
[lul] 'flow'
[lol] 'carry (PL object)'
[yok] 'namesake'
[yɔk] 'taro'
[ko] 'there'
[kat] 'again'

The words below contain closed syllables which are the only attested words showing that syllable length is phonemic:[4]

IPA Meaning
[iːs] 'able, enough'
[pkɔːn] 'hornbill'
[harpeːt] 'fall'
[βuːt] 'fall (lightly)'
[poːm] 'push'
[naːk] 'grave mound'


A great majority of Sulka's lexicon is not Oceanic/Austronesian as stated by Schneider. However, there are a few words that are shared between both Papuan and Oceanic.

Examples from Geelvink (2005):

  • pun 'base', as in a ho ka pun 'the tree its base', reflects POC *puqun. Laufer (1955:42) gives Mengen pun ~ Gunantuna (= Tolai) vuna as evidence for the presence of Mengen speakers along the Wide Bay before Sulka speakers arrived from South New Ireland. But Sulka pun is not a recent Mengen loan. Rath (1986, ex. 324) gives bega pu-na for 'tree base-3SG.POSS'.
  • nut 'island' ~ POC *nusa, with reflexes such as nui in NNG and nua in PT, nuta in Southeast Solomonic (Ross, Pawley, and Osmond 2003:42).
  • kus 'rain' appears to reflect POC *qusan (Ross, Pawley, and Osmond 2003:141); with kue as reflex in Mengen (Poeng dialect).
  • kopoi 'fog' ~ POC *kapu(t); *kopu (Ross, Pawley, and Osmond 2003:140).
  • malo 'skirt made of bark from the breadfruit tree'. The Sulka form is identical to the one found in Mengen and Kove of the North New Guinea linkage, rather than to mal as it appears in languages of the St. George linkage. Of course, it may be a recent direct borrowing from Mengen.[4]


Selected Sulka nouns showing singular and plural forms (Tharp 1996: 161-163):[12]

gloss singular plural
‘part’ mhe mhetor
‘vagina’ kha khator
‘house’ rɨk rɨktor
‘hole’ nho nhotor
‘cliff’ vɨk vɨktor
‘colorful belt’ lɨp lɨptor
‘knife’ kom komtok
‘water’ yi yitok
‘heart’ ngaung ngaungtok
‘nose’ vorngap vrongtok
‘green lizard’ gut gɨtok
‘song’ kni knituk
‘head’ lpek lpetuk
‘morning’ rot ruteik
‘string bag’ psang vasngeik
‘family’ valngan valngneik
‘charcoal’ valang valngeik
‘finger nail’ pga pgeik
‘small garden plot’ sar sareik
‘vein’ spang sapngeik
‘shoulder’ volha volheik
‘sky’ volkha volkheik
‘mountain’ vul vleik
‘container’ kolhi kolheik
‘wild pitpit ngaiphe ngaiphol
‘snake’ vim vimol
‘bat’ viɨng viɨngol
‘disciplining stick’ khap khapol
‘fruit’ mit mitol
‘mushroom’ tling tinngol
‘fish’ slang sinngol
‘meat’ vothek vothol
‘place’ ngaekam ngaekmol
‘roof of mouth’ kning kningol
‘reed’ psiɨng psiɨngol
‘bird’ ngaining iningol
‘edge’ ngaiting itngol
‘monster’ ngainkuo inkuol
‘sister’s brother’ lu rlok
‘mountain’ vul vlik
‘coconut leaf’ kriar kerik
‘forehead’ lein leinik
‘kina shell’ ngaek igik
‘fetish’ tarmek tarmki
‘lobster’ hivotek hivotgi
‘coss-buai’ rongtep rongtvi
‘root’ kavgot kvukti
‘lake’ ngaenker enekri
‘lime’ ngaiker ikri
‘anger’ ngaesik resik
‘ear’ ngaela rela
‘door’ ngaegot relot
‘job’ ngaeha reha
‘wing’ ngaeho reho
‘road’ ngaelot relot
‘sound’ ngaeti reti
‘type of kaukau ngoye roye
‘brawl’ ngaus raus
‘brother’s brother’ nopia rnopeik
‘father’s daughter’ kvɨk rkvɨk
‘father’s father’ poi rpoik
‘sister’s brother’ lu rlok
‘brother’s sister’ etem rotmik
‘father’s son’ hal rhol
‘reef’ kamngal komngol
‘tree’ ho hi
‘skin’ ptaik ptek
‘hair’ ngiris ngɨris
‘grass skirt’ nhep nhek
‘blood’ ɨndiɨl ɨriɨl
‘yam’ tou sngu
‘coconut’ ksiɨ ges
‘speech’ rere rhek
‘shell money’ pek kirpik
‘ground’ mmie marhok
‘person’ mhel mia
‘road’ ngaelaut nghek

Verb Structure

Free Perfective Realis Future Irrealis
1SG dok ko-~ku- ngu-er(a)
2SG yen i- ngi-er(a)
3SG ëën t- n-er(a)
1PL mor ngo-t- ngur-er(a)
2PL muk mu-tu mug-er(a)
3PL mar nga-t- ng-er(a)
1DU muo mo-t- mu-er(a)
2DU moe më-t- më-er(a)
3DU men men-t-ngen-t ngen-er(a)

Basic verb phrases are similar to Oceanic languages. For a typical Austronesian sentence structure, it follows the Subject Verb Object word order whereas Papuan follows a Subject Object Verb word order. Free pronouns mainly act as verbal or prepositional object. Instead of having the bilabial nasal found on the free pronouns, first and third person plural have an initial velar.[4] Additionally, the basic verb phrase consists of a subject proclitic indicating both subject person/number and aspect/mood. This is followed by one or more verbs, a (pro)nominal object where necessary, and optional oblique constituents.[4]

Kua pater yen orom o Sulka nga re.

















Ku-a pat-er yen orom o Sulka nga re

1SG-IPFV think-TR 2SG with PL Sulka 3SG.POSS talk

"I am teaching you the Sulka language"

According to Reesink (2005), the most common future form he recorded was the same one identified previously. He cites this work by Schneider (1942:323) where this form was named a separate modal particle er(a).[4]

Ngiera vokong a ho lang to nera hurpis.

















Ngi=er=a vokong a ho lang to n=er=a hur-pis

2SG.IRR-FUT-IPFV see SG tree certain that 3SG.IRR-FUT-IPFV appear-arrive

"You will see a certain tree sprouting."

Habitual aspect and conditional mood utilize the same forms as the irrealis, both for 1SG and 2SG. In contrast, all of the other forms have more in common with the future pronouns because they also lack 3SG -t. Below, see examples of the habitual and the conditional, respectively:

Koma vle ma Mlavui kun mnam a rengmat to e Guma.























Ko=ma vle ma Mlavui kun mnam a rengmat to e Guma

1SG=HAB=IPFV stay LOC Mlavui inside inside SG village that ART Guma

"I am staying at Mlavui inside the village Guma."

Kopa ya va kopa ngae.











Ko=pa=a ya va Ko=p=a ngae


"If I had been well, I would have gone."


Most Papuan languages have masculine and feminine distinctions. However, the Sulka language does not follow this rule. As for the Austronesian languages, where they have inclusive and exclusive opposition in nonsingular first person, Sulka does not follow them either (Sulka of East New Britain: A Mixture of Oceanic and Papuan Traits, Reesink, 2005). As stated by Reesink, "There is not even a third person differentiation between feminine and masculine genders".

Papuan vs Austronesian

Austronesian Papuan
Word Order SVO and prepositions
Phonology Phonemic inventory resembles Mengen phonemic contrast [l] and [r] Resembles Kol (almost) all consonants occur word-finally many consonant clusters
Lexicon Lacks typical AN lexicon
Verb Morphology Mood: realis vs irrealis as portmanteau with subject proclitics sequential ka
Valency Changing Devices Transitivizing suffix no causative prefix *pa(ka) no reciprocal *paRi stem change for object number
Pronominal System Lacks gender on 3SG Lacks INCL/EXCL on 1 NONSG
Nominal Constituent Prenominal articles/demonstratives
Plural Formation Plural formation with irregular forms, some of which are possibly cognate with Kol, Kuot, and Lavukaleve
Adjectives Attributive adjective=nominalized form
Possessive Constructions Possessor is prefixed to possessed item no POSS suffix on inalienables
Counting System Quinary
Deictic Elements Some cognates with Tolai
Social Organization Moieties with clans resembling Mengen matrilineal

Further reading

  • Schneider, Joseph. 1962. Grammatik der Sulka-Sprache (Neubritannien). Posieux: Anthropos-Institut.


  1. ^ Sulka at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ a b Dunn, Michael; Levinson, Stephen C.; Lindström, Eva; Reesink, Ger; Terrill, Angela (2008). "Structural Phylogeny in Historical Linguistics: Methodological Explorations Applied in Island Melanesia". Language. 84 (4): 710–759. doi:10.1353/lan.0.0069. hdl:11858/00-001M-0000-0013-1F55-5. ISSN 1535-0665. S2CID 6356461.
  3. ^ Eberhard, David M.; Simons, Gary F.; Fennig, Charles D., eds. (2019). "Papua New Guinea languages". Ethnologue: Languages of the World (22nd ed.). Dallas: SIL International.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Reesink, Ger. 2005. Sulka of East New Britain: A Mixture of Oceanic and Papuan Traits. Oceanic Linguistics 44. 145-193.
  5. ^ a b c Stebbins, Tonya; Evans, Bethwyn; Terrill, Angela (2018). "The Papuan languages of Island Melanesia". 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. 775–894. ISBN 978-3-11-028642-7.
  6. ^ Reesink, Ger P. (2005). "Sulka of East New Britain: A Mixture of Oceanic and Papuan Traits" (PDF). Oceanic Linguistics. 44 (1): 145–193. doi:10.1353/ol.2005.0026. ISSN 1527-9421. S2CID 142693537.
  7. ^ Palmer, Bill (2018). "Language families of the New Guinea Area". 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. 1–20. ISBN 978-3-11-028642-7.
  8. ^ Reesink, Ger P. (2005). "Sulka of East New Britain: A Mixture of Oceanic and Papuan Traits" (PDF). Oceanic Linguistics. 44 (1): 145–193. doi:10.1353/ol.2005.0026. ISSN 1527-9421. S2CID 142693537.
  9. ^ Michael Dunn; Stephen C. Levinson; Eva Lindström; Ger Reesink; Angela Terrill (2008). "Structural Phylogeny in Historical Linguistics: Methodological Explorations Applied in Island Melanesia". Language. 84 (4): 710–759. doi:10.1353/lan.0.0069. hdl:11858/00-001M-0000-0013-1F55-5. ISSN 1535-0665. S2CID 6356461.
  10. ^ Tharpe, Douglas (1996). "Sulka Grammar Essentials". SIL International Publications. Retrieved October 15, 2019.
  11. ^ Papua New Guinea, ed. (1983). 1980 national population census: final figures: provincial summary. Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea: National Statistical Office.
  12. ^ Tharp, Douglas. 1996. Sulka grammar essentials. In John M. Clifton (ed.), Two non-Austronesian grammars from the islands, 77-179. Ukarumpa: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
  • Foley, William A. The Papuan Languages of New Guinea. Cambridge Univ. Press, 1986.

This page was last updated at 2021-07-03 22:41, update this pageView original page

All information on this site, including but not limited to text, pictures, etc., are reproduced on Wikipedia (wikipedia.org), following the . Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License


If the math, chemistry, physics and other formulas on this page are not displayed correctly, please useFirefox or Safari