East Papuan languages

East Papuan languages

The term East Papuan languages refers to a defunct proposal for a family of Papuan languages spoken on the islands to the east of New Guinea, including New Britain, New Ireland, Bougainville, the Solomon Islands, and the Santa Cruz Islands. There is no evidence that these languages are related to each other, and the Santa Cruz languages are no longer even recognized as Papuan.

All but two of the starred languages below (Yélî Dnye and Sulka) make a gender distinction in their pronouns. Several of the heavily Papuanized Austronesian languages of New Britain do as well. This suggests a pre-Austronesian language area in the region.

History of the proposal

The East Papuan languages were identified as a phylum by linguist Stephen Wurm (1975) and others. However, their work was preliminary, and there is little evidence the East Papuan languages actually have a genealogical relationship. For example, none of the fifteen languages marked with asterisks below share more than 2-3% of their basic vocabulary with any of the others ('basic vocabulary' being words for basic things like "fire", "water", "eye", or "louse" that are not likely to be borrowed from neighboring languages). Dunn "et al." (2005) tested the reliability of the proposed 2-3% cognates by randomizing the vocabulary lists and comparing them again. The nonsense comparisons produced the same 2-3% of "shared" vocabulary, demonstrating that the proposed cognates of the East Papuan languages, and even of proposed families within the East Papuan languages, are as likely to be due to chance as to any genealogical relationship. Thus in a conservative classification, many of the East Papuan languages would be considered language isolates.

Given that the islands in question have been settled for at least 35 000 years, it's not surprising that they show considerable linguistic diversity. However, Malcolm Ross (2001; 2005) has presented evidence from comparing pronouns from nineteen of these languages that several of the lower-level branches of East Papuan may indeed be valid families. This is the classification adopted here. For Wurm's more inclusive classification, see the Ethnologue entry [http://www.ethnologue.com/show_family.asp?subid=91729 here] .

Classification (Ross 2005)

mall families

Each of the first five entries in boldface is an independent language family, unrelated to the others. The first is a more tentative proposal than the others and awaits confirmation.

Reconstructed pronoun sets for each of the families are given in the individual articles.

? Yele-West New Britain family [tentative]
* "Yélî Dnye (Yele)" isolate* — Rossel Island
* West New Britain
** "Anêm" isolate* — New Britain
** "Ata (Pele-Ata, Wasi)" isolate* — New Britain

Baining (East New Britain) family: Mali*, Qaqet, Kairak, Simbali, Taulil**, Butam (extinct)**, Ura, Malkolkol

North Bougainville family — Bougainville
* "Keriaka" isolate
* "Konua (Rapoisi)" isolate**
* Rotokas branch: Rotokas*, Eivo

South Bougainville family — Bougainville
*Buin branch
**"Buin" isolate*
**"Motuna (Siwai)" isolate*
**"Uisai" isolate
*Nasioi branch: Koromira, Lantanai, Naasioi*, Nagovisi (Sibe)**, Oune, Simeku

Central Solomons family
*"Bilua" isolate* — Vella Lavella Island
*"Touo (Baniata)" isolate* — South Rendova Island
*"Lavukaleve" isolate* — Russell Islands
*"Savosavo" isolate* — Savo Island

"* Dunn "et al." found no demonstrable shared vocabulary between these fifteen languages."

"** Ross considered these four languages in addition to the fifteen studied by Dunn "et al.

True language isolates

These three languages are not thought to be demonstrably related to each other or to any language in the world. If the Yele-West New Britain family is not confirmed, the region may contain six isolates rather than three.

Sulka isolate* - New Britain (poor data quality; the possibility remains that Sulka will be shown to be related to Kol or Baining)

Kol isolate* - New Britain

Kuot (Panaras) isolate* - New Ireland

"* Dunn "et al." found no demonstrable shared vocabulary between these fifteen languages."

Austronesian languages formerly classified as East Papuan

Wurm classified the three languages of the Santa Cruz and Reef Islands as an additional family within East Papuan. However, new data on these languages, along with advances in the reconstruction of Proto-Oceanic, has made it clear that they are in fact Austronesian:
* Reef Islands-Santa Cruz family: Santa Cruz, Nanggu, Äiwoo

Similarly, Wurm had classified the extinct Kazukuru language and its possible sister languages of New Georgia as a sixth branch of East Papuan. However, in a joint 2007 paper, Dunn and Ross argued that this was also Austronesian.
* Kazukuru family: Kazukuru language


* | doi = 10.1353/ol.2002.0019
* | doi = 10.1126/science.1114615 | pmid = 16179483

ee also

*Papuan languages

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