Biak language

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Native to Indonesia
Region Biak Island & surroundings
Native speakers
30,000  (2000)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 bhw
Glottolog biak1248[2]

Biak (referred to locally as wós Vyak ‘Biak Language’ or wós kovedi ‘Our Language’ and Bahasa Biak in Indonesian. Also known as: Biak-Numfor, Noefoor, Mafoor, Mefoor, Nufoor, Mafoorsch, Myfoorsch and Noefoorsch) is an Austronesian language that has been classified as one of 41 languages of the South Halmahera-West New Guinea subgroup of Eastern Malayo-Polynesian Languages. It is spoken in Biak and Numfor and numerous small islands in this archipelago in the province of Papua, Indonesia by about 30,000 people.

Sociolinguistic Situation[edit]

There are a number of different dialects of Biak spoken on various different Islands the most well-known being Biak-Numfoor, spoken on the Island of Numfoor, these dialect differences are small and mostly slight regular sound changes.[3] Almost all Biak speakers are also fluent in Malay, but very few have a comprehensive knowledge of formal Indonesian.

Despite the comparatively high number of speakers compared to some other Austronesian languages, Biak is still in danger of extinction. Within the main towns the generation of speakers aged between 20 and 50 have only passive knowledge of the language and rarely use the language actively, instead preferring to use Malay. Younger generations do not even generally have passive knowledge of the language. Biak is only actively used as a spoken language by members of the community over 50 years of age or so and even they regularly code switch into Malay.[4] However, within the villages further from town there were still children who were fluent in Biak. Songs in Biak are also very popular throughout the Islands.

There is a strong initiative to promote the use of Biak Language, with translations of various books and teaching manuals as well as a radio station and a number of church services throughout the year being conducted solely in Biak. Since 2002 there has also been an initiative to introduce Biak being taught formerly in schools on the Islands.[5]


Biak has a phoneme inventory consisting of 13 consonants and 5 vowels, in which vowel length is phonemic. In the orthography long vowels are written with an acute accent. The phoneme /t/ is very infrequent in its use and some older speakers still realise it as [s] in loanwords.[6]

Bilabial Labiodental Alveolar Palatal Velar
Stop b  p d  t k
Nasal m n
Fricative β f s
Lateral l
Trill r
Approximant w j
Front Central Back
Close i  iː u  uː
Mid e  eː ɤ  ɤː
Open a  aː

All vowels in Biak are unrounded with the exception of /u/, which is rounded.[9]


Person and Pronoun Markers[edit]

In Biak pronouns and articles are morphologically related, with both situating a given participant by indicating their relative discourse or spatial (e.g. directional or motional) status. This is not uncommon for Austronesian Languages.[10] Pronouns in Biak are marked for number and clusivity.

Free Pronouns[11]
Person Number
Singular Dual Paucal Plural
1INC ku ko
1EXCL aya nu inko
2 aw mu mko
3 i su sko si (alienable)
na (inalienable)

Free personal pronouns in Biak share their main distributional properties with nouns; however, they are somewhat more restricted. They can be used as a complement of a predicate or preposition but they cannot be used as subjects.[12] In the example below we can see the use of the 1st person personal pronoun aya to complement a verb while the second example shows how a free personal pronoun, in this clause 3rd person i cannot be used as a subject:

(1) Badir i ve aya
2SG.announce 3SG to 1SG
"Make it known to me."

(2) * i d-ores
3SG 3SG-stand
"He stood."

Pronominal Affixes[edit]

In Biak pronominal affixes can combine with verbs in three possible inflection patterns (given in the table below), which are partly phonologically conditioned.[13]

Set 1 Set 2 Set 3
1SG ya- y- ya-
2SG wa- w- w
3SG i- d- y
1DU.I ku- ku- ku-
1DU.E nu- nu- nu-
2DU mu- mu- mu-
3DU su- su- su-
3PC sko- sk- sko-
1PL.I ko- k- ko-
1PL.E (i)nko- (i)nk- (i)nko-
2PL mko- mk- mko-
3PL.AN si- s- s-
3PL.INAN na- n- n-

Due to the person marking nature of these affixes, the need for the presence of a core noun phrase in the same clause is negated. Thus the following sentence is still grammatical without NP Rusa nanine, as the verb has a pronominal affix that gives the same information.

(1) (Rusa nan-i-ne) d-ores
deer GIV-3SG.SPC-this 3SG-stand
"This deer stood."

These pronominal markers are person markers and are found in the final position of the noun phrase they determine.[14] They attach to verbs along with a specifier that attaches after the pronominal affix; due to their distribution properties these markers should be considered clitics.[15] There are two specificity markers, -ya and –i, where –ya can be used in all positions and -i is restricted to positions before pauses.[16] In the example below the article attaches to the verb vebaya, rather than the verb ifrúr because it is the final verb in the noun phrase headed by for.[17]

(2) i-frúr for ve-ba=ya
3SG-make fire REL.big=3SG.SPC
"He made a big fire."

Nonspecificity, which refers to entities that do not yet exist in this world, or is used to question or deny the existence of an entity, is marked with the articles –o for singular and –no for plural noun phrases.[18] This is shown in the examples below:


(3) I-fúr yuk=o fa y-ún i ve Waranda.
3SG-make ukulele=nonSP.SG CONS 1SG-take 3SG to The.Netherlands
"He is making/will make a ukulele so that I can take it to the Netherlands"


(4) I-fúr yuk=ya fa y-ún i ve Waranda.
3SG-make ukulele=nonSP.SG CONS 1SG-take 3SG to The.Netherlands
"He has made a ukulele so that I can take it to the Netherlands"


  1. ^ Biak at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Biak". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Van de Heuvel 2006, p. 7
  4. ^ Van de Heuvel 2006, p. 5
  5. ^ Van de Heuvel 2006, p. 6
  6. ^ Van de Heuvel 2006, p. 11
  7. ^ Van De Heuvel 2006, p. 21
  8. ^ Van De Heuvel 2006, p. 26
  9. ^ Van De Heuvel 2006, p. 27
  10. ^ Van De Heuvel 2006, p. 64-66
  11. ^ Van De Heuvel 2006, p. 67
  12. ^ Van De Heuvel 2006, p. 67
  13. ^ Van De Heuvel 2006, p. 66
  14. ^ Van De Heuvel 2006, p. 68
  15. ^ Van De Heuvel 2006, p. 68
  16. ^ Van De Heuvel 2006, p. 68
  17. ^ Van De Heuvel 2006, p. 68
  18. ^ Van De Heuvel 2006, p. 71


  • Berry, K.; C. Berry; K. Berry; C. Berry (1987). "A survey of some West Papuan phylum languages". Workpapers in Indonesian Languages and Cultures 4: 25–80. 
  • Van den Heuvel, Wilco. 2006. Biak, description of an Austronesian language of Papua. Doctoral dissertation, Netherlands Graduate School of Linguistics.

External links[edit]