Abau language

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Native toPapua New Guinea
RegionSandaun Province
Native speakers
7,300 (2000 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3aau

Abau is a Papuan language spoken in southern Sandaun Province of Papua New Guinea, primarily along the border with Indonesia.

In 2002, there were estimated to be between 4,500 and 5,000 speakers, and this number does not appear to have declined since the first accurate count in the 1970s.

Abau is reported to have whistled speech.


Abau has the simplest phonemic inventory in the Sepik language family.[3]

Front Back
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Open ɑ

Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n
Stop p k
Fricative s h
Flap ɾ
Approximant j w


Pronouns are:[4]

sg du pl
1 ha ~ han hror hrom
2 hwon ~ hun
3m hiy ~ hi hoh hom
3f hok

Noun classes[edit]

Abau noun classes are:[4]

Abau noun classes
class formal marker semantics
class 1 pru human, spirits
class 2 k(a)- animals and default
class 3 na small objects with some volume
class 4 s(i)- flat surface objects
class 5 pi long thin objects
class 6 u geographical locations
class 7 i flat objects with little volume
class 8 ri certain types of trees
class 9 ein(d)- bundles of long uncut items
class 10 reik temporal
class 11 hnaw bundles of long cut items
class 12 houk- part of a long object

Nouns can take on different class affixes depending on the physical characteristics being emphasized. Examples:[4]

su ‘coconut’

  • su pi-ron /coconut class.5-one/ ‘a coconut palm’
  • su ka-mon /coconut class.2-one/ ‘a coconut’

pey ‘sugarcane’

  • pey pi-ron /sugarcane class.5-one/ ‘one stalk of uncut sugarcane’
  • pey houk-mon /sugarcane class.12-one/ ‘one piece of sugarcane’
  • pey eind-mon /sugarcane class.9-one/ ‘bundle of stored stalks of sugarcane’
  • pey hnaw-mon /sugarcane class.11-one/ ‘one bundle of sugarcane ready for transport’

Like most other Sepik languages, Abau overtly marks grammatical gender (see Sepik languages#Gender). The same object can be classified as either masculine or feminine, depending on the physical characteristics intended for emphasis. Example:[4]

  • youk se ‘paddle M.DAT’ focuses on the length of the paddle
  • youk ke ‘paddle F.DAT’ focuses on the flat nature of the two-dimensional paddle blade


  1. ^ Abau at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Abau". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ a b c Steven Moran and Daniel McCloy and Richard Wright. 2019. Abau sound inventory (PH). In: Moran, Steven & McCloy, Daniel (eds.) PHOIBLE 2.0. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. (Available online at http://phoible.org/inventories/view/1160, Accessed on 2019-04-23.)
  4. ^ a b c d 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.


External links[edit]