Manam language

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RegionNorthern New Guinea
Native speakers
8,000 (2003)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3mva
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Manam is a Kairiru–Manam language spoken mainly on the volcanic Manam Island, northeast of New Guinea.



Front Central Back
High i u
Mid e o
Low a


Bilabial Alveolar Velar
Stop p b t d k ~ ʔ ~ q ɡ
Nasal m n ŋ
Fricative (t)s (d)z
Lateral l
Flap ɾ ~ r


Some vowels become glides in diphthongs, e.g. /u/, /o/ > [w] and /i/, /e/ > [j]. /i/ and /u/ are 'weaker' than /e/ and /o/, so that the syllable /kuo/ becomes [kwo] and not *[kuw]

According to Turner, /k/ is more and more often realized as [ʔ], while some older speakers have [q].

Syllable structure[edit]

The Manam syllable is (C)(V1)V(V1)(C1), the only exception is a syllabic [m̩].

There are some phonotactic restrictions on the prevalent syllable structure. E.g. V1 cannot be [a], whereas V must be [a] as long as it's not the syllable's sole vowel. C can be any consonant, whereas C1 must be a nasal consonant.


Stress is phonemic: /ˈsara/ 'palm tree', /saˈra/ 'seagull'. The stress falls on one of the three last syllables of a word, and stressing the penult syllable is the most common: /ˈnatu/ 'child', /maˈlipi/ 'work'. If the last syllable ends in a nasal consonant, it will be stressed instead: /naˈtum/ 'your child'. Some inflections and affixes do not alter the stress of the root word: /iˈto/ 'he learned' (i- is a 3rd person prefix), /siˈŋabalo/ 'in the bush' (-lo is a locative suffix).

In the orthography, stressed vowels can be underlined in order to avoid ambiguities. Ie. /ˈsara/ ⟨sara⟩ 'palm tree', /saˈra/ ⟨sara⟩ 'seagull'.


Word order[edit]

The basic, unmarked word order in Manam is SOV:

tamoata boro i-un-i
man pig 3SG.SUB-hit-3SG.OBJ
"The man hit the pig."


Lichtenberk defines the predicator as the primary element within a clause.[3]:92 The predicator of a Manam clause can be realised in a variety of different ways, such as verb phrases Ex. (1), noun phrases Ex. (2), postpositional phrases Ex. (3), numbers Ex. (4), etc.[3]:93

Ex. (1): verb phrase predicator[3]:94

(1) natu masa ŋa-eno
child INIR 3SG.IRR-sleep
‘the child will sleep’

Ex. (2): noun phrase predicator[3]:94

(2) aine ene i-tui=tui tina-gu
woman over 3SG.IRR-stand-RPL mother-1SG.AD
‘the woman who is standing over there is my mother’

Ex. (3): postpositional phrase predicator[3]:94

(3) tamoata ŋe-ø paŋana-ø patu boʔana
man this-3SG.AD head-3SG.AD stone SIM
‘this man’s head is like a stone’ i.e. this man is stubborn as a mule

Ex. (4): numeral predicator[3]:94

(4) boro ne-gu wati
pig POSS-1SG.AD four
‘I have four pigs’ (lit. my pigs are four)


Negation in Manam is primarily expressed using one of two negative markers: moaʔi and tago. moaʔi is used exclusively in direct speech prohibitions; whilst tago is used for all other cases.[3]:384

Scope of negation[edit]

The use of tago is primarily categorised by its scope of negation, which further indicates the focus of the clause. The spectrum of scope runs from negating one or more elements within a single clause, to negating an entire clause. The concept of scope of negation can be demonstrated in English: ‘I did not go to the party’ is an example of a broad scope of negation, i.e. the verb phrase (VP) is negated, therefore act of going to the party is negated; ‘not one person went to the party’ is an example of a narrow scope of negation, i.e. the subject is negated, not the act of going to the party.

Broad scope[edit]

A broad scope of negation is expressed in Manam by negating the predicator—this is done so by placing the negative marker tago before the predicator,[3]:385 as demonstrated in the following examples:

Ex. (5): broad scope negation–1 element[3]:385

(5) tago u-loŋo
‘I did not hear’

Ex. (6): broad scope negation–2 elements[3]:385

(6) tamoata tago ŋa-te-a
man NEG 3SG.IRR-see-1SG.OBJ
‘the man will not see me’

Ex. (7): broad scope negation–3 elements[3]:385

(7) baʔaraʔa nora tago ʔu-pura?
why yesterday NEG 2SG.REAL-come
‘why didn’t you come yesterday?’

Additionally, the negative marker tago can also function as a predicator of existential and possessive clauses.[3]:387 Compare the following examples:

Ex. (8): negative existential sentence[3]:387

(8) ewa tago
fire NEG
‘there is no fire’

Ex. (9): negative possessive sentence[3]:387

(9) mone ne-gu tago
money POSS-1SG NEG
‘I have no money’

Narrow scope[edit]

As a general rule, Manam primarily expresses narrow scope negation by placing tago before the element which is being negated i.e. the object of focused negation within the clause.

Ex. (10): narrow scope negation[3]:387

(10) ŋai tago toʔa-ø di-pura-budu-ru
3SG.IP NEG 3PL.REAL-come-together-DL
‘he came without his brother’

In example (10), it is not the act of coming that is being negated, rather the negation is narrowly focused in negating the presence of the brother.

Ex. (11): narrow scope negation[3]:387

(11) tago ara-ø-n-oti i-ʔila-i
‘he did not call him by his name’ (i.e. he called him not by his name but by some other name)

Similarly, in example (11), it is not the act of calling one's name that is being negated, rather the negation focuses the fact that someone was called, but by some other name that was not their own.

Negative quantifiers[edit]

Additionally, the negative marker tago can be used in conjunction with the quantifiers teʔe ‘one’ and alu ‘some’ to produce the negative expressions, tago teʔe ‘no; not any’ and tago alu ‘no; not any’.[3]:386 These expressions function as attributes within the noun phrases that they modify, as seen in the following examples (NP are enclosed within brackets):

Ex. (12): negation using tago teʔe[3]:386

(12) ŋau [ʔana tago teʔe-ø] u-te-ø
1SG.IP thing NEG one-3SG.AD 1SG.REAL-see-3SG.OBJ
‘I did not see anything’ (lit. I saw not one thing)

Ex. (13): negation using tago teʔe[3]:386

(13) [tamoata tago teʔe-ø] taun-lo i-laʔo
person NEG one-3SG.AD town-to 3SG.REAL-go
‘no one went to town’ (lit. not one person went to town)

More specifically, tago alu is used to modify noun phrases whose head are mass nouns; tago teʔecomparatively modifies count nouns.[3]:386 Compare the following two examples:

Ex. (14): negative quantifier mass noun[3]:386

(14) [daŋ tago alu-ø] di-eno
water NEG one-3SG.AD 3PL.REAL-exist
‘there is no water’ (lit. not some water exists)

Ex. (15): negative quantifier count noun[3]:386

(15) [daŋ tago teʔe-ø] di-eno
water NEG some-3SG.AD 3PL.REAL-exist
‘there is no (containerful) of water’

Intensified negation[edit]

Negation in Manam can be intensified by appending the buffer element –na and the intensifier suffix –tina to tago,[3]:388 as seen in the following example:

Ex. (16): intensifier suffix[3]:389

(16) ŋai tago-ø-na-tina i-pile=pile
‘he does not speak at all’

The buffer element –na, however, is not included when tago acts as the predicator of a clause,[3]:388 as seen in the following example:

Ex. (17): intensified predicator[3]:389

(17) ŋau bua tago-tina
1SG.IP betelnut NEG-INT
‘I have no betelnuts at all’

Additionally, negation in Manam can be intensified using sesu ‘little’,[3]:389 as seen in the following example:

Ex. (18): intensifier sesu[3]:389

(18) tamoata-ŋe tago sesu u-tea=te-ø
man-this NEG little 1SG.REAL-RPL-see-3SG.OBJ
‘I don’t visit (see) this man at all’

Moreover, sesu ‘little’ can be used in conjunction with –tina within the same clause, as seen in the following example:[3]:388

Ex. (19): intensifier sesu + suffix –tina[3]:389

(19) tago-ø-na-tina sesu di-ra=raŋ-aʔ-idi
NEG-3SG.AD-BF-INT little 3PL.REAL-talk about-RPL-TRANS-3PL.OBJ
‘they do not talk about themselves at all’

Furthermore, the suffix –tina may be appended to the prohibitive marker moaʔi (with the presence of the buffer –na),[3]:419 as seen in the following example:

Ex. (20): suffix –tina + prohibitive marker moaʔi[3]:340

(20) moaʔi-ø-na-tina niu-be ʔulu ʔu-buiriʔapotaʔ-i
PROH-3SG.AD-BF-INT coconut-and breadfruit 2SG.REAL-mix-3PL.OBJ
‘don’t mix the coconuts and the breadfruit’


Manam expresses prohibitions in two basic ways: using finite verbs—defined as verb (phrase) forms that can occur on their own in a main clause;[4]:183 using gerunds and verbal nouns. Lichtenberk defines gerunds as verb nuclei used to indicate ‘non-specific’ events, whereas verbal nouns are used to indicate ‘specific’ events.[3]:243–244 Compare the following examples:

Ex. (21): gerund[3]:244

(21) udi tano-ø tago u-ʔawa
banana plant-3PL.OBJ NEG 1SG.REAL-know
‘I don’t know how to plant bananas’ (in general)

Ex. (22): verbal noun[3]:244

(22) udi tanom-a-di tago u-ʔawa
banana plant-NOM-3PL.AD NEG 1SG.REAL-know
‘I don’t know to plant the bananas’ (specific bananas)

Prohibitive constructions with finite verbs[edit]

The basic structure of prohibitive constructions using finite verbs is moaʔi followed by a verb with a realis subject/mood prefix,[3]:438 as seen in the following examples:

Ex. (23): prohibitive construction finite verb[3]:418

(23) moaʔi ʔu-pereʔ-i
‘don’t lose it’

Ex. (24): prohibitive construction finite verb w/ subject NP[3]:419

(24) ŋai moaʔi i-raʔe-i
‘he should not boast’ (lit. he should not put himself up)

Ex. (25): prohibitive construction finite verb w/ direct object NP[3]:419

(25) botolo moapesa-di moaʔi ʔu-roʔaʔ-i-ramo
bottle broken-3PL.AD PROH 2SG.REAL-throw-3PL.OBJ-all
‘don’t throw broken bottles around!’

Sometimes, however—the subject or direct object NP may occur between moaʔi and the verb,[3]:419 as in the following example:

Ex. (26): prohibitive construction finite verb[3]:419

(26) moaʔi taburi-miŋ di-raya
PROH fear-2PL.AD 3PL.REAL-be bad
‘don’t be afraid!’ (lit. your fear should not be bad)

Prohibitive constructions with gerunds and verbal nouns[edit]

Prohibitive constructions using gerunds or verbal nouns are formed by placing the prohibitive/negative marker moaʔi after the gerund or verbal noun,[3]:420 demonstrated in the following example:

Ex. (27): prohibitive construction using gerund/verbal noun[3]:421

(27) taŋ moaʔi
cry PROH
‘don’t cry’ / ‘we/they/... should not cry’

:412The distinction between using a gerund or a verbal noun is determined by whether the source verb is transitive (verbal noun) or intransitive (gerund).[3]:420

Additionally, the form raʔania ‘never mind’ may also be used in forming prohibitive constructions using gerunds and verbal nouns. The location of raʔania within the clause is more dynamic than the prohibitive/negative marker moaʔi, as raʔania may occur both following or preceding the verbal noun or gerund.:420[3] Compare the following two examples:

Ex. (28): prohibitive construction using raʔania (following)[3]:412

(28) misaʔa raʔania
smack lips never mind
‘stop smacking your lips!’

Ex. (29): prohibitive construction using raʔania (preceding)[3]

(29) raʔania soaʔi-baya
never mind sit-LIM
‘you/we/... should not be just sitting doing nothing’

Indirect prohibitive constructions[edit]

The negative marker tagois used when expressing prohibitions in indirect speech[3]:422—its behaviour is identical as in its regular usage: tago is placed before the element which is being negated, as seen in the following example:

Ex. (30): indirect prohibitive construction[3]:422

(30) di tago ga-taga-di ʔana di-ra-ʔama
‘they told us not to follow them’ (lit. we were/are not going to follow them; they told us)



Manam has an unusual, though regionally common, four-way distinction between singular, dual, trial, and plural number. Singular and plural are marked on the verb and sometimes on the adjective, but not on the noun.


Person Number
Singular Dual Trial Plural
1st Inclusive kitaru kitato kita
Exclusive ngau
keru keto keka
2nd kaiko
kamru kamto kam
3rd ngai diaru diato di


Reduplication can be either leftward (sa-salaga) or rightward (salaga-laga). There is no point in distinguishing 'partial' and 'total' reduplication, since at most two syllables are reduplicated.


Rightwards reduplicated nouns can either take on a meaning related to the original word, or function as an agentive marker:

moata snake
moata-moata worm
malipi the work
malipi-lipi worker


Here are two examples of how number can be marked on the adjective through the different kinds of reduplication:

Rightward reduplication (singular)

udi noka-noka ripe banana
tamoata bia-bia the big man

Leftward reduplication (plural)

udi no-noka ripe bananas
tamoata bi-bia the big men

Verb aspects[edit]

The verb[edit]

The verb always marks the subject and the mood; these are fused together. Optional suffixes includes such things as object, direction, aspectual markers, benefactive and various kinds of intensifiers and quantifiers. Here's a schematical overview of the Manam verb:

Outer prefixes Verb nucleus Outer suffixes
Inner prefixes Root Inner suffixes
Subject/mood marking Manner prefix
aka- transitive
Verb root -ak- transitive Object marking
Optional suffixes

Subject marking[edit]

The marking of subject is obligatory. In addition to expressing number and person, the pronouns have fused with the mood markers (see below) called realis and irrealis.

Person Singular Plural
Real Irr Real Irr
1st Inclusive ta-
Exclusive u- m- ki- ga-
2nd ku- go- ka- kama-
3rd i- nga- di- da-


The realis mood (REAL) is used for actual events of the past or present, i.e. things that are certain to have happened, things that are "real". Accordingly, the irrealis (IRR) mood describes anticipated events in the future, or events that the speaker wishes were real.

ura nga-pura
rain 3SG.IRR-come
"it will rain"
"I jumped"
nga-pile i-bebe
3SG.IRR-say 3SG.REAL-unable
"he will say that he is unable" (he still hasn’t said anything, but when he does, his inability will be stated as actual)
tama-gu i-rere zama go-pura
father-1SG.POSS 3SG.REAL-want tomorrow 2SG.IRR-come
"my father wants you to come tomorrow" (the father’s wanting is real, whereas the anticipated coming is still unreal)

Manner prefixes[edit]

Manner prefixes are found between the subject/mood marker and the verb root. The manner prefixes describe in what manner the verb action was done, such as 'biting', 'cutting', 'throwing' etc.

boro u-tara-paka-i
pig 1SG.REAL-spearing-miss-3SG.OBJ
"I speared at the pig but missed it"

Object marking[edit]

Person Singular Plural
1st Inclusive -kita
Exclusive -a -kama
2nd -(i)ko -kaming
3rd -i -di
"I will give (it) to you"
niu u-sing-Ø
coconut 1SG.REAL-drink-3SG.OBJ
"I drank a coconut"
"give it to us"


There are three different morphologically overt methods for turning intransitive verbs into transitive ones:

  • The preffix -aka- can occur between the person/mood marker and the verb root.
  • The suffix -ka- can occur between the verb root and the outer suffixes.
  • The so-called "transitive consonant" (TC) can occur between the verb root and the outer suffixes.

These methods can be combined.

dang i-aka-gita-i
water 3SG.REAL-TRANS-be_hot-3SG.OBJ
"he heated the water"
"to shorten it"

Optional suffixes[edit]

The object suffixes are also optional, but rather common. Here are a few examples of some of the more unusual suffix types:


"bring it here"


pipia i-rokaki-ramoi
rubbish 3SG.REAL-throw_away-all_over
"he throws rubbish all over the place"


"I like it very much"


"sing for me"


Most adjectives are derived by reduplication from a verb or a noun. As seen above, some reduplicated adjectives have a number distinction, but some others don't, e.g. siki-siki 'small' (singular and plural). Some adjectives use the possessive pronouns to mark person and number, e.g. kapisa-Ø 'selfish' (singular) and kapisa-di 'selfish' (plural).


As in many other Austronesian languages, Manam expresses different degrees of possession. In addition to the most common differentitation between alienable and inalienable possession, Manam uses a particular morphological processes to describe belongings that are edible or associated with eating.

Possessive pronouns[edit]

Person Number
Singular Dual Trial Plural
1st Inclusive -da-ru -da-to -da
Exclusive -gu -ma-i-ru -ma-i-to -ma
2nd -m / -ng -ming-ru -ming-to -ming
3rd -di-a-ru -di-a-to -di

Inalienable possession[edit]

In this class, we find 'belongings' that are involuntary, such as body parts, family members and different kinds of necessary 'parts of a whole'. This class is characterized by simply a possessive suffix attached to the word in question:

"my eye"
niu labu-di
coconut base-3PL.POSS
"the bases of the coconut trees"

Edible possession[edit]

In this class, we find things that are edible and 'used to obtain, prepare or store food'. This class is characterized by the word kana, which is placed after the possessed thing and to which the possessive suffix is attached:

udi kana-gu
banana FOOD-1SG.POSS
"my banana"

Alienable possession[edit]

In this class, we find belongings that are voluntary; things that we can cease to own, unlike body parts or family. This class is characterized by the word ne, which is placed after the possessed thing and to which the possessive suffix is attached:

kati ne-gu
"my canoe"
natu keu ne-di
child dog ALIEN-3PL.POSS
"the children’s dogs"

Cross-class possession[edit]

One fascinating thing is that the same word can occur in all three possession classes, and then of course its meaning will differ. Here are two examples:

    boro-gu my pig (as part of one's wealth)
    boro kana-gu my pork (which I am going to eat)
    boro ne-gu my pig (which I may or may not eat later)
    dang-i-gu my water (or rather 'body fluids')
    dang kana-gu my water (to drink)
    dang ne-gu my water (to wash with)

Directional System[edit]

Manam, like most Oceanic languages primarily uses an absolute reference directional system, even on a local scale, (as opposed to many European languages which primarily use relative reference systems). This system is oriented on a land-sea axis.[5] However, Manam's system is unique because it has taken on a circular nature, becoming intrinsically linked to the geography of the island which is almost perfectly circular. Below are the directional terms associated in Manam:[3]

Ilau toward the sea
Auta toward the land
Ata to one's right when one is facing the sea
Awa to one's left when one is facing the sea

This directional system has only been attested in three languages: Manam, Boumaa Fijian,[6] and Makian Taba.[7]


AD adnominal
BF buffer
DL dual
EXC exclusive
INIR indefinite irrealis
INSTR instrumental
INT intensifier
IP independent pronoun
IRR irrealis
LIM limiter
NEG negator
NOM nominaliser
OBJ object
PL plural
POSS possessive
PROH prohibitive
REAL realis
RPL reduplication
SG singular
SIM simulative
TRANS transitiviser



  1. ^ Manam at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Manam". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax Lichtenberk, F. 1983. A grammar of Manam. Oceanic Linguistics Special Publications, (18), i-647.
  4. ^ Crystal, David (2008). A dictionary of linguistics and phonetics. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  5. ^ François, A. 2004. Reconstructing the geocentric system of Proto-Oceanic. Oceanic linguistics, 43(1), 1-31.
  6. ^ Dixon, R. M. W. 1988. A grammar of Boumaa Fijian. University of Chicago Press.
  7. ^ Bowden, J. 1997. The meaning of directionals in Taba. In Referring to space. Studies in Austronesian and Papuan languages, ed. by Gunter Senft, 251-268. Oxford Studies in Anthropological Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.