Imonda language

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Native toPapua New Guinea
RegionSandaun Province
Native speakers
(250 cited 1994)[1]
  • Bewani Range
    • Bapi River
      • Imonda
Language codes
ISO 639-3imn

Imonda is a Papuan language of Sandaun Province, Papua New Guinea. It has a simple consonant system and a complex vowel system, with no phonological tones. Imonda is heavily verb oriented, and does not mark nouns for number or gender, but marks number on the verb for subject, object, and several other types of noun phrases. Tense, aspect, negation and interrogation are also indicated in part on the verb. There is a very high-frequency topic clitic, which can be used on noun phrases, adverbs, or verbs. The language has no coordinating or subordinating conjunctions, filling these roles with other approaches.


Imonda has 10 vowels, which is the most number of vowels for any Border language, and also much more than most other Papuan languages.[3]

i u
e o
ɛ ə ɔ
æ a ɒ


Late in the 19th century, Imonda speakers had limited contact with Malay traders. These traders were referred to as sue-na-id men of fire. Though in some areas of New Guinea the locals became fluent in Malay at the time, there appears to have been no such influence on Imonda speakers.

The next interaction with outsiders occurred during World War II. Japanese soldiers fleeing Americans at the coast stayed at Imonda for a few days. There was a fight and two Imonda speakers were killed, some houses were burnt down, and villagers were raped.

Later there was some contact with the Dutch, who hired locals as carriers or for work in towns. At this time many Imonda speakers did learn Malay (notably not recognizing that they had had any previous contact with it) and were exposed to Western culture.

Until 1962, the language Imonda was spoken almost exclusively in a single village now called "Imonda on the rocks". At that date, the Australians assumed control from Dutch New Guinea, and the Imonda split into two groups and established two villages in more accessible locations: Mol (daughter) and Põs (grass).

Wordlists had been compiled for all Waris languages including Imonda prior to 1973. The grammar of the language was studied in detail by Walter Seiler in a Ph.D. dissertation (1984)[4] and subsequent book (1985).[5]

Unlike many neighboring areas, Malay was never systematically taught to Imonda speakers, though some loanwords from Malay are in use. At the time of Seiler’s 1985 grammar of the language, when conversation with the neighboring Waris occurs, it is often carried out in Tok Pisin, in which all Imonda speakers are fluent, and from which Imonda takes many loanwords.


Imonda's numerals are based on compounding. For example, 3 is denoted sabla mugõ (lit., two one) and 5, sabla sabla mugõ (two two one).[6]

Noun classifiers[edit]

Imonda classifies nouns using verbal prefixes which evolved from serial verbs.[7] These serial verbs typically had to do with handling and preparing objects, and the noun classifiers are only required before a small set of common nouns, with meanings like 'give', 'put', 'throw', 'hold', and 'carry'. There are around 100 different noun classes, but some nouns belong to multiple classes; for example, as they are prepared, coconuts have to be picked, husked, and split. If a coconut has been picked but not husked, it will take the classifier põt, which is identical to the verb for picking. Similar classifiers specify each state of preparation. Though they are historically derived from serial verb usage with meanings like 'pick that and hand it to me', they have entirely lost that meaning and Imonda speakers are not always aware of the similarity.

Some of Imonda's classifiers[7]
form members likely source source verb meaning
l- edible greens, books les pile up
pui- biscuits, coconuts, items normally split puiual split (something) in two
u- Small animals; fish, frogs unknown unknown
i- water i scoop water out of dammed fish trap
bas- netbags unknown unknown
lëg- clothing, flat things lëg give birth
nëh- things that can be tied nëhe tie up
tit- betelnuts tit pick betelnuts

There are two classifiers, fa- and g-, that can occur with a large set of nouns not following any apparent pattern, and even replace other classifiers in situations they normally are used. Loanwords also fall into these classes. There is some evidence that fa-, the most common classifier in the language, did not derive from a verb at all, but instead was reanalyzed from an initial f on several common verb stems (the same verbs that require classifiers).[7]

Verbs that always require classifiers[7]
ai 'give'
eha 'put'
pi 'get'
(f)ia 'get'
keda 'hang up'
hõdõ 'put up'
nugahõ 'fill in
shi 'stick into'
api 'throw'
ula 'hold, possess'
uluh 'hold'
ue 'put into fire'

Transitive verbs agree with their objects in number using the suffix -uɒl:[3]

ehe-m iɛf nibia-uɒl fe-na-f
3-DAT house build-PL.OBJ do-BEN-PRS
‘(I) build a house for him.’

Motion verbs such as uagl "go" can take classifiers, and change meaning to something like "carry" when they do so. Unlike with other verbs, -i- separates the classifier from the motion verb. Because of this, use of an actual serial verb construction can be distinguished from use of a classifier (the -i- will be missing).

Several verbs can use classifiers or not, with no change in meaning: ne "eat", pada "hold", and li "lie".

Imonda also classifies nouns into three large sets using several copula-like verbs which can only be used with certain nouns. Roughly speaking the classes correspond to tall or vertical things, flat or horizontal things, and a third class which is neither. These copulae evolved out of the verbs lõh "stand", ale "sit" and li "lie". There is also a copula ialuõ, which can be used with any noun.[8]


Imonda has a dual number as well as a plural.

In contrast to most other languages, the Imonda language features a non-plural marker:

singular plural
Imona toad-ianèi toad
English boy boy-s

Verbs can potentially agree in number with their subject, object, recipient, benefactive, possessor, and/or accompanier, and there are different strategies for each. For example, dual in either subject or object is usually marked by ‘’-ual’’ on the verb; a human subject may instead be marked by ‘’e-‘’ on the verb, or both may coöccur. Plural subjects are usually marked by raising the last vowel of the verb stem, but some verbs have suffixes that are used, or completely change form in the plural. A single verb ‘ai’ ‘give’, marks for singular recipient obligatorily with the suffix ‘’-h’’. The suffix ‘’-na’’ obligatorily marks singular beneficiaries, while the same suffix optionally marks a singular human possessor.

In Imonda, transitive verbs agree with subjects in number by vowel raising or suppletion.[3]

gloss singular plural
‘do’ fe fi
‘eat’ ne hla
‘go’ uagl aiuagl
‘go up’ puhɒ aipuhɒ
‘pound sago’ sne-ula sne-ula-fia
‘search’ soh suh
‘see’ nagla naglɛ
‘speak’ ɒ ɔ
‘stand’ lɒh ləfah
‘tear’ se si
‘weave netbag’ hɒnɒ pueg


  1. ^ Imonda at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Imonda". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ a b c 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.
  4. ^ Seiler, Walter (1984). The main structures of Imonda: a Papuan language (PhD thesis). Australian National University. doi:10.25911/5D723CB92AD61. hdl:1885/132956.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  5. ^ Seiler 1985
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b c d Seiler, W. (1986). "Noun-classificatory verbal prefixes as reanalysed serial verbs". Lingua. 68 (2–3): 189–207. doi:10.1016/0024-3841(86)90003-3.
  8. ^ Rumsey, Alan (2002). "Chapter 8: Men Stand, Women Sit". In Newman, John (ed.). The Linguistics of Sitting, Standing and Lying. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing.