Kâte language

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Pronunciation [kɔtɛ]
Native to Papua New Guinea
Region Huon Peninsula, Morobe Province
Native speakers
20,000 (2011)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 kmg
Glottolog kate1253[2]

Kâte is a Papuan language spoken by about 6,000 people in the Finschhafen District of Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea. It is part of the Finisterre–Huon branch of the Trans–New Guinea phylum of languages (Ross 2005). It was adopted for teaching and mission work among speakers of Papuan languages by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea in the early 1900s and at one time had as many as 80,000 second-language speakers.


McElhanon (1974: 16) identifies five likely dialects at the time of earliest mission contact in 1886, each named according to how they pronounce a common word or phrase.

  • Wana ('where?'), the southernmost dialect
  • Wamorâ ('why?')
  • Mâgobineng ('we are saying it') or Bamotâ ('why?'), nearly extinct in 1974
  • Parec, already extinct by 1974
  • Wemo ('what?') or Wena, adopted as the mission lingua franca


Vowels (orthographic)[edit]

Kâte distinguishes six vowels. The low back vowel â sounds like the vowel of English law or saw (Pilhofer 1933: 14). Length is not distinctive.

Front Back
High i u
Mid e o
Low a â

Consonants (orthographic)[edit]

The glottal stop, written -c, only occurs after a vowel and Pilhofer first describes it as a vowel feature that distinguishes, for instance, bo 'sugarcane' from boc 'very' and si 'planting' from sic 'broth'. However, McElhanon (1974) notes that final glottal stop is barely phonemic in the Wemo dialect, but corresponds to a wider variety of syllable-final consonants in Western Huon languages (-p, -t, -k, -m, -n, -ŋ), which are neutralized (to -c, -ŋ) in the Eastern Huon languages, including Kâte. Pilhofer (1933) writes the lateral flap with an l, but Schneuker (1962) and Flierl and Strauss (1977) write it with an r.

The fricatives f and w are both labiodentals, according to Pilhofer (1933), but bilabials, according to Flierl and Strauss (1977). Alveopalatal z and ʒ are affricates, [ts] and [dz] respectively, but they otherwise pattern like the stops, except that z only occurs between vowels, while ʒ occurs morpheme-initially (Flierl and Strauss 1977: xv). Both Pilhofer (1933: 15) and Flierl and Strauss (1977) describe the labiovelars q and q as coarticulated and simultaneously released [kp] and [gb], respectively. (The boldfaced q here stands for a curly q with hooked serifs that cannot properly be rendered here.)

Labial Labiovelar Dental Alveopalatal Velar Glottal
Voiceless stop p q t -z- k -c
Voiced stop b q d ʒ g
Prenasalized mb ŋq nd ŋg
Nasal m n ŋ
Voiceless fricative f s h
Voiced fricative w
Liquid r
Approximant j



Free pronouns[edit]

Unlike pronouns in most Papuan languages, Kâte free pronouns distinguish inclusive and exclusive in the 1st person, presumably due to Austronesian influence. However, this distinction is not maintained in pronominal affixes. The table of free pronouns is from Pilhofer (1933: 51-52). Ross (2005: 32) cites nɔh-ɔʔ for 2nd-person plural, corresponding to Pilhofer's nâhâc for 1st-person dual inclusive. Otherwise, Ross's pronouns follow Pilhofer's, except orthographically.

Like nouns, free pronouns can occur in subject or object positions in clauses, although the longer form of the singular pronouns (noni, goki, eki) can only occur in subject position (Schneuker 1962: 28). They can also occur with directional affixes and case-marking postpositions, as in no-raonec 'from me'. go-raopec 'toward you', nâhe-hec 'with him and me', jaŋe tâmiric 'without them'.

Free pronouns Singular Dual Plural
1st person inclusive nâhâc nâŋâc
1st person exclusive no(ni) (nahac) nâhe (nâhâc) nâŋe (nâŋâc)
2nd person go(ki) (gahac) ŋohe (ŋahac) ŋoŋe (ŋaŋac)
3rd person e(ki) (jahac) jahe (jahac) jaŋe (jaŋac)

Genitive pronouns[edit]

Kâte has two kinds of pronominal genitives: suffixed possessives, and preposed free pronouns suffixed with -re after final vowels or -ne after forms ending in -c (glottal stop). (Pilhofer 1933: 54-57; Schneuker 1962: 27-32)

Possessive suffixes Singular Dual Plural
1st person -nane -nâhec -nâŋec
2nd person -ge -ŋekic -ŋeŋic
3rd person -ticne/-ne -jekic -jeŋic

Verb morphology[edit]

Final (independent) verbs[edit]

Each finite independent verb is suffixed to show tense and the grammatical person of the subject. There are five tense forms: present, near past, far past, near future, and far future. Animate subjects are marked for three persons (1st, 2nd, 3rd) and three numbers (singular, dual, plural), although the same suffixes are used for both 2nd and 3rd person dual and plural. Inanimate subjects are only marked as 3rd person singular. Durative aspect can be conveyed by adding -e- before the present tense marker or -ju- before the near past tense marker. Two hortative moods can be signaled by subtracting final -mu from the near future tense suffix (to elicit more immediate responses) or substituting a different but similar set of final subject markers (to elicit responses over longer-terms). (Pilhofer 1933: 26-32)

Present tense (± durative -e-) Singular Dual Plural
1st person -(e)kopac -(e)koperec -(e)ŋgopeneŋ
2nd person -(e)komec/-kic -(e)kopirec -(e)ŋgopieŋ
3rd person -(e)kac -(e)kopirec -(e)ŋgopieŋ
Near past tense (± durative -ju-) Singular Dual Plural
1st person -(ju)pac -(ju)perec -(ju)mbeneŋ
2nd person -(ju)mec -(ju)pirec -(ju)mbieŋ
3rd person -(ju)jec -(ju)pirec -(ju)mbieŋ
Far past tense Singular Dual Plural
1st person -po -pec -mbeŋ
2nd person -meŋ -pic -mbiŋ
3rd person -wec -pic -mbiŋ
Near future tense (> hortative without -mu) Singular Dual Plural
1st person -pe-mu -nac-mu -naŋ-mu
2nd person -c-mu -nic-mu -niŋ-mu
3rd person -oc-mu -nic-mu -niŋ-mu
Far future tense (rarely used) Singular Dual Plural
1st person -zo-kopac -zo-koperec -nʒo-ŋgopeneŋ
2nd person -zo-komec/-zo-kic -zo-kopirec -nʒo-ŋgopieŋ
3rd person -zo-kac -zo-kopirec -nʒo-ŋgopieŋ
Far future hortative Singular Dual Plural
1st person -ze-pac -ze-perec -nʒe-peneŋ
2nd person -ze-mec -ze-pirec -nʒe-pieŋ
3rd person -ze-jec -ze-pirec -nʒe-pieŋ

Medial (dependent) verbs[edit]

Kate displays canonical switch-reference (SR) verb morphology. Coordinate-dependent (clause-medial) verbs are not marked for tense (or mood), but only for whether their actions are sequential, simultaneous, or durative in relation to the next verb in the SR clause chain. If the subject is the same (SS) as that of the next verb, its person and number is not marked. Verbs are suffixed for person and number only when their subject changes (DS). One dependent verb may be marked for both Durative and Simultaneous if its duration is extended enough to overlap with the beginning of the event described by the next clause. (Pilhofer 1933: 35-36) The examples come from Schneuker (1962).

Same-subject (SS) suffixes
Sequential (Seq) -râ
Simultaneous (Sim) -huc
Durative (Dur) -ku
  • Hata-o ra-huc homa moc hone-po.
  • (road-on go-SimSS snake one see-1sgFPst)
  • 'Going along the road I saw a snake.' (1962: 98)
Sequential subject-change (SeqDS) Singular Dual Plural
1st person -pe -pere -pene
2nd person -te -pire -pie
3rd person -me -pire -pie
  • Hoe he-me gie behe-mbeneŋ.
  • (rain hit-Seq3sg work abandon-1plPst)
  • 'We quit work when it rained.' (1962: 115)
Simultaneous subject-change (SimDS) Singular Dual Plural
1st person -ha-pe -ha-pere -ha-pene
2nd person -ha(ŋ)-tec -ha-pire -ha-pie
3rd person -ha-me -ha-pire -ha-pie
  • Go gie-o ju-haŋ-tec neŋgoc-ge-zi ware-jec.
  • (2sg work-at stay-Sim-2sg mother-2sg-Erg come-3sgPst)
  • 'Your mother came while you were at work.' (1962: 105)
Durative subject-change (DurDS) Singular Dual Plural
1st person -ku-pe -ku-pere -ku-pene
2nd person -ku-te -ku-pire -ku-pie
3rd person -ku-me -ku-pire -ku-pie
  • Hoe he-ku-me hata sâqore-wec.
  • (rain hit-Dur-3sg road go.bad-3sgFPst)
  • 'It rained a long time and the road became a mess.' (1962: 123)
Durative/Simultaneous subject-change (DurSimDS) Singular Dual Plural
1st person -ku-ha-pe -ku-ha-pere -ku-ha-pene
2nd person -ku-ha-te -ku-ha-pire -ku-ha-pie
3rd person -ku-ha-me -ku-ha-pire -ku-ha-pie
  • Woŋec ŋe-ku-ha-pe fisi-mbiŋ.
  • (wait dwell-Dur-Sim-1sg arrive-3sgFPst)
  • 'After I had been waiting a long time, he appeared.' (1933: 36)

Other verbal affixes[edit]

Adverbial affixes[edit]

A small class of adverbial intensifying affixes can be added before final inflectional suffixes (Pilhofer 1933: 81-82). Examples include -fâre- 'all, together'; -jâmbâŋke- 'truly'; -hâmo- 'well, thoroughly'; saricke- 'well, skillfully'; sanaŋke- 'firmly, permanently'; -(b)ipie- 'futilely, in vain'. Sentence examples from Schneuker (1962: 154-158) follow.

  • No motec jaza-fâre-pac (1sg boy tell-all-1sgPst) 'I told all the boys.'
  • Motec jaŋe mamasiri e-jâmbâŋke-mbiŋ (boy 3pl play do-truly-3plFPst) 'The boys really played.'
  • Nânâ mi ʒâ-hâmo-kac (food not cook-thoroughly-3sgPres) 'The food isn't cooked thoroughly.'
  • Fic kecʒi-zi ŋe-sanaŋke-ocmu (house this-Erg last-permanently-3sgFut) 'This house will last forever.'
  • Soŋaŋ-zi dâŋ mu-ipie-wec (elder-Erg word speak-in.vain-3sgFPst) 'The elder spoke in vain.'


  1. ^ Kâte at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Kate". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  • Flierl, Wilhelm, and Hermann Strauss, eds. (1977). Kâte dictionary. Series C-41. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
  • McElhanon, K. A. (1974). The glottal stop in Kâte. Kivung 7: 16-22.
  • Pilhofer, G. (1933). Grammatik der Kâte-Sprache in Neuguinea. Vierzehntes Beihelf zur Zeitschrift für Eingeborenen-Sprachen. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer.
  • Ross, Malcolm (2005). "Pronouns as a preliminary diagnostic for grouping Papuan languages". In Andrew Pawley, Robert Attenborough, Robin Hide, Jack Golson, eds. Papuan pasts: cultural, linguistic and biological histories of Papuan-speaking peoples. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. pp. 15–66. ISBN 0858835622. OCLC 67292782. 
  • Schneuker, Carl L. (1962). Kâte Language Handbook. Madang: Lutheran Mission Press.
  • Suter, Edgar. (2010). The optional ergative in Kâte. In A journey through Austronesian and Papuan linguistic and cultural space: Papers in honour of Andrew Pawley, ed. by John Bowden, Nikolaus P. Himmelmann and Malcolm Ross, pp. 423-437. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.

External links[edit]