Manam language

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Region Northern New Guinea
Native speakers
8,000 (2003)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 mva
Glottolog mana1295[2]
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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'.


The main word order in Manam is SOV:

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



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[3]. 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[4]:

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[5], and Makian Taba[6].



  1. ^ Manam at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Manam". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ François, A. 2004. Reconstructing the geocentric system of Proto-Oceanic. Oceanic linguistics43(1), 1-31.
  4. ^ Lichtenberk, F. 1983. A grammar of Manam. Oceanic Linguistics Special Publications, (18), i-647.
  5. ^ Dixon, R. M. W. 1988. A grammar of Boumaa Fijian. University of Chicago Press.
  6. ^ 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.