Nabak language

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Native toPapua New Guinea
RegionHuon Peninsula, Morobe Province
Native speakers
(16,000 cited 1994)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3naf

Nabak (also known as Wain) is a Papuan language spoken by around 16,000 people in the Morobe Province located in the western Huon Peninsula of Papua New Guinea[3]. Nabak follows the SOV typology. It uses Latin script in its written form.[4]

Classification and language status[3][edit]

Nabak is sub-grouped into the Trans-New Guinea, Finisterre-Huon, Western, Huon language family[1]. The Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (EGDIS) has the Nabak level 5. A level 5 language is considered as “developing”, meaning that Nabak is thriving but a standardized form is not widespread. Level 1 speakers, or native speakers, on average are about 50 to 75 percent fluent in Nabak. The language is spread throughout approximately 30 settlements, totaling 52 villages in the Busu river east headwaters.[3]



Stops p t k kw gw
Nasals ŋ z l
Lateral l
Fricatives and Affricates s z
Glide w y


Front Central Back
High i u
Med e o
Low a â

Written form: â, a, e, i , o ,u



Nouns can be pluralized and/or possessed. If a noun is pluralized, then the possessive noun indicator must also be present. Nouns that are body-parts are typically in the possessive form, unless making an objective statement.[4]


  • bet = a hand
  • bedi = your hand
  • zikat = an eye
  • zikalidne = their (dual) eyes
  • kwaŋ = grass
  • kwaŋaŋ = his grass
  • tunne = my rivers

The structure of nouns[edit]

Stem (optional) possessive (optional -ne PL[4]

Possessive suffixes[4][edit]

Singular Dual Plural
First -n ~ -m ~ -ŋ -nit ~ -it -n ~ -m ~ -ŋ
Second ndi ~ di -ŋit ~ -it -ŋin ~ -in
Third ŋaŋ ~ -maŋ ~ -naŋ -ŋit ~ -it -ŋin ~ -in

Pronouns [4][edit]

There are many pronouns in the Nabak language. Formal genitive pronouns are not as widespread there is no direct translation to English third-person pronouns. Formal genitive pronouns only exists in the interrogative form.

First person pronouns[4][edit]

Singular Dual Plural
Subject/Object neŋ nit nin
Emphatic nen nilit nin
Refelxive nenak ndak nnak
Genitive nâgât nigat niŋalen
Benefactive nenaŋgalen ndaŋgalen nnaŋgalen
Emphatic Genitive neŋo nilo/nitlo nino
Associative nemak nibmak nimak
Comitative neŋmak nitmak ninmak


Adjectives and nouns are part of the same word class in the Nabak Language. This category only serves to illustrate nouns that can modify a head noun. Though, a dilemma occurs because these modifier nouns can also act as the head nouns that they are modifying. It is important to identify when describing ‘adjectives’ in Nabak, what is being described are words that are part of the noun class.[4]



  • dolak-ŋaŋ = good
  • sambubu-ŋaŋ = rotten


  • tembe = big
  • isik-ŋaŋ = little


  • teep-maŋ = tall/long
  • Da-naŋ = short


  • ŋa-maŋ = red
  • sat-naŋ = white


  • nuk-ŋaŋ = heavy
  • Imbela-ŋaŋ = light


  1. kwep = one
  2. zut = two
  3. tuk = three

(*Note that phrases represent higher numbers[4]*)


Verbs consists of an optional prefix, with a verb stem, then with an optional first-order aspect suffix.

There are medial verbs and final verbs. Final verbs are located at the end of a sentence. Medial verbs can be located anywhere but at the end of a sentence.

Structure of medial and final verbs[4][edit]

Aspect Stem Aspect
tat-SCON instransitive stem -maCONT
ma-CONT transitive stem neDUR


Polar interrogatives are made from declarative statements simply by changing the vocal intonation so that there is a higher pitch at the end of a sentence.[4]

Non-polar interrogatives are made by using the words equivalent to “who”, “what”, “when”, “where”, etc.[4]

kuleki, kwileki what?
kulekiet kuleki-yet why?
kwiaŋ kwi-aŋ who?
kwi whom?
kwialen kwi-yet-en whose?
de where?
den de-en where?
denen de-en-en to where?
desedgadnaŋ de-set-gat-naŋ from where?
deset de-set which way?
deyet de-yet which?
zugŋan zuk-ŋan when?
ziboŋ zi-boŋ like which?
zigok zi-gok how?

Emotion and interrogatives[edit]

Interrogatives can also be used to introduce emotion into a story. This is done by the storyteller making the participant in a story ask a question to themselves, letting the listeners of the story what emotion they are dealing with.[4]


  1. ^ Nabak at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Nabak". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ a b c "Nabak". Ethnologue.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Fabian, Grace; Fabian, Edmund; Waters, Bruce (1998). Morphology, Syntax and Cohesion in Nabak, Papua New GuineaPacific Linguistics, The Australian National University.
  • "Nabak". ethnologue. Retrieved 8 October 2019.