Papuan Malay

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Papuan Malay
Irian Malay
Native toIndonesia
RegionWest Papua
Native speakers
unknown; 500,000 combined L1 and L2 speakers (2007)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3pmy

Papuan Malay or Irian Malay is a Malay-based creole language spoken in the Indonesian part of New Guinea. It emerged as a contact language among tribes in Indonesian New Guinea (now Papua and West Papua provinces) for trading and daily communication. Nowadays, it has a growing number of native speakers. More recently, the vernacular of Indonesian Papuans has been influenced by Standard Indonesian, the national standard dialect.

Some linguists have suggested that Papuan Malay has its roots in North Moluccan Malay, as evidenced by the number of Ternate loanwords in its lexicon.[3] Others have proposed that it is derived from Ambonese Malay.[4]

Four varieties of Papuan Malay can be identified.[4] A variety of Papuan Malay is spoken in Vanimo, Papua New Guinea near the Indonesian border.



Possession is encoded by the general structure POSSESSOR-punya-POSSESSUM, where the 'possessum' is the 'thing' being possessed by the possessor - the unit preceding punya). A typical example is shown below;[5]

(1) nanti Hendro punya ade prempuang kawn...
eventually, Hendro POSS ySb woman marry.inofficially
'eventually, Hendro's younger sister would marry ...'

In the canonical form, similar to (1), a lexical noun, personal pronoun or demonstrative pronoun form the POSSESSOR and POSSESSUM noun phrases.

A further example is presented below;

(2) Fitri pu ini
Fitri's (belongings,right.there)*

*words in brackets indicate the understood referent of a personal pronoun or demonstrative, established from the context of the utterance

As shown in (2), the long punya possessive marker can also be reduced to the short pu, an alteration which appears to be independent of the syntactic or semantic properties of the possessor and possessum.

A further reduction to =p is possible, but only if the possessor noun phrase ends in a vowel, shown below;

(3) sa bilang, i, sa=p kaka ko=p kaka
1SG say ugh! 1SG=POSS oSb 3SG say 2SG=POSS oSb
'I said 'ugh!, (that's) my older sister', she said, 'your older sister?''

This is most common when the possessor is a singular personal pronoun (two instances of which are found in (3)), and provides an explanation for why 'Hendro punya …'

is observed in (1), rather than the reduced theoretical possibility of 'Hendro=p'.

A final canonical possibility is the total omission of the possessive marker (indicated with a ø symbol), but this is generally restricted to inalienable possession of body parts and

kinship relations, the former seen in (4) below;

(4) adu, bapa ø mulut jahat skali! father mouth be.bad very
'oh no, father's language is very bad' (Lit. 'father's mouth')

Other, less typical/more complex 'non-canonical' combinations are also possible, where the possessor and/or possessum can consist of verbs, quantifiers and prepositional phrases.

Such constructions can denote locational (5), beneficiary (6), quantity-intensifying (7), verb-intensifying (8) and emphatic (9) possessive relations.

(5) Jayapura pu dua blas orang yang lulus ka
Jayapura POSS two tens person REL pass(a.test) or
'aren't there twelve people from Jayapura who graduated?' (Lit. 'Jayapura's twelve people')

In Papuan Malay, it can be seen from (5) that being in or at a location is expressed as being 'of' (in a possessive sense) the location itself (the syntactic possessor).

The possessive marker can also direct attention to an action or object's beneficiary, where the benefiting party occupies the possessor position;

(6) dong su bli de punya alat~alat ini
3PL already buy 3SG POSS RDP~equipment D.PROX
'they already bought these utensils for him' (Lit. 'his utensils')

In this instance, the possessive marker is an approximate substitute for the English equivalent marker 'for ___'. This demonstrates that the construction doesn't have to describe a realised possession; the mere fact that the possessor is the intended beneficiary of something (the possessum) is sufficient in marking that something as possessed by the possessor, regardless of whether the possessum has actually been received, experienced or even seen by the possessor.

Where the possessum slot is filled by a quantifier, the possessive construction elicits an intensified or exaggerated reading;

(7) tete de minum air pu sedikit
grandfather 3SG drink water POSS few
'grandfather drinks very little water' (Lit. 'few of')

However, this is restricted to few and many quantifiers, and numerals in the same possessum slot yield an ungrammatical result. As such, substituting sedikit with dua (two) in (7) would not be expected to be present in language data.

Intensification using punya or pu is also applicable to verbs;

(8) adu, dong dua pu mendrita! 3PL two POSS mendrita
'oh no, the two of them were suffering so much' (Lit. 'the suffering of')

Here, the verbal sense of the posessum is owned by the possessor. i.e., the two of them in (8) are the syntactic 'owners' of the suffering, which semantically intensifies or exaggerates the quality of the verb suffering, hence translated as so much for its English representation.

Along similar lines to (8), a verbal possessum can also be taken by a verbal possessor, expressing an emphatic reading;

(9) mama de masak punya enak
mother 3SG cook POSS be.pleasant
'mother really cooks very tastily' (Lit. 'the being tasty of the cooking')

As indicated by the insertion of adverbials in the English translation otherwise syntactically absent in Papuan Malay (9), the verbal-possessor-punya-verbal-possessum construction elicits emphatic meaning and tone. The difference to (8) being that in (9), the verbal quality of the possessum constituent is being superimposed upon another verb element, rather than to a pronominal possessor, to encode emphasis or assertion.

A final possibility in Papuan Malay possessive constructions is elision of the possessum, in situations where it can be easily established from context;

(10) itu de punya ø
'those are his (banana plants)'

Unlike the general freedom of possessive marker form for both canonical and non-canonical constructions (1-9), the long punya form is almost exclusively used when a possessum is omitted, possibly as a means of more markedly sign-posting the possessum's elision.



  • Ini tanah pemerintah punya, bukan ko punya! = It's governmental land, not yours!
  • Tong tra pernah bohong = We never lie.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Papuan Malay at Ethnologue (21st ed., 2018)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Papuan Malay". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Allen, Robert B.; Hayami-Allen, Rika (2002). Macken, M. (ed.). Orientation in the Spice Islands (PDF). Papers from the Tenth Annual Meeting of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society. Tempe, AZ: Program for Southeast Asian Studies, Arizona State University. p. 21.
  4. ^ a b Kluge (2017), pp. 11, 47
  5. ^ Kluge (2014), p. 393