Proto-Trans–New Guinea language

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The Proto-Trans–New Guinea language is the reconstructed proto-language ancestral to the Trans–New Guinea languages. Reconstructions have been proposed by Malcolm Ross and Andrew Pawley.


Proto-Trans–New Guinea is reconstructed with a typical simple Papuan inventory: five vowels, /i e a o u/, three phonations of stops at three places, /p t k, b d ɡ, m n ŋ/ (Andrew Pawley reconstructs the voiced series as prenasalized /mb nd ŋɡ/), plus a palatal affricate /dʒ ~ ndʒ/, the fricative /s/, and the approximants /l j w/. Syllables are typically (C)V, with CVC possible at the ends of words. Many of the languages have word tone.

In the most recent version, Pawley (2018) gives the following consonant inventory for Proto-Trans-New Guinea.[1]:136

bilabial apical palatal velar
oral obstruents p t, s k
prenasalised obstruents ᵐb ⁿd ᶮʤ <ñj> ᵑg
nasals m n ɲ <ñ> ŋ
lateral l
glides w j

The Proto-Trans-New Guinea vowels are reconstructed as a standard five-vowel system:[1]

Front Back
Close i u
Mid e o
Open a


Ross reconstructs the following pronominal paradigm for Trans–New Guinea, with *a~*i ablaut for singular~non-singular:

I *na we *ni
thou *ga you *gi
s/he *(y)a, *ua they *i

There is a related but less commonly attested form for 'we', *nu, as well as a *ja for 'you', which Ross speculates may have been a polite form. In addition, there were dual suffixes *-li and *-t, and a plural suffix *-nV, (i.e. n plus a vowel) as well as collective number suffixes *-pi- (dual) and *-m- (plural) that functioned as inclusive we when used in the first person. (Reflexes of the collective suffixes, however, are limited geographically to the central and eastern highlands, and so might not be as old as proto-Trans–New Guinea.)


Pawley and Hammarström (2018: 147-148), following Suter (1997),[2] group Madang, Finisterre-Huon, and Kainantu-Goroka together as part of a larger Northeast New Guinea (NENG) group on the basis of morphological evidence, such as mutually reconstructable verbal suffixes that mark subject:

Proto-Northeast New Guinea subject-marking verbal suffixes
singular dual plural
1st person *-Vn *-u(l,t) *-un, *-i
2nd person *-an *-i(l,t) *-ai, *-i, *-a
3rd person *-a, *-i *-ai

Comparison of reconstructions of subject-marking verbal suffixes
proto-Northeast New Guinea proto-Madang proto-Finisterre-Huon proto-Kainantu-Goroka proto-Trans-New Guinea (tentative)
1sg *-Vn *-in ? *-u *-Vn
2sg *-an *-an,*-i *-an *-an *-Vn
3sg *-a,*-i *-a,*-an *-a,*-i *-ai,*-i *-a,*-i
1du *-u(l,t) -*-u(l,t) *-u(l,t) *-ur *-u(l,t)
2/3du *-i(l,t) *-i(l,t) *-i(l,t) ? *-i(l,t)
1pl *-un,*-i *-un *-un *-un
2/3pl *-ai,*-i,*-a *-ai,*-i *-e,*-i *-a


Lexical words, such as *niman 'louse', may also be reconstructed:

Reflexes of *niman 'louse', which attest to an intermediate *iman in the east:
Chimbu: Middle Wahgi numan
Engan: Enga & Kewa lema
Finisterre–Huon: Kâte imeŋ, Selepet imen
Gogodala mi
Kainantu–Goroka: Awa nu, Tairora nume, Fore numaa, Gende (tu)nima
S. Kiwai nimo
Koiarian: Managalasi uma
Kolopom: Kimaghana & Riantana nome
Kwale nomone
Madang: Kalam yman, Dumpu (Rai Coast) im, Sirva (Adelbert) iima
Mek: Kosarek ami
Moraori nemeŋk
Paniai Lakes: Ekari yame (metathesis?)
Timor–Alor–Pantar: West Pantar (h)amiŋ, Oirata amin (metathesis?)
Wiru nomo
Questionable branches:
Pauwasi: Yafi yemar
C. Sentani mi

The Proto-Trans-New Guinea negative is reconstructed as *ma- (Pawley and Hammarström 2018). Negatives in Trans-New Guinea languages usually have either an mV- or nV- form.[1]


The following Proto-Trans New Guinea reconstructions are from Andrew Pawley and Harald Hammarström (2018).[1]:141-146

body parts
arm, forearm *mbena
belly, internal organs *mundun
blood *ke(nj,s)a
bone *kondaC
brain *muk[V]
breast *amu
buttocks *simbi + modifier
cheek *mVkVm
claw, hand *sikal or *sakil
ear *kand(i,e)k[V]
excrement 1 [same as ‘guts’]
excrement 2 *ata
eye 1 (cf. egg 2) *(ŋg,k)iti-maŋgV
eye 2 *ŋg(a,u)mu
eye 3 *nVpV
fingernail *(mb,p)(i,u)t(iu)C
foot, lower leg *k(a,o)nd(a,o)[C]
forehead, head *mVtVna
guts, intestines, bowels *sim(i,u), *simbi
hair 1 *(nd,s)umu(n,t)[V]
hair 2, leaf *iti
head 1 *kV(mb,p)utu
head 2 *mVtVna
heart 1 (cf. belly, egg 2) *mundu-maŋgV
heart 2 *simu
heart 3 *kamu
knee *(ŋg,k)atuk
leg 1 *k(a,o)nd(a,o)[C]
leg 2, calf *kitu
liver *[ma]pVn
milk, sap *muk
mouth, teeth *maŋgat[a]
navel *simu + modifier
neck 1 *k(a,e)(nd,t)ak
neck 2, nape, side of *kuma(n,ŋ)[V]
nose *mundu
penis *mo
saliva *si(mb,p)at[V]
shoulder *kinV
skin *(ŋg,k)a(nd,t)apu
testicles *walaka
tongue 1 *mbilaŋ
tongue 2 *me(l,n)e
tooth 1 (see mouth)
tooth 2 *titi
urine *[si]si, *siti, *pisi
kin terms
brother, older *[mb]amba
father *apa, *mbapa
grandparent *apus[i]
husband, man *ambi
mother, free form *am(a,i,u)
mother, bound form *na-
sibling, older *nan(a,i)
sibling, older same sex *[mb]amba
sister *aya
age-gender and other social categories
baby *ŋaŋa
boy *nV
man, husband *ambi
orphan, widow & child *mbeŋga-masi
woman, female *panV
birds, bird parts
bird 1 *n[e]i
bird 2 *yaka[i]
cassowary *ku[y]a
egg 1 *mun(a,e,i)ka
egg 2, fruit, seed *maŋgV
tail *a(mb,m)u
wing *mbutu
butterfly *apa[pa]ta
fly *ŋgambu
louse *niman, *iman
mosquito *kasin
plants, plant parts
bark *ka(nd,t)ap[u]
casuarina *kal(a,i)pV
fruit, seed (cf. egg 2) *maŋgV
leaf 1, hair *iti
leaf 2 *sasak
root *kindil
sap, milk *muk
taro *mV
tree, wood *inda
inanimate world
ashes 1 *sumbu
ashes 2 *kambu-sumbu
ashes 3 *la(ŋg,k)a
cloud 1, sky *samb[V]
cloud 2 *ka(mb,p)utu
fire 1 *k(a,o)nd(a,u)p
fire 2 *inda
fire 3 *kambu
flame *mbalaŋ
ground 1 *man[a]
ground 2 *maka[n]
lightning, light *(mb,m)elak
moon 1 *takVn[V]
moon 2 *kal(a,i)m
morning *k(i,u)tuma + X
night *k(i,u)tuma
sand *sa(ŋg,k)asiŋ
sky 1, cloud *samb[V]
thunder, sky 2 *kumut, *tumuk
smoke 1 *kambu(s,t)(a,u)
smoke 2 *kambu-la(ŋg,k)a
stone 1 *kamb(a,u)na
stone 2 *[na]muna
sun 1 *kamali
sun 2 *ketane
water 1 *ok[V]
water 2 *nok
wind 1 *kumbutu
wind 2, breeze *pinVm
axe *tu
fence *wati
netbag 1 *kun
netbag 2 *at(i,u)
string, rope *asi
intangible cultural concepts
instructions, language, word, speech *mana
mind, thought *n(o,u)man
name 1 *imbi
name 2, who *wani
shadow, spirit *k(aw,o)nan
song, type of *saŋ
witchcraft *kum
independent pronouns (for subject, object, possessor)
1 singular *na
2 singular *ŋga
3 singular *ya
3 singular *wa
1 plural *ni, *nu
1 plural *ni
2 plural *ŋgi, *ki
1 dual *niLi, *nuLi
2 dual *ŋgiLi, *kiLi
3 dual *iLi
verbal suffixes marking person-number of subject
1 singular *-Vn
2 singular *-an
1 dual *-uL
2/3 dual *-iL
1 plural *-un
1 singular different subject *-pa
be (live, stay, sit) *mVna-
bite *s(i,u)-
blow *pu + verb
break *pa(ŋg,k)-
burn *nd(a,e,i)-
burn, light a fire *ki-
carry (on back, shoulder) *kak(i,u)-
come *me-
cook *andu-
cut, chop *tVk-
die *kumV-
do, make *ti-
dream *kina(mb,p)-
eat, drink *na-
fly, flutter *putu(putu)-
give *mV-
go 1 *pu-
go 2 *yata-
hit *tu-
know, hear, see *nVŋg-
laugh *ŋgiti (+ verb)
live, be, sit see ‘be’
put *(m,p)a(l,t)V-
say, speak *nde-
see, know, perceive *nVŋg-
shoot *tVmV-
sleep 1, lie down *kin(i,u)[m]
sleep 2 *p(e,i)t(e,i)o-
speak, talk *nde-
spit *kasipa-
stand *t(a,e,i)k[V]-
swell *su + verb
take *(nd,t)a-
tie *ndiŋga-, *ndaŋgi
turn (oneself) *mbuli[ki] + verb
urinate *X + *si- (urine + verb)
vomit *mVŋ[g]V ti-
blue *muk[V]
cold *kukam(o,u)
dry *ŋgatata
full *t(o,u)k(i,u) ti-
heavy *kenda
long *k(o,u)t(u,i)p
new *kVtak
short *tumba
straight *tutu[tu]ku
and *ito
not *ma- (+ verb)
two *ta(l,t)(a,e)

See also[edit]

Synchronic reflexes


  1. ^ a b c d Pawley, Andrew; Hammarström, Harald (2018). "The Trans New Guinea family". 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. 21–196. ISBN 978-3-11-028642-7.
  2. ^ Suter, Edgar. 1997. A comparative look at the dual and plural forms of inflections and pronouns in Northeast New Guinea. Languages and Linguistics in Melanesia 28: 17–68.


Further reading[edit]

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