|Linguistic classification:||One of the world's primary language families|
The Sepik languages are a family of some 50 Papuan languages spoken in the Sepik river basin of northern Papua New Guinea, proposed by Donald Laycock in 1965 in a somewhat more limited form than presented here. They tend to have simple phonologies, with few consonants or vowels and usually no tones.
The Sepik languages, like their Ramu neighbors, appear to have three-vowel systems, /ɨ ə a/, that distinguish only vowel height. Phonetic [i e o u] are a result of palatal and labial assimilation to adjacent consonants. It is suspected that the Ndu languages may reduce this to a two-vowel system, with /ɨ/ epenthetic (Foley 1986).
The classification used here is that of Malcolm Ross. It consists of two branches of Laycock's Sepik–Ramu proposal, the Sepik subphylum and Leonhard Schultze stock. The latter has been tentatively broken up by Ross into its constituent families, Walio and Papi, with Papi reassigned to the Sepik Hill branch of Sepik. The proposal is based on similar pronoun paradigms, but its internal structure is subject to revision. According to Ross, the most promising external relationship is not with Ramu, pace Laycock, but with the Torricelli family.
In the cladogram below, the small "families" at the ends of the branches are clearly valid units. Higher nodes (Upper Sepik, Middle Sepik, Sepik Hill) are less certain; Ethnologue (2009) accepts only Sepik Hill, Foley (2005) Sepik Hill and Middle Sepik.
There is little evidence that the two alleged Papi languages are related to each other.
The pronouns Ross reconstructs for proto-Sepik are:
I *wan we two *na-nd, *na-p we *na-m thou (M) *mɨ-n you two *kwə-p you *kwə-m thou (F) *yɨ-n, *nyɨ-n he *ətə-d, *də they two *ətə-p, *tɨ-p they *ətə-m, *tɨ-m she *ətə-t, *tɨ
Note the similarities of the dual and plural suffixes with those of the Torricelli languages.
- Dye, Wayne; Patricia Townsend; William Townsend (1969). "The Sepik Hill languages: a preliminary report". Oceania. 34: 146–156. ISSN 0029-8077. OCLC 1761006.
- Foley, William A. (1986). The Papuan Languages of New Guinea. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-28621-2. OCLC 13004531.
- Foley, William A. (2005). "Linguistic prehistory in the Sepik–Ramu basin". In Andrew Pawley; Robert Attenborough; Robin Hide; Jack Golson. Papuan pasts: cultural, linguistic and biological histories of Papuan-speaking peoples. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. pp. 109–144. ISBN 0-85883-562-2. OCLC 67292782.
- Laycock, Donald C. (1965). The Ndu language family (Sepik District, New Guinea). Canberra: Australian National University. OCLC 810186.
- Laycock, Donald C. (1973). Sepik languages: checklist and preliminary classification. Canberra: Dept. of Linguistcs, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University. ISBN 978-0-85883-084-4. OCLC 5027628.
- Laycock, Donald C.; John Z'graggen (1975). "The Sepik–Ramu phylum". In Stephen A. Wurm. Papuan languages and the New Guinea linguistic scene: New Guinea area languages and language study 1. Canberra: Dept. of Linguistics, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University. pp. 731–763. OCLC 37096514.
- Ross, Malcolm (2005). "Pronouns as a preliminary diagnostic for grouping Papuan languages". In Andrew Pawley; Robert Attenborough; Robin Hide; Jack Golson. Papuan pasts: cultural, linguistic and biological histories of Papuan-speaking peoples. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. pp. 15–66. ISBN 0858835622. OCLC 67292782.