Sobei is one of the Sarmi languages spoken in three villages (Sarmi, Sawar, and Bagaiserwar) near the district center of Sarmi in Papua province of Indonesia. Ethnologue (2005) cites two third-party population estimates of 1,000 and 1,850, while Sterner estimates the population at 1,500 (1975) and 2,000 (1987), based on actual residence in the area.
Sobei distinguishes alienable possession from inalienable possession by directly suffixing nouns in the latter type of relationship, principally body parts and kin terms. The morphophonemics are often complex: natu’ 'my child', natun 'his/her child', netrirse 'our child(ren)', netrise 'their child(ren)'; dabu'sa'a 'my head', dabusa'a 'his/her head', debrirsa'a 'our heads', debrisa'a 'their heads' (Sterner 1987). The following paradigm of the inalienably possessed noun tema- 'father' is from Sterner (1976). The intermediate -ri- before the possessive suffix serves as a plural marker. As an independent pronoun, ri is 3rd person plural ('they'). Some kin terms that do not take the possessive suffixes nevertheless have plural forms ending in -(r)i: wawa-ri 'uncle-PL', tinan-i 'mother-PL', nabai-yi 'cousin-PL' (Sterner 1976).
^Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Sobei". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
Sterner, Joyce K. 1987. Sobei verb morphology reanalyzed to reflect POC studies. Oceanic Linguistics 14:146-167.
Sterner, Joyce K. 1976. A comprehensive look at Sobei phrases and words. In From Baudi to Indonesian: Studies in linguistics, ed. by Ignatius Suharno and Kenneth L. Pike, pp. 153–176. Jayapura, Cenderawasih University and the Summer Institute of Linguistics.
Sterner, Joyce K. 1975. Sobei phonology. Oceanic Linguistics 14:146-167.
Sterner, Robert H. 1975. Sobei verb inflection. Oceanic Linguistics 14:128-145.