Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Papuan languages

The term Papuan languages refers to those languages of the western Pacific which are neither Austronesian nor Australian. The majority of the Papuan languages are spoken on the island of New Guinea (which is divided between the countries of Papua New Guinea and Indonesia), with a few spoken in the Solomon Islands, and a number in various islands of Indonesia, in particular Halmahera, Timor, Alor and Pantar. One Papuan language is spoken in Australia, in the eastern Torres Straits.

From the above it can be seen that the term 'Papuan Languages' is not meant to imply any unity. As described below, there is a great deal of diversity amongst the Papuan languages and it has not yet been shown that they are all related. In fact, they fall into a large number of family groupings.

Although there has been relatively little work on the Papuan languages (compared with, say, Australian or Austronesian languages) it has been established that there are a number of distinct genetic groups. In the field of Papuan linguistics these genetic groups are referred to as phyla. The largest phylum posited for the Papuan region is the Trans-New Guinea phylum, consisting of a large number of languages running mainly along the highlands of New Guinea, from the Indonesian province of Papua (the western half of the island) through to Papua New Guinea (the eastern half).

Some genetic groups are listed below

There are also many Austronesian languages spoken in New Guinea, as well as a number of isolates (languages for which no genetic affiliation is known).