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Kanum language

RegionNew Guinea
Native speakers
340 (1996)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3Variously:
kcd – Ngkâlmpw Kanum
khd – Bädi Kanum
krz – Sota Kanum
kxq – Smärky Kanum

Kanum is a language chain in the Yam family with difficult mutual intelligibility spoken by the Kanum people of New Guinea.


Language varieties within Kanum have variously been referred to as Ngkâlmpw Kanum, Enkelembu, Kenume, and Knwne.[2][3] Carroll describes three varieties forming a dialect chain: Ngkolmpu, Ngarna (Sota), and Smerky (Smärky). Ngkolmpu is further divided into Ngkontar and the moribund variety Baedi (Bädi), while Smerky is subdivided into Smerky, Taemer, and Barkari. Ngarna is spoken in the town of Sota, whence its other name.



Ngkolmpu Kanum has 15 consonant phonemes (plus two marginal phonemes) at three points of articulation: bilabial, coronal, and velar. Prenasalized voiceless stops and fricatives contrast with voiceless and nasal realizations, which is typologically unusual. The orthography is enclosed in angle brackets.

Bilabial Coronal Velar
Stops Voiceless p ⟨p⟩ t ⟨t⟩ k ⟨k⟩
Prenasalized Voiceless mp <mp> nt <nt> ŋk <ngk>
Nasal m ⟨m⟩ n ⟨n⟩
Voiced b <b> (ɡ) ⟨g⟩
Fricatives Voiceless s <s>
Prenasalized Voiceless ns <ns>,<nc>
Trill r ⟨r⟩
Lateral l ⟨l⟩
Glides w ⟨w⟩ j ⟨y⟩ (w)


The Ngkolmpu (Ngkâlmpw) Kanum variety is notable for its complex verbal inflection and tendency to distribute grammatical features throughout an utterance, referred to as distributed exponence.[3]


Kanum has a base-6 numeral system, which is typologically rare among languages of the world. The numerals are as follows:

Base Numbers Powers of 6
1 naempr 61 traowo
2 yempoka 62 ptae
3 yuow 63 tarumpao
4 eser 64 ntamnao
5 tampui 65 ulamaeke

For example, the numeral 200 is:

swabra ptae ynaoaemy ntamnao
5 6²s (36s) (and) 2 (and) 3×6


  1. ^ Ngkâlmpw Kanum at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Bädi Kanum at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Sota Kanum at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Smärky Kanum at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Kanum language". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ a b Carroll, Matthew J. The Ngkolmpu Language with special reference to distributed exponence, PhD Thesis. ANU.