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South Halmahera–West New Guinea languages

South Halmahera–West New Guinea
The Maluku Islands in the Halmahera Sea, and the region of Cenderawasih Bay
Linguistic classificationAustronesian
South Halmahera-West New Guinea languages.svg
The South Halmahera–West New Guinea languages (red). The group at left is the Halmahera Sea languages; the one at right is the Cenderawasih Bay. (The black line is the Wallace Line.)

The South Halmahera–West New Guinea (SHWNG) languages are a branch of the Malayo-Polynesian languages, found in the islands and along the shores of the Halmahera Sea in the Indonesian province of North Maluku and of Cenderawasih Bay in the provinces of Papua and West Papua. There are 38 languages.[2]

The unity of the South Halmahera–West New Guinea subgroup is well supported by lexical and phonological evidence. Blust (1978) has proposed that they are most closely related to the Oceanic languages, but this classification is not universally accepted.[3]

Most of the languages are only known from short word lists, but Buli on Halmahera, and Biak and Waropen in Cenderawasih Bay, are fairly well attested.


Traditionally, the languages are classified into two geographic groups:

The unity of the South Halmahera and Raja Ampat languages is supported by phonological changes noted in Blust (1978) and Remijsen (2002). This results in the following structure:[4]

David Kamholz (2014) includes these languages as additional branches:[2]

The following languages groups are problematic – they may or may not be SHWNG. Kamholz (2014) does not classify them due to lack of data.[2]:32, 146

Kamholz (2014)

The SHWNG languages can be categorized as such (Kamholz 2014: 136-141):[2]

South Halmahera–West New Guinea (SHWNG)

Kamholz (2014) presumes the homeland of proto-SHWNG to be the southern coast of the Cenderawasih Bay.


At least six SHWNG languages, namely Ma'ya, Matbat, Ambel, Moor, Yaur, and Yerisiam, are tonal.[5]:8 Klamer, et al. (2008) suggest that tone in these SHWNG languages originated from contact with Papuan languages of the Raja Ampat Islands that are now extinct. There are few lexical similarities with present-day Papuan languages, except for a few words such as ‘sago’ that are shared with the two tonal Papuan isolates Abun and Mpur (both spoken on the north coast of the Bird's Head Peninsula):[6]:134-135

However, Arnold (2018) traces this etymology to proto-Malayo-Polynesian *Rambia ‘sago palm’.[7]

Arnold (2018) reconstructs tone for proto-Ma'ya-Matbat and proto-Ambel, but not for proto-SHWNG. Other than tonogenesis, these proto-languages had also gone through monosyllabization.[7]

The VRK Mutation is characteristic of most the SHWNG languages (except for the RASH languages), where the phonemes /ß/, /r/, and /k/ surface as the prenasalized voiced stops [mb], [nd], and [ŋg] in various cluster environments.[8] The mutation is found in the Ambai, Ansus, Biak, Busami, Dusner, Kurudu, Marau, Meoswar, Moor, Munggui, Papuma, Pom, Roon, Roswar (possibly equivalent to Meoswar), Serewen (possibly a dialect of Pom), Serui-Laut, Umar, Wamesa, Warembori, Waropen, Wooi, Yaur, Yerisiam, and Yoke languages.[9]

Kamholz notes that SHWNG languages have relatively low lexical retention rates from Proto-Malayo-Polynesian, pointing to significant influence from non-Austronesian languages.


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Greater SHWNG". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ a b c d Kamholz, David (2014). Austronesians in Papua: Diversification and change in South Halmahera–West New Guinea. Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Berkeley. []
  3. ^ Blust, R. (1978). "Eastern Malayo-Polynesian: A Subgrouping Argument". In Wurm, S.A. & Carrington, L. (eds.) Second International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics: Proceedings, pp. 181-234. Canberra: Australian National University. (Pacific Linguistics C-61).
  4. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Raja Ampat–South Halmahera". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  5. ^ Kamholz, David. 2017. Tone and language contact in southern Cenderawasih Bay. NUSA: Linguistic studies of languages in and around Indonesia, no.62, p.7-39. doi:10.15026/89843
  6. ^ Klamer, Marian; Ger Reesink; and Miriam van Staden. 2008. East Nusantara as a Linguistic Area. In Pieter Muysken (ed.), From linguistic areas to areal linguistics, 95-149. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  7. ^ a b Arnold, Laura. 2018. ‘A preliminary archaeology of tone in Raja Ampat’. In Antoinette Schapper, ed. Contact and substrate in the languages of Wallacea, Part 2. NUSA 64: 7–37. doi:10.5281/zenodo.1450778
  8. ^ Gasser, Emily. 2018. Surprising Phonology: Typology and Diachrony of Austronesian VRK Mutation. Talk presented at Yale University.
  9. ^ Gasser, Emily. 2018. VRK Mutation: Distribution of a Crazy Rule in Cenderawasih Bay. Paper presented at the 14th International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics (14ICAL), Université d’Antananarivo, Madagascar, July 17-20. (Slides)