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Taiap language

Native toPapua New Guinea
RegionGapun village, Marienberg Rural LLG, East Sepik Province
Native speakers
75 (2007)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3gpn

Taiap (or Tayap, also called Gapun, after the name of the village in which it is spoken) is an endangered language isolate spoken by around a hundred people in Gapun village of Marienberg Rural LLG in East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea (4°01′43″S 144°30′11″E / 4.028746°S 144.50304°E / -4.028746; 144.50304 (Gapun), located just to the south of the Sepik River mouth near the coast).[3][4] It is being replaced by the national language and lingua franca Tok Pisin.

Taiap has complex verbal inflection.[5]


The first European to come across Taiap was a German missionary in 1938. The language was not studied by linguists until the 1970s because of the region's inaccessibility.

Taiap has a pandanus language, spoken when harvesting karuka.[6]

Unlike the neighboring patrilineal Lower Sepik-Ramu speakers, Taiap speakers are matrilineal.[5] Taiap is typologically very different from the neighboring Lower Sepik-Ramu languages.

The Taiap village of Gapun is located on a hill that was historically an island a few thousand years ago when the current mouth of the Sepik River had been inundated by the sea (the Nile Delta had also undergone similar historical processes). Foley speculates that Taiap could have been part of a larger language family that was spoken on the island before the arrival of Lower Sepik speakers. As the coastline moved further northeast, Lower Sepik speakers migrated from the foothills into the new land areas created by the receding waters.[5]


Although Donald Laycock (1973) placed Taiap in his Sepik Ramu language family, its structure and vocabulary would be unique for that family, and Ross (2005) found no evidence that it is related to any language of New Guinea. The current extent of Taiap is nearly coincident with what had been an offshore island 6,000 years ago, consistent with the idea that Taiap is a language isolate.

Søren Wichmann (2013)[7] and Glottolog classify Taiap as a language isolate. Usher (2018) includes it in the Torricelli family.[8]


Taiap pronouns are:[5]

sg pl
1 ŋa yim
2 yu yum
3m ŋə ŋgi
3f ŋgu ŋgə


Like many languages of the Sepik-Ramu basin (particularly the Sepik languages), Taiap has masculine and feminine genders. Objects are classified according to gender as follows.[5]

Masculine Feminine
male referents female referents
animate referents inanimate referents
long, thin, or big referents short, stocky, or small referents

For example, although most snakes are considered to be masculine, the death adder (Acanthophis laevis) is classified as feminine in Taiap due to its shape as a short, squat venomous snake. This gender classification system based on size is also typical of the Sepik languages, but not of the Lower Sepik-Ramu, Yuat, and Upper Yuat families.


  1. ^ Taiap at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Taiap". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Eberhard, David M.; Simons, Gary F.; Fennig, Charles D., eds. (2019). "Papua New Guinea languages". Ethnologue: Languages of the World (22nd ed.). Dallas: SIL International.
  4. ^ United Nations in Papua New Guinea (2018). "Papua New Guinea Village Coordinates Lookup". Humanitarian Data Exchange. 1.31.9.
  5. ^ a b c d e Foley, William A. (2018). "The Languages of the Sepik-Ramu Basin and Environs". In Palmer, Bill (ed.). The Languages and Linguistics of the New Guinea Area: A Comprehensive Guide. The World of Linguistics. 4. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. pp. 197–432. ISBN 978-3-11-028642-7.
  6. ^ Pawley, Andrew (1992). "Kalam Pandanus Language: An Old New Guinea Experiment in Language Engineering". In Dutton, Tom E.; Ross, Malcolm; Tryon, Darrell (eds.). The Language Game: Papers in Memory of Donald C. Laycock. Pacific Linguistics Series C. 110. Memory of Donald C. Laycock. Canberra: Department of Linguistics, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University. pp. 313–334. ISBN 0858834006. ISSN 0078-7558. OCLC 222981840.
  7. ^ Wichmann, Søren. 2013. A classification of Papuan languages. In: Hammarström, Harald and Wilco van den Heuvel (eds.), History, contact and classification of Papuan languages (Language and Linguistics in Melanesia, Special Issue 2012), 313-386. Port Moresby: Linguistic Society of Papua New Guinea.
  8. ^ [1]
  • Don Kulick 1997. Language Shift and Cultural Reproduction: Socialization, Self and Syncretism in a Papua New Guinean Village. Cambridge University Press. Anthropological analysis of the language situation in Gapun village
  • Donald C. Laycock. 1973. Sepik languages - checklist and preliminary classification. Pacific Linguistics B-25. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
  • Donald C. Laycock and John Z'graggen. 1975. "The Sepik–Ramu phylum." In: Stephen A. Wurm, ed. Papuan languages and the New Guinea linguistic scene: New Guinea area languages and language study 1. Pacific Linguistics C-38. 731-763. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
  • Malcolm Ross. 2005. "Pronouns as a preliminary diagnostic for grouping Papuan languages." In Andrew Pawley, Robert Attenborough, Jack Golson and Robin Hide, eds. Papuan pasts: cultural, linguistic and biological histories of Papuan-speaking peoples. Pacific Linguistics 572. 17-65. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.